As the New Year’s escape winds on, my reading regresses in a way (back to the classics of yore) and I’ve just reread Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. No doubt there is a big incisive critique to be made here of the British Empire. The novel is full of stirring worthy stuff – so called pluck and courage, the good doctor and the bumbling squire, and young Jim. But I’ve just one real grumble: I was particularly annoyed at the way in which ‘our’ hero, that snivelling pup Hawkins (he deserts his post twice, he kills by accident, he is blind dumb in the face of treachery, he’d deserted his mother to go adventuring, he nearly loses the ship again, he does little to aid Long John Silver [our proper hero]) and he gets to live with the loot with narry a by-your-leave to the primary plunder that had amassed it [and I do not mean the plunder by the pirates, but the plunder of those that was pirated against – no-one thinks these ships were sailing the atlantic-caribbean routes for mere cruising pleasure do they? – the pirates were picking off those that had profitted by way of the slave trade. Our very own Cap’tn Drake for example]
Still, while Jim as narrator is merely a small annoyance, the trouble escalates when it comes to the booty. At least there is a great description of it, which comes to us in the voice of snivelling Jim:
“The next morning we fell early to work, for the transportation of this great mass of gold near a mile by land to the beach … I was not much use at carrying, I was kept busy all day in the cave, packing the minted money into bread-bags.
It was a strange collection, like Billy Bone’s hoard for the diversity of the coinage, but so much larger and so much more varied that I think I never had more pleasure than in sorting them. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Georges, and Louises, dubloons and double guineas and moidores and sequins, the pictures of all the kings of Europe for the last hundred years, strange Oriental pieces stamped with what looked like wisps of string or bits of spider’s webs, round pieces and square pieces, and pieces bored through the middle, as if to wear round your neck – nearly every variety of money must, I think, have found a place in that collection; and for number, I am sure they were like autumn leaves, so that my back ached with stooping and my fingers with sorting them out…” (p148)
So, Jim does a day’s work at last! And bends his back into a circle (hmmm, just how Prospero decribes the old witch in The Tempest, bent to a circle – curious correspondence). For all the talk of hanging the pirates, its funny that here he wants to wear the money round his own neck. And what’s this talk of Oriental coinage where the markings (writing) is all bits of spider’s webs? This classic othering means Derrida will have to spook the ghost ship (Johhny Depp to play him in the manner of Keef Richards too).
So, in this autumnal mood, and so soon after lamenting the ‘good ships’ and ‘blood and sorrow’ that was in the amassing, Jimboy is off back to England to – I daresay – live ‘appily ever after. Well, at least RLS leavs open the chance that things are also turning good for Captain Silver: there was still a hidden hoarde of bars on the Island – and we recall who kept the map… Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum…