My big read: Treasure Island

8th August 2003 at 01:00

The ending has to be read aloud: "Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears, 'Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!'"

Everyone knows Treasure Island is a romance of pirates and the sea. Butnbsp; few people know that Stevenson invented pirates as we know them. He invented walking the plank and going down to Davy Jones's Locker.

The story, which moves at a rollicking pace, is set in a place that never was. But the underlying tale is about the pain of loving someone bad.

When Stevenson wrote Treasure Island in the early 1880s, he was newly married to his difficult, fascinating wife, Fanny Osborne. After a childhood in bed with tuberculosis, reading, Stevenson was more in tune than most writers with what he termed the "nameless longings of the reader" - for adventure, desire, experience.

Treasure Island pulsates with its author's passion for life, his preternatural sensitivity to colour, smell, sound - and fear.

Read more in this week's TES, page 23

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