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Treasure Island

Mark Liberman at Language Log has traced the pirate’s “Rrrrr” to a 1950 movie version of Treasure Island. Which reminded me of something. I read Treasure Island a few years ago and was just delighted and amazed by its readability. That plot really moved. Really un-put-downable. (Unfortunately its ending is weak—things get wrapped up a bit too quickly—but otherwise I’d say the book is perfect.) I was also amused that it had all the cliches of the pirate genre—X marks the spot and all that. But of course they weren’t cliches back then—or were they?? I seem to recall reading somewhere that much of Treasure Island was ripped off from a book from the 1820s or so. (I can’t remember the details.) This disturbed me, but then I decided that novels back then were like movies and TV today—it was all about doing a good job, not about originality. I mean, nobody criticizes Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg etc. of ripping off old movies—that’s just beside the point.

On a related topic, I found Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also to be incredibly readable, and also very suspenseful. Yes, I knew that the Dr. and the Mr. were the same person, but there was a lot of suspense about what would happen next. This was also an interesting book because I did not find its individual sentences to be well-written–they were foggy, much like the London weather that pervades the book–but on the whole the paragraphs whipped by. In contrast, Moby Dick was just full of sparkling sentences, yet each page was a struggle to read.

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