This is probably the first pirate themed book I ever read. I also am incapable of rereading it without the Muppet Treasure Island film soundtrack running through my head. It is a real problem. Before it was published as a book in 1883, Treasure Island was serialized in the magazine Young Folks between 1881 and 1882. Ever since, Stevenson’s story has remained a staple in pirate adventure. The novel contains everything: buried treasure, treasure maps, pirates, mutinies, gunfights, sword fights, narrow escapes, and one of the greatest bad boys in literature. Part of the appeal comes from the wide eyed narrative courtesy of Jim Hawkins. His adventures bring to life a world filled with tall ships, remote islands, and a cast of flamboyant characters. Long John Silver will haunt you long after the book comes to an end. Also, the narrative is quite nostalgic as it delves into a time in history when adventures were still thrilling and wide swathes of the globe remained undiscovered. While the story is wonderful, the prose can be a tad stale at times. Stevenson wrote in a now antiquated style and a few sections took some willpower to read. But I still love the book because it is a thrilling adventure story.
Treasure Island, Kingfisher, 2001, 9780753453803
Technically the hero of this book is a privateer, but I am not splitting hairs over the issue. Set in 1665, Pirate Latitudes follows the adventures of Charles Hunter and his adventures as a privateer. Most of the story takes place around Jamaica and explores the politics of the colony after King Charles II signed a peace treaty with Spain. Michael Crichton wrote several wonderful novels but Latitudes does not quite live up to Jurassic Park. The novel is well written but the pacing is a tad plodding. Parts of the book are bogged down with a seemingly endless set of vignettes designed to depict Hunter and his crew as daring sailors. However, instead of building up a sense momentum, these scenarios never quite add up to a larger narrative. Part of the problem is that Hunter fights one too many villains. At point in time he is facing off against the Spanish, the Indians, creatures of the deep sea, and the wiles of all the women in the Caribbean. And every time the action picks up, it ends just as quickly. Crichton also made a rookie mistake by adding in some unnecessary exposition. Despite these drawbacks, Pirate Latitudes is still a delightful romp through pirate territory.
Pirate Latitudes, Harper, 2009, 9780061929373
Have you ever wondered how things would go if you found yourself on a faraway island? This book was first published under an extremely long title: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. That really rolls of the tongue. Crusoe was first published in 1719 and people believed it was based on a true story. This novel is a fictional autobiography that details the life and times of one Robinson Crusoe. Most of the narrative details Crusoe’s 27 year adventure on a deserted island. A majority of the book deals with human survival, loneliness, and spiritual problems. But there are thrilling parts that deal with shipwrecks, cannibals, pirates, mutiny, and island survival skills. The original novel is difficult to read because of its weird sentence structure and rather archaic language. I would recommend reading a slightly modernized edition. This is widely considered to be one of the greatest English language novels ever written. And hey, there are pirates!
Robinson Crusoe, 2001, Modern Library, 9780375757327
This was one of my favorite novels growing up and it is still a great read. I desperately wanted to be Charlotte and sail off into the sunset. The year is 1832 and thirteen year old Charlotte Doyle is bound for Rhode Island from England. After attending a finishing school for girls of quality, it is time to return home and make a social splash. But the trip does not proceed as planned and Charlotte is embroiled in a mutiny. The plot and pacing are absolutely astounding, the book won several awards for a reason. Even though this is a young adult novel, it is complex enough to enthrall readers in any age group. The pacing is quick and the narrative remains engaging. As this is historical fiction there are a myriad of facts scattered throughout. But the historical details never overwhelm the narrative, Avi weaves them in quite subtly. The characters do not feel awkwardly out of place due to overly modernized language. Best of all, Charlotte is an absolutely brilliant heroine. She narrates the story and her personality is equal parts spunky and practical. Through Charlotte, Avi explores societal expectations via a unique sea adventure. This is one of the few books from my childhood that I reread nearly every year.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, HarperTrophy, 1992, 9780380714759
Another classic tale from the pen of Stevenson. So this story does not technically deal with pirates, but there are some encounters with sailors. Unfortunately, Kidnapped has not remained as popular as Treasure Island. But the novel is just as thrilling asJim Hawkins’ adventure. Kidnapped tells the story of David Balfour as he travels across the Scottish Highlands in an effort to regain his inheritance. Balfour’s adventure takes place in 18th century Scotland, specifically around 1752 after the Jacobite Rising. Stevenson tells the political situation of the time from several viewpoints and portrays the Scottish Highlanders in a sympathetic light. I adore this book, which is rather amusing since it was originally marketed as a “book for boys”. Which just goes to show that literature can appeal to anyone. Anyways, the narrative moves quickly and the sword fighting is described in marvelous detail. And the story is fascinating. However, the pacing is slowed slightly by the over usage of the Scottish dialect and some archaic word choices. Language problems aside, Kidnapped is worth the time and effort. The edition I read contained a helpful appendix about Scottish history and put the story in context. Stevenson wrote a sequel, Catriona, but I have yet to read it.
Kidnapped, Scholastic Paperbacks, 2002, 9780439295789