Islands of the Mind

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Treasure Island was the first full-length book I read. Taking from my shelves that very copy, and seeing with a smile that it is indeed slightly foxed, I also note from the date of the printing, 1955, that I was 11, within a few months of leaving Primary, and had only just begun to read, other than what I had been made to read in school. So Treasure Island was my first late introduction, as a willing reader, to prose fiction.

I was not aware when I read Treasure Island of the affinities between its famous author and my obscure self: Calvinism, a hellfire-breathing female, a father problem, a terrorized mind and a fevered imagination. Or that I would one day become an Edinburgher, live in Stevenson’s precipitous city. And indeed one of the marvellous things about Treasure Island is that there is nothing in it that could have told me anything at all about its creator. Rereading it now – an experience I heartily recommend – you can of course see scores of clues. The book is a treasure trove in more ways than one. It is eloquent of its author’s personality, apart from being a thoroughly ripping yarn.

Jim Hawkins, the narrator, tells of events that took place in his boyhood some time in the eighteenth century. His mother keeps the Admiral Benbow Inn somewhere on the English coast, and the
excitement begins when Billy Bones, an old sea-dog, appears one day and asks Jim to keep a look-out for a seafaring man with one leg. He doesn’t come, but there are other terrifying appearances – by Black Dog and Blind Pew – and the haunted Billy Bones finally collapses stone dead, leaving a sea-chest containing, among other things, the map of an island where pirates have buried their treasure.

From then on the story becomes a quest, as Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney fit out a ship, the Hispaniola, to find the treasure, with the one-legged seafaring man, Long John Silver, as cook, and Jim as cabin boy. They are

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About the contributor

Christopher Rush’s memoir of his childhood in St Monans, Hellfire and Herring, has just been reissued in paperback.

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