Ian Duncan on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson is that rare bird among writers: an author who has pulled in the affections of both young readers — sometimes very young readers — and the most discriminating of his fellow writers, from Henry James and Joseph Conrad to Italo Calvino and Vladmir Nabokov. His writing, we might say, has both the common and the uncommon touch.

In this episode, we focus on Treasure Island, the adventure tale that catapulted Stevenson to fame, and explore the originality of its design and the riddle of its staying power. With Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, Stevenson created a set of cultural myths that have proved endlessly adaptable in the mediums of TV and film. Though he wrote in the age before Hollywood, he plugged into something intensely cinematic with his tales of souls divided against themselves, or of pirates speaking their own skewed dialect, parrots perched on their shoulders, alive in the hunt for treasure. 

Our guest is Ian Duncan, Florence Green Bixby Professor of English at UC-Berkeley. Duncan is an expert in Romantic, Victorian and Scottish literature, and he has written extensively on Robert Louis Stevenson, including a deft introduction to the Oxford Worlds Classics edition of Kidnapped.