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The Mind's Isle

Imaginary Islands in English Fiction

Adrian Kempton

Taking as its point of departure The Odyssey, Plato’s account of Atlantis and The Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, this book examines the profound influence of these works on the development of island fiction as a genre specific to English literature. Close readings of island fictions from the past four centuries reveal the many ways in which they adapt, rewrite and refer back to these foundational texts, forming an important and intriguing literary tradition. Examples of the genre include such universal classics as Utopia, The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies.

Islands have always attracted travellers, writers and dreamers. This book leads the reader on a voyage of exploration to understand exactly what lies behind the island’s powerful appeal to the literary imagination. Along the way, it explores the cultural and historical background to Britain’s island status and its legacy of colonialism and imperialism.

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Chapter 13: Treasure Island


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Treasure Island

In ‘Islands’, a short piece in his first collection of occasional writings, The Hot Gates (1965), William Golding talks about his impressions on rereading The Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island. For him, both books have lost none of their appeal. In Wyss’s work, Golding finds that its charm ‘lies precisely in the absence of story’ and its strength in the author’s sense of family that offers the reader ‘total security between the covers of a book’. As for Stevenson’s classic, Golding has unstinting praise both for the professionalism of its narrative structure and for its vivid characterization, in particular for the unforgettable Long John Silver, ‘the lifeblood of the book’. His only, minor, reservations have to do with what he sees as Stevenson’s lack of accuracy or detail regarding the topsail-schooner Hispaniola – Golding’s passion for sailing gives him a certain authority in this – and, more seriously, regarding the topography of Treasure Island:

Dare I say, in the teeth of the applauding generations, that I do not find Treasure Island, the physical patch of land itself, wholly in focus? We get glimpses that are superb; that sandy gash with the two-guinea piece lying in the middle of it where the treasure had been, the fort and stockade, the glade where Silver murdered Tom so horribly. But the island as it stuck out of the sea, the reason for it being there, and the relationship between the...

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