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Before teaching the novel, refresh your memory on some of literature's most famous characters.
Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones, Captain Smollet, Black Dog, Squire Trelawny, and the unforgettable Long John Silver--Robert Louis Stevenson created some of literature's most memorable characters with these island inhabitants and treasure seeking buccanneers.
The novel begins with Billy Bones consuming copious amounts of alcohol while on the lookout for a one-legged man. Soon after, Bones receives the black spot from Black Dog (who has not rock-n-rolled for a long time), which as all pirates know, is a death summons. Luckily for Bones, he had a stroke and died before the infamous Long John Silver could kill him. That's when our protagonist Jim Hawkins gets tangled up in this whole treasure mess. As Bones lay dead, Jim grabs a key and a map from the dead body. Bedlam ensues.
As a child I believed this happened all the time on islands. In my twenties, I sailed to the Caribbean dressed as a pirate. Ninety-nine percent thought I was a dork. The other one percent thought I was a pirate and beat me senseless. I removed the pirate clothes, cursed Robert Louis Stevenson, and enjoyed my stay in the Dominican Republic anyway.
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When teaching the novel you must address its literary merit and its use of literary elements. The following elements of literature make for educational discussions:
- Suspense: Stevenson uses foreshadowing, pacing, and dangerous action to create a memorable adventure tale. Adapt this teaching suspense lesson plan for best results.
- Conflict: What happens when pirates run into doctors and bar owners? In real life, I'm guessing the doctor gets slashed to death, not the case in Treasure Island.
- Plot: In a generation of phones with TV's on them, any story that takes more than 3-pages to develop requires plot explication.
- Characterization: How was Stevenson able to create such memorable characters? Use this interviewing characters lesson plan. Adapt it and make it a part of your Treasure Island lesson plans.
- Elements of Adventure: Treasure Island remains a benchmark for adventure stories. Pirates of the Caribbean uses many of these same elements.
- Diction: Pirates talk funny.
- Coming of Age Novel: The novel's protagonist matures as the novel progresses.
Other topics worthy of discussion include:
- Pirate History: Not withstanding recent pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, students find the whole concept silly. However, pirates posed a huge threat to sailors during the time period in question.
- Money: Have fun with this one. Discuss greed. Discuss how much more money the pirates could have made by investing their treasure instead of burying it under a rock (unless of course they invested it in real estate or equities in 2008).
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Here's the problem with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in high school. It's a book about pirates written in an elevated style. Kids mature enough to understand Stevenson's style aren't interested in pirates (unless they're played by Johnny Depp or that other long-haired guy who played Legolas in Lord of the RIngs). Students who find pirates fascinating are probably too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons or video games to take the time to read it.
Sorry, Treasure Island. I enjoyed reading you, but high school kids don't.
Teacher Review of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island
These reviews highlight potential novels for high school English classes.