Tuesday, October 16, 2007

15 men on a dead man's chest

So, is that an original poem (rhyme?) by Robert Louis Stevenson? Considering that Treasure Island was written in 1883 (I checked Wikipedia), it seems entirely reasonable to think that he made the "yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" stuff up. With pirate mania at a peak right now (although maybe that's died down now that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have run their course), Listening Library opted to re-record this classic (our library also has a 1984 version narrated by David Buck), read by Alfred Molina (an actor I've liked long before Spiderman). And since I'd never read the book, I was looking forward to listening.

I wonder about kids reading/listening to something like this today; do they realize (do they care?) that this is the original? That all pirate/buried treasure/swashbuckling started with this story? Maybe if they do get that, they'll understand what makes a classic. When I read Jane Eyre for the first time, I finally understood where all those romance novels got their plot from as well. It was a real 'ah ha!' moment for me. I think that audiobooks go a long way in making classics accessible, of course. There's no denying that literary language was a lot more dense 100 years ago, so to have someone else read through it can be exceedingly helpful.

Still, despite the language, Stevenson does know how to write an adventure story. (Although I find myself mentally skipping over all the sailing details that I don't understand, just as I did when I forced myself to finish a Patrick O'Brien novel ... ugh.) And I like that Jim is a teenaged boy showing the characteristics of more modern teenaged boys in adventure stories -- going off without adult supervision/permission and, ultimately, saving the day. I haven't gotten that far, I'm just assuming that he saves the day. So, I think a well-narrated version of this would make a good addition to a notable and/or selected list.

In case you don't know the story, young Jim Hawkins finds a map previously owned by a famous pirate, and is included in a mission to locate the treasure indicated on the map. Unfortunately, the local squire bankrolling the expedition happens to hire a bunch of pirates (masquerading as regular sailors) to sail his ship. Jim happens to hear of the plot to mutiny and take over the ship , but despite this, he and those few loyal to the captain and the squire end up in some trouble once the island is reached. And that's where I am in the tale

The novel is narrated in the first person -- mostly by Jim, but occasionally by Doctor Livesey -- and Molina is trying for innocence and adventure. He gives the various pirates suitable "argh" qualities, and even brings the parrot to life ("Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!) But, he seems to be reading with an awful lot of low-voiced restraint; with this story, I think I'm craving a little more audio adventure here.

I only have about a disk and a half to go; I still may nominate it. One of my colleagues listened and voted no. I may have to make a strong case!

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