Pirates - The Legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island

Pirates: The Legacy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island

If you know the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, you know the influence it has on how the world sees pirates.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when they think about pirates, and they’ll probably say the same things. The common lingo people associate with pirates are the words “Aye, aye captain!” “Shiver me timbers,” and the ever famous “Aaaarghhh!”

If you’ve watched Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean, the general ideas — from how pirates dress and speak — are from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel: Treasure Island. Sunshine Scenic Tours is here to dive deeper into the novel and how it has influenced how we see pirates today.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson Summary

Treasure Island was first a series published in a magazine from October 1881 to January 1882. It was published into a book the following year. Robert Louis Stevenson is a Scottish author who used “Captain George North” as his pen name.

The novel’s protagonist, Jim Hawkins, finds a map that leads to a treasure. A storyline that has been used for several pirate novels and movies, right? The novel continues to document the adventure Jim had to find the buried treasure. He encountered pirates called Israel Hands and Captain Long John Silver, both of whom wanted to have all the treasure for themselves.

Although the novel itself paved the way for how we see pirates today, it wasn’t until Treasure Island’s movie adaptation by Byron Haskin did people established the image of a pirate. In the 1950 movie adaptation, people first heard how the famous pirate lines were delivered. The movie also showed that pirate Captain Long John Silver has a pet parrot sitting on his shoulders.

There were also pirates wearing eye patches and pirates who had to replace missing limbs with hooks and peg legs. Treasure Island inspired movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Goonies — from speech, mannerisms, and clothing.

Treasure Island: Is It Close to Pirates In Reality?

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s depiction of pirates in the novel is far from how pirates were in reality. The way Hollywood portrayed pirates was creative. Robert Newton, who gave life to the character of Captain Long John Silver, exaggerated his accent to embody the effects of talking like a true pirate.

He also played Silver and Blackbeard in other films. His portrayal as a pirate made him known as a “pirate” in the public eye. However, real pirates were from all over the world. They also had different accents and mannerisms. Peg legs and hooks for severed hands were a rarity, unlike in the novels and movies.

Even keeping parrots as pets is not common for pirates. There is also no sufficient evidence that pirates wore eye patches. The pirate image people know today was greatly influenced by Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel.

5 Pirates Stereotypes You Should Know

The pirates people have known to love and hate in movies and novels are far from real pirates. When pirates come to mind, the initial description would be that they have hooks for hands, an eye patch, and a pet parrot. Here are the common pirate stereotypes you should know about:

1. Pirates have parrots for pets.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel had a great influence on how pirates were portrayed in films and books. Pirates having parrots for pets is relatively true. There’s often a scarcity of food and other supplies in ships — keeping pets is something most buccaneers couldn’t manage.

During the 16th and 18th centuries, pirates captured exotic animals and kept them as souvenirs. Parrots are also sold for high prices in the market, so pirates catch them. Stephen Haynes, a pirate captain, was known for using parrots as bribes to British officials.

2. Pirates wore eye patches.

There is an explanation as to why pirates wore them. However, there’s limited evidence that they wore eye patches. They say that putting a patch over one eye helps pirates adjust to the darkness in a room when raiding other ships.

Rahman ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah is an Arabian ruler and a pirate. He wore a patch after losing an eye while in combat. The person who probably inspired the eye patch was Lord Horatio Nelson. He sustained a blow to his face — affecting his right eye. It was artists who painted him with an eye patch to highlight his handicap, although he probably never donned one.

3. Pirates made people walk the plank.

Pirate films and movies showed that pirates made their hostages walk the plank. However, when you dive deeper into pirate history, you’ll see that there are only a few documented instances that pirates did this. One evidence of this was in 1829 when pirates took over the Dutch ship, “Vhan Fredericka.” They made the sailors walk the plank.

In general, pirates kept their hostages alive. If pirates wanted to dispose of them, hostages were thrown overboard. In the Treasure Island book by Robert Louis Stevenson, he mentioned this practice twice.

4. Pirates buried their loots.

When pirates get their hands on booty, they do what most criminals do — they spend it right away. Burying treasure requires effort. It is also risky, and other buccaneers would have stolen it for themselves. That said, it’s no surprise that there’s little to no evidence that pirates buried treasure.

There’s one real pirate who did this. William Kidd was a notorious pirate who buried valuable items and gold on Gardiner’s Island. When he was arrested in 1699, the buried booty was recovered. Even after his execution in 1701, rumors that he still has loads of undiscovered treasure remain alive.

5. Pirates have the same accent.

During the Golden Age of Piracy, pirates were of different nationalities. They were British, Jewish, German, and French. So, there’s no truth that pirates have the same accent and dialect. Treasure Island’s movie adaptation was the reason beyond this widespread belief.

Get the Whole Pirate Experience at Sunshine Scenic Tours

Experience riding on a pirate cruise in St. Pete Beach, FL.

Get the whole pirate vibe and feel like a character out of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. Sunshine Scenic Tours has you covered. Book slots for you and your loved ones. The pirate experience is perfect for all ages. Climb aboard our cruise!

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