Silver: Return to Treasure Island - Andrew Motion

Silver: Return to Treasure Island


Andrew Motion

 Silver is a cute and very close-to-canon continuation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. If you check it out on audio, it is narrated by none other than David Tennant, alias The Tenth Doctor from the TV programme Doctor Who.

According to the story, Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island fame got his treasure, bought an inn, and settled down to what turned out to be very short-lived wedded bliss. His son, also Jim, who I will refer to as Jim#2 (although as far as I recall he's really Jim#3), grew up with a distant, grieving father whose main interaction was to tell story after story about his adventures on the high seas. One night, Jim#2 is lured out of the inn by a young girl, who turns out to be none other than the daughter of the infamous Long John Silver. And when Jim#2 meets Long John, the old pirate has a story of his own: he tells Jim#2 that the original treasure seekers only brought back the gold from the island, leaving...wait for it...all of the silver behind. Soon, Jim#2 is tempted to steal his father's map and start an adventure of his own.

It was a very cute story, but I don't have much to say in my review, because, honestly, I wasn't the target audience for this particular book. I'm not very fond of "what happened after" types of stories or sequels involving the children of the main characters from the first book. This is probably due to an early-childhood association of such sequels with made-for-video low budget Disney flicks. I also read Treasure Island when I was very young--probably too young to appreciate it--and honestly, my main current association with the book is the fantastic, also very close-to-original-story Movie, "Muppet Treasure Island", which I watched repeatedly when I was in middle school. (I thought it was brilliant--songs, muppets, and Tim Curry as Long John Silver). So mainly what happened as I listened to Silver is that I immediately got all of the songs from Muppet Treasure Island stuck permanently in my head--a rather impressive feat, since I don't think I've seen the movie for probably about 10 years. (If only I had stored something useful in my brain instead.) Tennant is a pretty good narrator--he doesn't have the exuberance of his character as the Doctor, but then, neither does the character he portrays.

The story itself is fun and lightweight--Jim #2 travels with a reputable ship rather than a band of professional pirates, so no moral complexity there. He ends up encountering a band of slavers, and fortunately, despite a time period when slavery was common, all of the protagonists are firmly pro-abolition, so there's a little more generalized righteousness and moral centre than the original. The book itself veers more towards straightforward adventure story than comedy--but I couldn't help comparing it against a version of Treasure Island that involved the immortal lines, "On occasion there may be someone you have to execute/But when you're a professional pirate/You don't have to wear a suit", etc. It also completely dispensed with all of the interesting ambiguities that made Long John Silver such an interesting character. He is pretty roundly demonized into a threatening, evil man with a driving passion--and that's not the Silver I know. On the positive side, Jim#2 is a likeable character, as is the captain of the ship. There is also a strong female character--Natty, daughter of Long John Silver, who joins Jim on his travels disguised as a boy. Again, Silver is cute, fun, lightweight, and sure to appeal to fans of the original story.