Editor’s Note: Click here for Part 1  and here for Part 2 in this ongoing series on the best books for boys.

“’One more step, Mr. Hands,’ said I, ‘and I’ll blow your brains out!  Dead men don’t bite, you know,’ I added, with a chuckle….  Something sang like an arrow through the air; I felt a blow and then a sharp pang, and there I was pinned by the shoulder to the mast.  In the horrid pain and surprise of the moment – I scarce can say it was by my own volition, and I am sure it was without a conscious aim – both my pistols went off, and both escaped out of my hands.  They did not fall alone; with a choked cry the coxswain loosed his grasp upon the shrouds, and plunged head first into the water.”

What inspired the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, to place his protagonist in such a precarious position; high up the mizzenmast, looking down upon a half-drunk, half hungover pirate twice his size, bent upon seeing the young Jim Hawkins to “Davy Jones’ locker?”

In both fact and fiction it was a map… a treasure map. Stevenson was in poor health, and would spend many a rainy, cold Scottish afternoon minding his 13 year-old stepson, Lloyd Osborne. On one such afternoon, he came upon the lad color-tinting a map of an island he had drawn. The two worked upon it together, naming the island and all of its features. “Oh, for a story about it!” the boy exclaimed, and Treasure Island was born….

In its pages we are introduced to the quintessential and perhaps the most famous “beloved scoundrel” in all of children’s literature – Long John Silver – who is also… the…  perfect…  alpha wolf.  There are sects of feminists and others who misconceive of the alpha wolf – and by extension the alpha male – as exemplars of “toxic masculinity,” acting out like “Gunny” R. Lee Ermey’s self-parody, which (outside the context of having to make Marines in a short period of time) is absurd:

In the wild, though, we have learned that any wolf exhibiting wanton, arbitrary aggression – not in the interest of the survival of the pack – would be considered unbalanced, and will be shunned or even destroyed by the pack members. The alpha wolf is counted on as a leader.

Like the true alpha wolf of nature, Silver is intelligent, articulate, brave, cunning and deceptive.  His powers are such that he not only fools Jim Hawkins – who had been warned about a “seafaring man with one leg,” he also fools the most discerning character in the novel – Dr. Livesley – into believing he is a simple, honest cook, and wounded veteran of the Royal Navy; and not the leader of a ruthless band of “gentlemen of fortune,” several members of which he has connived to sneak onboard the Hispaniola as crew. But Silver is, nonetheless, a wolf….  As Jim hides in the apple barrel listening to their plans, Silver recalls their old pirate captain, Flint, and reminds his fellow buccaneers that there were “… some that was feared of Flint; but Flint his own self was feared of me.”  No empty boast, that….  Silver, for all his charms, was as utterly ruthless as a wolf when he deemed the situation required it, as poor Tom discovered when he would not “turn agin my duty” and join the pirates:

“Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment, and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt, in that defenseless body…. Just before him Tom lay motionless upon the sward; but the murderer minded him not a whit, cleansing his blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass.”

Yet, as he weaves himself in and out of each opposing camp, with Jim (albeit often involuntarily) by his side, we cannot help a begrudging admiration for Long John – even if just for his navigation skills – at sea, upon dry land, and with people.

And what of our hero, the young Jim Hawkins? He starts out already an intrepid, responsible, curious and bright lad; his character and fortitude only improve as the story progresses.  He must help his mother run the family inn – The Admiral Benbow – especially after his father passes away in the first chapter. As for the inn’s most unsavory guest, “The Captain” (who turns out to be the buccaneer Billy Bones) he gets on with him just fine – Jim seems the only one besides Dr. Livesley not terrified of the man.

Events get tougher, and so does Jim…. While he does faint when secretly witnessing the murder described above, it is not long after he boldly sends Israel Hands to meet his just rewards. It is he all along that has spoiled the pirates’ schemes at every turn, and he is not afraid to tell them so:

“I was in the apple barrel the night we sighted land… and told every word you said before the hour was out.  And as for the schooner, it was I who cut her cable, and it was I who killed the men you had aboard her, and it was I who brought her where you’ll never see her no more, not one of you.  The laugh’s on my side; I’ve had the top of this business from the first; I no more fear you than I fear a fly.  Kill me if you please, or spare me.”

“Improvise, adapt, overcome” seems to be this young man’s motto – his character would have made a good U.S. Marine.  Jim is clever and resourceful like his (sometimes) friend Long John Silver, but though Silver may be good with a sextant and other tools of navigation, Jim has a tool Silver lacks: a carefully calibrated moral compass. Young Jim Hawkins is a “shepherd dog,” not a “wolf.”


David Churchill Barrow is a regular Liberty Island contributor and along with his wife, MaryLu Barrow, is the author of the young adult novella Silver and Lead.