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192 9. The Darkening Island: Stevenson, Barrie, and the Perils of Childhood TIMOTHY S. HAYES I decided to take the literary convention of boys on an island, only make them real boys instead of paper cutouts with no life in them. William Golding, ‘Fable’1 There was little sound to be heard but the clang of weapons, an occasional screech or splash, and Slightly monotonously counting—five—six—seven—eight—nine—ten—eleven. J. M. Barrie, Peter and Wendy2 In 1954, William Golding published his iconic work Lord of the Flies, a tale of the nightmarish outcome of a group of boys who were stranded on an island. Scarred by his personal experience of World War Two and deeply troubled by his knowledge of the Nazis’ unconscionable acts, Golding sought to offer what he considered to be a realistic, twentieth-century portrayal as a correction to R. M. Ballantyne’s equally iconic – and innocent – portrayal of ‘boys on an island’ in The Coral Island (1858). But Golding’s novel was not the first iconic work to reimagine Ballantyne’s work. Indeed, two of the most enduring works of children’s literature by Scottish authors, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (his 1911 novelisation of his 1904 play), reinvent Ballantyne’s work in fascinating ways. While neither work features shipwrecked children on an island, both show adolescent and child characters in perilous circumstances and even endangering others. In doing so, both authors seek to make the violence and danger of their tales more realistic than Ballantyne’s. But they also struggle to balance that impulse toward believability with the demands of Victorian children’s literature, where actual violence cannot be visited on child and adolescent protagonists.3 In looking closer at multiple 193 stevenson, barrie, and the perils of childhood incarnations of both works – specifically the substantial revisions Stevenson made between the serialised version and book version of Treasure Island and the differences between the earliest performances of Barrie’s Peter Pan and his later novelisation of the story – we can see a complicated effort to balance romance and realism in a successful and believable way for child and adult readers alike. And, as we do, we can connect the efforts of these two celebrated authors with the larger debate that dominated Scottish literature as a whole from the 1890s through the middle of the twentieth century, sparked by laments about the ‘Kailyard’ portrayals of Scotland by even Barrie himself that would eventually lead to Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish Renaissance.4 Especially in its own time, Ballantyne’s novel The Coral Island was a unique and significant accomplishment within a familiar and popular tradition. Clearly written in the form of a Robinsonade, a story that places its main characters on a deserted island in the style of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Ballantyne’s novel featured a key change from previous versions of this genre, one that would influence the development of children’s literature for decades to come. As Minnie Singh describes it, The Coral Island was a book ‘for boys and about boys, and it is even narrated by a boy, or, at least, a former boy’.5 Ballantyne did not exactly invent children’s literature, but his work, especially The Coral Island, made a profound and lasting impression on many Victorian authors of children’s literature that would follow him, including Stevenson and Barrie. As Kathleen Blake has noted, The hunger for stories of the South Seas and their lonely islands […] was shared by Robert Louis Stevenson, who at fifteen stopped Ballantyne in the street to express his admiration, and by J. M. Barrie, who wrote an introduction to The Coral Island in 1913 which began: ‘To be born is to be wrecked on an island’ and for whom ‘R. L. S.’ were the sweetest initials in contemporary literature.6 In this way, Ballantyne, Stevenson, and Barrie form a Scottish triumvirate of Victorian boys’ fiction, though each was intrigued by boyhood in differing ways. As Blake’s example shows, Stevenson’s fondness for Ballantyne’s work 194 timothy s. hayes bordered on fandom (at least during Stevenson’s teenage years), and Barrie had an equally high opinion of Stevenson, whom he never met but with whom he exchanged a series of letters. There are also clear ties and resonances between strikingly similar characters in the works these authors created, especially among the pirate Bloody Bill in The Coral Island, Long...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781908980304
Related ISBN
9781908980298
MARC Record
OCLC
1104628745
Pages
476
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-15
Language
English
Open Access
No
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