Saturday, May 19, 2012

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

I recently began reading Treasure Island again. It's been at least 30 years since I last read it, and I'd forgotten what a cracking good story it is. (By the way, have you read it? If not, you should. Here's a link to Project Gutenberg, where it's available as a free download. Go ahead—I'll wait... Finished? Good! We'll continue...)

Robert Louis Stevenson was single-handedly responsible for just about everything we know (or think we know) about pirates: from peg legs and parrots to treasure maps and the dreaded "Black Spot." Without Treasure Island, there would be no Pirates of the Caribbean—not to mention Pirates of the Channel Islands, a mystery dinner theater script I wrote for the Gypsy Players and Murder-in-Mind Productions (apologies for the shameless plug).

I felt compelled to re-read the book after watching a recent adaptation on the SyFy Channel and hearing myself say, again and again, "I'm pretty sure that wasn't in the book." (By the way, why is it now the SyFy Channel, instead of the SciFi Channel? And what do pirates have to do with science fiction?) I have to admit that Eddie Izzard did a fine job as Long John Silver, but for the most part I was very disappointed. I particularly disliked the way the characters of Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney were portrayed: Livesey as a sniveling coward and Trelawney as a snobbish, greedy bully. At one point, Jim Hawkins seriously considers throwing in his lot with the pirates. No wonder, considering what jerks his companions are.

Give me the 1950 Disney version any day. It's a faithful adaptation, perfectly cast (with the possible exception of glaringly American child actor Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins). Robert Newton is especially brilliant. To quote Wikipedia, his Long John Silver "became the standard for screen portrayals of pirates. A West Country native where many famous English pirates hailed from, Newton is credited with popularizing the stereotypical West Country 'pirate voice' by exaggerating his West Country accent. Newton has become the 'patron saint' of the annual International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19." (That's right. If it wasn't for Walt Disney and Robert Newton, pirates would never have known how to say "Arrgh.")

My parents were married on August 17, 1950—the hottest day of the year. My father, stifling in his wedding clothes, went to the movie theater to cool off. It was one of the few places that was air conditioned in those days. The movie was Disney's Treasure Island. I don't know if he was able to thoroughly enjoy it at the time—he had other things on his mind. But it was to become one of his favorite movies.

Arrgh, mateys—shiver me timbers if it don't be one of me own favorites, as well!

Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

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