Robert Louis Stevenson and the birth of Treasure Island

May 18, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.


Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s great novel for young readers, sprang from a single sheet drawing he made while spending an afternoon with his stepson Lloyd in the summer of 1881. They were living in Scotland at the time, and a summer rain had confined Lloyd to the house. He spent that time in his room drawing pictures, and Stevenson joined him for the afternoon.

As he later wrote: “I made the map of an island; it was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully coloured; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance `Treasure Island.’ “

Stevenson began to name various locations on the island and began to see characters. He let his imagination go, and soon drew up a list of chapters for a book. By the next morning, he had written a draft of the first chapter.

When it was completed, the book was serialized under the pen name Captain George North. As such, it drew little attention, but when the chapters were put together and published as a book, it became a bestseller. It was Stevenson’s first big breakthrough as a writer. More importantly, the book was the first to break free of the didacticism of children’s literature at the time, and it set books for young readers on a different course. It wasn’t preachy, and it didn’t try to teach any lessons. It was sheer entertainment, and the kids loved it.

Note: Two poems by Stevenson are the recitation for the video I produced this week: In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson

Here is a complete list of the videos I have produced with poetry recitations:

In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvel:

Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer:

The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

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