My favorite villains are those whose personalities aren’t all black. Yes, they’re bad, but they have some redeeming quality somewhere that makes you like them in spite of what they do.
Long John Silver is another such pirate of dubious distinction. He’s the main antagonist in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and he shows his black nature by, among other things, instigating a mutiny aboard the Hispaniola and killing a fellow pirate in cold blood. He changes sides, depending on whoever has the upper hand, his charisma, silver tongue, and ingratiating manner smoothing the way and instilling a false sense of trust. Make no mistake, though, he’s as ruthless as they come and only out for his own gain.
And yet, his treatment of Jim Hawkins speaks of another side of him — a tiny sliver of honor and decency that offsets his treachery and inspires ambivalence of feeling toward him. Silver protects Jim from the other pirates and seems truly fond of him, treating him almost as if he were a son. When Silver escapes with a share of the treasure by sneaking off the ship in the dark of night, Jim wishes him well. And despite Silver’s villainous actions, I do, too.
I remember watching Disney’s Treasure Island as a kid and dreaming of pirate adventures. The 1950 movie starred Robert Newton, who became the quintessential Long John Silver. Later, I saw Disney’s miniseries, Return to Treasure Island, but I don’t remember much about it, except that Brian Blessed also made a good Silver. Several other movie versions of Treasure Island exist, including a Muppet version, which is quite silly, in their usual tradition. My kids enjoyed it.
© Lori L. MacLaughlin and Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams, 2015. All rights reserved.