: Treasure Island
I've been reading Treasure Island to the kids at bedtime. We're 2 chapters from the end. It's super good, I recommend it to anyone.
Once upon a time I was thinking hard about what's on the table in fantasy fiction. (Let's see if I can find a link ... here.) It happened after that conversation that I reread The High King, I hadn't recently at the time, and I was watching carefully, and I spotted what was bound to be there. I can't quote the line, but it was something like this: "...and Taran didn't dare consider what would happen to Eilonwy if the bandits found and captured her."
So now. Take the pirate crew in Treasure Island, boil them down to their essential between-the-lines badness, and it's uncanny how Poison'd they are. (Okay, it's not THAT uncanny. I never read Treasure Island before, but do you think that kept it from influencing me?) Anyhow they're brutal, desperate, superstitious, and treacherous, as much so as you could possibly write into a book for kids. Here's a passage corresponding to Taran's unnamed fear for Eilonwy:
"Now, look you here, Jim Hawkins," he said in a steady whisper that was no more than audible, "you're within half a plank of death, and what's a long sight worse, of torture. They're going to throw me off. But, you mark, I stand by you through thick and thin. I didn't mean to; no, not till you spoke up. I was about desperate to lose that much blunt, and be hanged into the bargain. But I see you was the right sort. I says to myself, you stand by Hawkins, John, and Hawkins'll stand by you. You're his last card, and by the living thunder, John, he's yours! Back to back, says I. You save your witness, and he'll save your neck!"
I began dimly to understand.
"You mean all's lost?" I asked.
Earlier Jim and the coxswain Hands had debated death and the afterlife, with Jim taking the side of "the spirits of the dead walk and can act" and Hands the side of "if they can, I ain't ever seen one." And you should just SEE how terrified the pirates are of old Captain Flint's ghost, it'd make Captain Pallor proud.
A few pages later, a pirate called Dick tears a page out of a bible to make the black spot upon. Silver points out to him that ruining a bible is terrible bad luck, and Dick spends the rest of the book in deathly dread of everything.
So, yeah. Boil Treasure Island's pirates down into pirate slurry, and blow the world they imagine up into living color all around them, and Poison'd got it >this close< to right. If I had it to do over, I'd maybe make Pallor's ghost a thing.
If I were to, oh, I dunno, maybe pull a Beowulf, yeah? Publish an edition of Treasure Island with a game in the back? I wouldn't use Poison'd straight. It's too brutal for the book's audience (no duh). Also the "honest men" characters are importantly missing from Poison'd, but they're essential to Treasure Island. But how much redesigning would I have to do? Answer: dude, a page's worth, maybe two. Piece of cake.
1. On 2008-09-22, John Harper wrote:
Pallor's ghost sees play, you better believe it. Or, he will, in session two. We're thick with ghosts over here. Especially now, with "You swore to Brimstone Jack that you would die before you saw [Pirate] as Captain."
Have I told you that the new Poison'd is good? It is.
I particularly like the scene, can't remember whether it's in Kidnapped or Treasure Island, in which the kid-hero is chased up the mast by a pirate who's going to "get" him. It's pretty straightforward: shoot this guy in the face at close ranged or get raped and killed.
And the hell of it is, if I'm remembering correctly, this kid and this pirate recently had a conversation in which the kid staunchly defended the idea that killing is wrong.
Yep. That's Jim and Hands, five minutes after they were debating the afterlife (and yes, whether killing is wrong). It's a great scene.
I think at that point, it was only "killed" on the table. Hands didn't have it in him to torture Jim, I think - I mean, he had it in his personality, but circumstances were against it. Later on though, Jim falls in with the gang of pirates still led by Silver, and that's when torture becomes a thing.
I wouldn't say that the threat of rape specifically ever exists in Treasure Island, even between the lines, the way it does in The High King. Jim's going to be tortured cruelly, but there's a total zero of sex in the book. Whether that's realistic or not, Stevenson being target-audience-sensitive or true to his source material, I have no idea.
Oh, this is related, it's something I meant to touch on above, but missed. In Under the Black Flag, in the first-hand accounts of survivors of pirate attacks that Cordingly reports on, especially of people held captive on pirate ships, one of the things that comes up again and again is the pirates' "blasphemous orgies." It being the 18th Century, nobody commits to paper what a blasphemous orgy consists of - just like Stevenson doesn't tell us what "torture" is - so I have no idea what the pirates actually did.
But who even cares! "Blasphemous orgies" is just so evocative. I'm way more interested in how we interpret the phrase today for ourselves, to create dark fiction, than I am in what it described in historical fact.
Sutcliff rocks. Some of her stuff rocks more than the rest. I'm fond of The Capricorn Bracelet, a series of linked stories, each set in a different generation, as the bracelet of the title gets passed down from father to son. There is almost certainly a game in there somewhere, maybe using IAWA, with the bracelet always getting the right to be in the story.
And the ending of the last story is so very good and so very Sutcliff. That is one woman who knew her way around the English language.