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40 ...... Pl ay I t’s probably an exaggeration to say that Stevenson lived inside the literary culture of his time as a monk lives in his faith; he was too much of a free spirit for that comparison strictly to work. Yet many of his letters and essays about writing give the impression of someone in a state of rapturous bondage. Literature —reading, writing, and talking about books—was palpably Stevenson’s seventh heaven. He was always excited when he was seized by an idea for a new story. Often enough it came to nothing. But sometimes , miraculously, the scheme for a novel came happily and without a hitch. Treasure Island had its genesis on a rainy day in Braemar when Stevenson was playing with his stepson, Lloyd, who had taken up drawing. Stevenson created a beautifully colored map, complete with woodlands, paths, and mountains. To someone like Stevenson, a map is “a mine of suggestion.” With “the unconsciousness of the predestined,” he called his map “Treasure Island.” “No child but must remember laying his head in the grass, staring into the infinitesimal forest and seeing it grow populous with fairy armies. Somewhat in this way,” Stevenson recorded , “as I paused upon my map of ‘Treasure Island,’ the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection.”1 The next thing he knew he was writing out a list of chapters, and the tale took off. 41 ...... His letters to W. E. Henley from September 1881, after he had cast anchor on the novel, originally titled The Sea-­ Cook, are notable for their blitheness and complacency. “It’s awful fun, boy’s stories; you just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that’s all.... No writing, just drive along as the words come and the pen will scratch!” “I love writing boy’s books. This first is only an experiment: wait till you see what I can make ’em when my hand is in.” “The Cook is in his XIXth chapter. Yo-­ heave ho!” He also hoped to see some income from this venture. Stevenson was determined to “make this boy’s book business pay.”2 When an author hits his momentum, there is nothing like the joy of literary creation. At the beginning,Treasure Island was “quite silly and horrid fun.”3 But the tide turned. Because the story was being published serially in a boys’ magazine , Stevenson had to correct page proofs for the first chapters while he was still writing the later ones. “It seems as though a full-­ grown, experienced man of letters might engage to turn out Treasure Island at so many pages a day, and keep his pipe alight,” he confessed. “But alas! this was not my case.” After writing a chapter a day for fifteen days, he dried up. “My mouth was empty; there was not one word more of Treasure Island in my bosom.” Stevenson was thirty-­ one, he had a family, he was in poor health, and he was in debt. The proofs were coming in for the first chapters—and he had writer’s block! He traveled to a retreat in Switzerland for his health, read some French novels, looked at the scenery, tried not to panic. But when he arrived at Davos, he had to return to writing. Near despair, he sat down to work on his quaint, unfinished pirate story; and by one of those mysteries of creation , the tide turned again, “and behold! it flowed from me like small talk.” He was back to writing a chapter a day and, in the most “delighted industry,” finished the last fourteen chapters of Treasure Island in two weeks.4 Stevenson was relieved and giddy over the completion of his first real book, by which he meant, of course, his first 42 ...... novel. Writing a whole novel had been an impossible, elusive dream, his “unattained ideal.” He had started a dozen novels by this time in his career, with no success. “It is the length that kills,” he admitted.5 He was even more delighted that so many readers, kids and adults, were captivated by his braw yarn and his curious “puppets.” Only much later did he realize that much of the first part of the story was the result of unconscious...


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