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Background: iStock

14 Swashbuckling Facts About Treasure Island

Background: iStock
Background: iStock

It’s one of the most enduring adventure tales of all time—a coming-of-age story featuring swaggering pirates, sea battles, and a quest for buried treasure. First published in a weekly literary magazine between 1881 and 1882, Treasure Island wasn’t the first novel about a boys’ fantasy of fighting murderous Buccaneers. But with its richly drawn characters, vivid prose and moral complexities, it became the defining work of that genre, and a classic to boot. It also introduced readers to one of the greatest villains in all of literature: the one-legged, parrot-wearing Long John Silver.

1.THE IDEA CAME FROM A MAP STEVENSON DREW.

Stuck inside one rainy summer day in the Scottish Highlands, Robert Louis Stevenson joined his stepson, Lloyd, at the easel and began drawing pictures. Stevenson sketched an island that resembled “a fat dragon standing up,” as he would later call it in the novel, and began populating it with harbors, hills and bays. Soon, a story began to take shape, along with names like Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Billy Bones and Captain Smollett. “The next thing I knew,” Stevenson wrote, “I had some papers before me and was writing out a list of chapters.”

2. STEVENSON WAS 31 YEARS OLD, JOBLESS AND FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT ON HIS FATHER.

Stevenson had been a sickly child who developed weak lungs as an adult (most likely through a congenital disease like sarcoidosis). This meant he was constantly traveling in search of dryer climes beyond his smoky, rain-soaked Scottish hometown of Edinburgh. He spent time in northern California, New York, the French Riviera and, at the end of his life, Tahiti and Samoa. His father, a lighthouse engineer, was disappointed that his son didn’t follow in his footsteps, but he still served as his patron and was an enthusiastic collaborator on Treasure Island.

3. HE WROTE A CHAPTER A DAY AT FIRST.

Seized by his idea, Stevenson was able to write a chapter in the morning, then share what he’d completed with his wife, Fanny, and the young Lloyd in the afternoon. Lloyd’s enthusiasm for the story, Stevenson noted, fueled his work.

4. THEN HE CAME DOWN WITH A MASSIVE CASE OF WRITER'S BLOCK. 

Somewhere around Chapter 15, Stevenson froze up. He couldn’t figure out how to resolve Jim’s story after stranding him on the island. After weeks of trying to find the thread again, Stevenson decamped from Scotland to a small chalet in the Swiss Alps. The change of scenery, which may have also improved his health, brought back the muse.

5. ITS ORIGINAL TITLE WAS "THE SEA COOK."

The name refers to Long John Silver, who serves as the cook aboard the Hispaniola. It was an indication, no doubt, of Stevenson’s preoccupation with his charming pirate, and an acknowledgment of the character’s paradoxical nature (the title of cook was oddly humanizing for a villain). Stevenson’s publisher convinced him to change the name, and it first appeared to readers as Treasure Island: Or the Mutiny of the Hispaniola.

6. IT FIRST APPEARED UNDER A PSEUDONYM.

The publisher of Young Folks, a weekly literary journal for boys, agreed to publish Treasure Island in what would eventually become 18 weekly installments. Stevenson relished the opportunity, but published under the pseudonym Captain George North. He never articulated why, exactly, though he was probably worried about sullying his family’s good name if the story was poorly received. His wife, Fanny, also hated Treasure Island, thinking the work beneath her brilliant husband. Before it was published as a separate book, she wrote"I am glad [poet Edmund] W[illiam] Gosse likes Treasure Island. I don't. I liked the beginning, but after that the life seems to go out of it, and it became tedious."

7. READERS DIDN'T LIKE IT TO BEGIN WITH.

Apparently the story moved too slowly for the lads who subscribed to Young Folks. As one of the editors, Robert Leighton, put it, “They were kept dragging on week after week with preliminary matters connected to the inn. They wanted to get to the sea, they wanted the treasure hunt.” It was only after Treasure Island came out in book form that the story became popular, reaching a wider audience of more patient readers.

8. LONG JOHN SILVER WAS BASED ON A FRIEND OF STEVENSON'S.

Like Silver, Stevenson’s friend William Henley was tall, energetic and very charming. He also had one leg, the result of a childhood bout with tuberculosis. After the book’s publication, Stevenson came clean to Henley, who was a renowned poet and editor in his own right: “It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver.”

9. THE BOOK PAYS HOMAGE TO REAL PIRATES AND MILITARY MEN.

Stevenson references several real-life pirates, including Blackbeard, William Kidd, and Bartholomew Roberts. Israel Hands, one of Silver’s men, who dies a bloody death at the hands of Jim Hawkins, was the actual name of Blackbeard’s second in command. Treasure Island also alludes to British naval officers on the other side of the fight, like Admiral John Benbow (“The Benbow Inn”) and Admiral Edward Hawke.

10. THE VIOLENCE WAS SHOCKING FOR THE TIME PERIOD.

Consider the scene where Jim watches as Silver hurls his crutch into the back of a disloyal crewmember:

Whether he were injured much or little, none could ever tell. Like enough, to judge from the sound, his back was broken on the spot. But he had not time given him to recover. Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on the top of him the next moment, and twice buried his knife up to the hilt into that defenseless body. From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.

11. STEVENSON'S FATHER MADE NUMEROUS SUGGESTIONS THAT ENDED UP IN THE BOOK. 

Thomas Stevenson loved pirate tales, and he gave his son some helpful advice. He suggested that Ben Gunn, the sailor marooned on Treasure Island, be a religious fanatic rather than a tormented soul, and that Captain Flint’s vessel be named The Walrus. He also came up with one of the book’s pivotal scenes, in which Jim hides in an apple barrel and overhears Silver’s plan to mutiny. When Treasure Island came out in book form, Stevenson’s original map was printed along with the “signature” of Captain Flint, forged by none other than Thomas Stevenson.

12. LONG JOHN IS ONE OF THE TRULY GREAT CHARACTERS IN CLASSIC LITERATURE. 

Silver is a complicated villain who charms the reader just as he charms young Jim. The one-legged captain is whip-smart and frequently funny, uttering lines like “shiver my timbers!” and toting around a parrot on his shoulder named after his old commander, Captain Flint. He’s a jaded man, a former seaman in the Royal Navy who lost his leg fighting for the Empire, and there are glimmers of his former decency, like when he keeps his men from killing Jim after capturing him on the island. But he’s ultimately a lost soul corrupted by greed.

13. SCHOLARS AND FANS HAVE LONG PUZZLED OVER THE LOCATION OF TREASURE ISLAND.

The references to rum running and Mexican Indians would seem to indicate its location somewhere along the Spanish Main. But then what about the rattlesnake the Jim meets on the island, or the stands of live oaks, or the sea lions he sees—none of which exist in that area? Stevenson’s island seems to be a hodgepodge of geographic details, a place found only in the imagination.

14. THERE ARE MORE THAN 50 FILM AND TV ADAPTATIONS. 

From silent films to The Muppets, there have been numerous cinematic takes on Stevenson’s classic. Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Tim Curry and Anthony Quinn are among those who have filled the role of Long John Silver. Check out the 1990 made-for-TV version (starring Heston and directed by his son, Fraser) to see a young Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins.

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Hulton Archive, Getty Images
15 Things You Might Not Know About Jules Verne
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Jules Verne, widely regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction, wrote some of literature's most famous adventure novels, including seminal works like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days. In addition to helping pioneer a new genre of writing, the French author also sailed the world, had a career as a stockbroker, fell in love with his cousin, and was shot by his nephew. Here are 15 facts you probably didn't know about him.

1. HE GREW UP SURROUNDED BY SHIPS.

On February 8, 1828, Pierre and Sophie Verne welcomed their first child, Jules Gabriel, at Sophie's mother's home in Nantes, a city in western France. Verne's birthplace had a profound impact on his writing. In the 19th century, Nantes was a busy port city that served as a major hub for French shipbuilders and traders, and Verne's family lived on Ile Feydeau, a small, man-made island in a tributary of the Loire River. Verne spent his childhood watching ships sail down the Loire and imagining what it would be like to climb aboard them [PDF]. He would later work these early memories of maritime life into his writing.

2. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS COUSIN.

Verne began writing poetry at just 12 years old. As a teenager, he used poetry as an outlet for his burgeoning romantic feelings. Verne fell in love with his cousin, Caroline Tronson, who was a year and a half older than him. He wrote and dedicated poems to Tronson, gave her presents, and attended dances with her. Unfortunately, Tronson didn't reciprocate her younger cousin's feelings. In 1847, when Verne was 19 and Tronson was 20, she married a man two decades her senior. Verne was heartbroken.

3. HIS FATHER PRESSURED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

While Verne had been passionate about writing since his early teens, his father strongly encouraged young Jules to follow in his footsteps and enter the legal profession. Soon after Tronson's marriage, Verne's father capitalized on his son's depression, convincing him to move to Paris to study law.

Verne graduated with a law degree in 1851. But he kept writing fiction during this period, and continued to clash with his father over his career path. In 1852, Verne's father arranged for him to practice law in Nantes, but Verne decided to pursue life as a writer instead.

4. HE LIVED IN PARIS DURING A TUMULTUOUS TIME.

Verne's time in Paris coincided with a period of intense political instability. The French Revolution of 1848 broke out soon after Verne moved to the city to study law. Though he didn't participate, he was strikingly close to the conflict and its turbulent aftermath, including the coup d'état that ended France's Second Republic. "On Thursday the fighting was intense; at the end of my street, houses were knocked down by cannon fire," he wrote to his mother during the fighting that followed the coup in December 1851. Verne managed to stay out of the political upheaval during those years, but his writing later explored themes of governmental strife. In his 1864 novella The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution, Verne wrote about the struggles of ordinary and noble French people during the French Revolutionary Wars, while his novel The Flight to France recounted the wartime adventures of an army captain in 1792.

5. HE BECAME A STOCKBROKER TO PAY THE BILLS.

In May 1856, Verne was the best man at his best friend's wedding in Amiens, a city in northern France. During the wedding festivities, Verne lodged with the bride's family and met Honorine de Viane Morel, the bride's sister. He developed a crush on Morel, a 26-year-old widow with two kids, and in January 1857, with the permission of her family, the two married.

There was one big problem. Verne had been writing plays for Paris theaters, but being a playwright didn't pay the bills. Verne needed a respectable income to support Morel and her daughters. Morel's brother offered Verne a job at a brokerage, and he accepted, quitting his theater job to become a stockbroker at the Paris Bourse. Writing was never too far from Verne's mind, though. He woke up early each day to write and research for several hours before heading to his day job.

6. HIS ADVENTURE NOVELS WERE PART OF A SERIES …

A caricature of Jules Verne on the sea floor with fantastic sea creatures on the cover of a magazine.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Modern readers probably think of Verne's most famous books as distinct entities, but his adventure novels were actually part of a series. In the early 1860s, Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an established publisher and magazine editor who helped Verne publish his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. This novel served as the beginning of Voyages Extraordinaires, a series of dozens of books written by Verne and published by Hetzel. Most of these novels—including famous titles like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—appeared in installments in Hetzel's magazine before being published in book form.

7. … THAT PROVIDED HIM WITH A STEADY STREAM OF INCOME.

Starting in 1863, Verne agreed to write two volumes per year for Hetzel, a contract that provided him with a steady source of income for decades. Between 1863 and 1905, Verne published 54 novels about travel, adventure, history, science, and technology for the Voyages Extraordinaires series. He worked closely with Hetzel on characters, structure, and plot until the publisher's death in 1886. Verne's writing wasn't limited to this series, however; in total, he wrote 65 novels over the course of his life, though some would not be published until long after his death.

8. HE DREW INSPIRATION FROM HIS OWN SAILING ADVENTURES.

During the 1860s, Verne's career was taking off, and he was making good money. So in 1867, he bought a small yacht, which he named the Saint Michel, after his son, Michel. When he wasn't living in Amiens, he spent time sailing around Europe to the Channel Islands, along the English Coast, and across the Bay of Biscay. Besides enjoying the peace and quiet at sea, he also worked during these sailing trips, writing most of the manuscripts for Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea on his yacht. As he earned more money, he replaced the Saint Michel with a larger boat that he called the Saint Michel II. A few years later, he bought a third vessel, the Saint Michel III, a steam yacht that he hired a crew of 10 to man on long voyages to Scotland and through the Mediterranean.

9. HE'S ONE OF THE MOST TRANSLATED AUTHORS IN THE WORLD …

Verne wrote in French, but his works have always had an international appeal. Since the 1850s, his writing has been translated into approximately 150 languages—making him the second most translated author ever. He has appeared in translation even more often than William Shakespeare. He is second only to Agatha Christie, who holds the world record.

10. … BUT NOT ALL OF THOSE TRANSLATIONS ARE ACCURATE.

Although Verne wrote primarily for adults, many English-language publishers considered his science fiction writing to be juvenile and marketed his books to children. Translators dumbed down his work, simplifying stories, cutting heavily researched passages, summarizing dialogue, and in some cases, nixing anything that might be construed as a critique of the British Empire. Many translations even contain outright errors, such as measurements converted incorrectly.

Some literary historians now bemoan the shoddy translations of many of Verne's works, arguing that almost all of these early English translations feature significant changes to both plot and tone. Even today, these poor translations make up much of Verne's available work in English. But anglophone readers hoping to read more authentic versions of his stories are in luck. Thanks to scholarly interest, there has been a recent surge in new Verne translations that aim to be more faithful to the original texts.

11. HE HAD MAJOR HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Starting in his twenties, Verne began experiencing sudden bouts of extreme stomach pain. He wrote about his agonizing stomach cramps in letters to family members, but he failed to get a proper diagnosis from doctors. To try to ease his pain, he experimented with different diets, including one in which he ate only eggs and dairy. Historians believe that Verne may have had colitis or a related digestion disorder.

Even more unsettling than the stomach pain, Verne suffered from five episodes of facial paralysis over the course of his life. During these painful episodes, one side of his face suddenly became immobile. After the first attack, doctors treated his facial nerve with electric stimulation, but he had another attack five years later, and several more after that. Recently, researchers have concluded that he had Bell's palsy, a temporary form of one-sided facial paralysis caused by damage to the facial nerve. Doctors have hypothesized that it was the result of ear infections or inflammation, but no one knows for sure why he experienced this.

Verne developed type-2 diabetes in his fifties, and his health declined significantly in the last decade of his life. He suffered from high blood pressure, chronic dizziness, tinnitus, and other maladies, and eventually went partially blind.

12. HIS MENTALLY ILL NEPHEW SHOT HIM IN THE LEG …

In March 1886, a traumatic incident left the 58-year-old Verne disabled for the rest of his life. Verne's nephew Gaston, who was then in his twenties and suffering from mental illness, suddenly became violent, to Verne's detriment. The writer was arriving home one day when, out of the blue, Gaston shot him twice with a pistol. Thankfully, Verne survived, but the second bullet that Gaston fired struck the author's left leg.

13. … LEAVING HIM WITH A PERMANENT LIMP.

After the incident, Gaston was sent to a mental asylum. He wasn't diagnosed with a specific disorder, but most historians believe he suffered from paranoia or schizophrenia.

Verne never fully recovered from the attack. The bullet damaged his left leg badly, and his diabetes complicated the healing process. A secondary infection left him with a noticeable limp that persisted until his death in 1905.

14. HIS WORK CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF STEAMPUNK.

Verne's body of work heavily influenced steampunk, the science fiction subgenre that takes inspiration from 19th century industrial technology. Some of Verne's characters, as well as the fictional machines he wrote about, have appeared in prominent steampunk works. For example, the TV show The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne explored the idea that Verne actually experienced the fantastic things he wrote about, and Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea appeared as a character in the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

15. MANY OF HIS PREDICTIONS WERE SURPRISINGLY SPOT-ON.

Some of the technology Verne imagined in his fiction later became reality. One of the machines that Verne dreamed up, Nautilus—the electric submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—came to life years after he first wrote about it. The first installment of the serialized Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was published in 1869, and the first battery-powered submarines were launched in the 1880s. (Similar submarine designs are still in use today.)

In addition, Verne's Paris In The Twentieth Century contains several surprisingly accurate technological predictions. Written in 1863, the dystopian novel imagines a tech-obsessed Parisian society in 1960. Verne wrote about skyscrapers, elevators, cars with internal combustion engines, trains, electric city lights, and suburbs. He was massively ahead of his time. He even wrote about a group of mechanical calculators (as in, computers) that could communicate with one another over a network (like the Internet). Pretty impressive for a guy born in 1828.

But Verne's influence goes beyond science fiction, steampunk, or real-world technology. His writing has inspired countless authors in genres ranging from poetry to travel to adventure. As Ray Bradbury wrote, "We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne."

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TASCHEN
Everything You Need to Know About Food in One Book
TASCHEN
TASCHEN

If you find yourself mixing up nigiri and sashimi at sushi restaurants or don’t know which fruits are in season, then this is the book for you. Food & Drink Infographics, published by TASCHEN, is a colorful and comprehensive guide to all things food and drink.

The book combines tips and tricks with historical context about the ways in which different civilizations illustrated and documented the foods they ate, as well as how humans went from hunter-gatherers to modern-day epicureans. As for the infographics, there’s a helpful graphic explaining the number of servings provided by different cake sizes, a heat index of various chilies, a chart of cheeses, and a guide to Italian cold cuts, among other delectable charts.

The 480-page coffee table book, which can be purchased on Amazon for $56, is written in three languages: English, French, and German. The infographics themselves come from various sources, and the text is provided by Simone Klabin, a New York City-based writer and lecturer on film, art, culture, and children’s media.

Keep scrolling to see a few of the infographics featured in the book.

An infographic about cheese
TASCHEN

An infographic about cakes
Courtesy of TASCHEN

An infographic about fruits in season
Courtesy of TASCHEN

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