- The Call to Adventure:Escape or Necessity?
Robert Louis Stevenson remembered always the "giddy joy" brought to his life by the model theatres of his boyhood, with their forests, robbers, "gesticulating villains . . . palaces and warships, frowning fortresses and prison vaults." The world, he said, "was plain" before he knew them, "a poor penny world; but soon it was all coloured with romance" (Treasury 184). Alanna Knight's The Robert Louis Stevenson Treasury is a convenient reference source for the life and work of this man whose own experiences were to rival in color and excitement the romances he loved as a child. The main section of the book covering "People, Places, and the Printed Word" is far more than a simple annotated bibliography. It includes lively excerpts from the letters of people who knew Stevenson; background information on the genesis of various works; accounts of his travels through Britain, France, the United States, Australia, and the South Seas; and information on friends who influenced him. But there are also listings of the locations of unpublished manuscripts, letters from Stevenson, fictional characters and places from his works, and musical settings, plays, and films related to his work. There are Stevenson's confessions to Henley that the sight of his friend's "maimed strength and masterfulness . . . begot John Silver" (78) and Henley's own wry penportrait of Stevenson in his poem "R. L. S." There is an account of Henry James's first visit to the Stevensons (he was mistaken for a tradesman and kept waiting at the door) and James's comment on Stevenson's nature: " 'Character, character is what he has! His feelings are always his reasons'" (93). And Knight has included a number of short sketches of Stevenson at various ages written by his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. Anyone curious about Stevenson's sojourn in exotic Samoa will find some fascinating photographs of life among the Stevensons at Vailima. Knight's Treasury is more than just a reference book; for Stevenson lovers, it is a browser's delight.
In real life Stevenson was both attracted to danger and willing to go [End Page 101] to some lengths to avoid it; but it was, for him as an artist, the essential matter of the adventure novel. The title of Margery Fisher's book The Bright Face of Danger refers to the notion that no matter what perils and obstacles are encountered by the protagonists of such stories, "the basic tone will be optimistic: the good characters will triumph over great odds" (11). Moreover, in the better adventure tales the triumph will flow "from a serious and responsible motive as much as from those operations of good fortune or coincidence which are among the structural conventions of the genre" (11).
Fisher's book, like Knight's, is aimed at the general reader rather than the scholar or critic. It offers neither an exhaustive history of the adventure story nor an original theoretical approach to the subject. Instead what we get is one reader's perceptive account of her own reading in the literature of adventure. Fisher's stated aims are to explore the unique aesthetic experience of reading adventure fiction, giving attention to the "specially intense, compelling combination" of plot, character, motive and setting to be found in such works, and to explain the similarities and differences between adventure fiction written for adults and that written for children. Her method is to deal topically in each chapter with works that have similar themes ("Honour and the Unattainable Ideal," "Ruritania," "The Querying of Morality") or which present some striking example of one of the standard features of the adventure tale—characters, setting, or attitudes. Each chapter offers a brief general discussion of the topic at hand followed by analysis of the plots and special features of a variety of adventure novels for adults and a consideration of the specifics of some similar works for children.
Fisher's close readings of works by well known authors like Stevenson, Kipling, Haggard, and Marryat...