Indiana Brown

If you never read Treasure Island, you need to get to that soon. And if you have small children, you need to get them to read it too. Or read it to them, it’s a terrific bedtime story, although in parts a little terrifying. Robert Louis Stevenson was a great writer, and the book has an appeal that cuts across generations, settings, and value lines.

It uses a literary artifice that has become a well trodden road. Jim Hawkins, the young cabin boy, is the hero in a treasure hunt that pits good against bad, the two being literally in the same boat. The ruse is usually developed by addressing a context in the past, placed in an exotic setting, by means of modern day heroes, pitted against modern day villains. The heroes perform feats of discovery, solving ancient riddles through a combination of hard work, intelligence, daring, and luck – the ingredients that build young character. At the end of the rainbow lies the prize: treasure, talisman, or timeless secrets. Coveted by the baddies, who in turn portray evil, ill-begotten gain, indolence, and profit at the expense of others. In the end, the bad guys must lose, reinforcing the moral codes of society.

Sound familiar? It should, since the recipe is as popular as apple pie, and if properly confectioned, almost as satisfying to consume. Contemporary versions tend to be far more compressed in time, particularly if they make it to the screen. There is a breathlessness to the Indiana Jones movies  that cuts through every single film, but all share a yen for exotic settings, solve mysteries from long ago, and  heighten tension by adding evil-doers.

Oh, and then there’s the sidekick. Particularly where puzzles and riddles are involved, the hero needs a straight man. If Sherlock Holmes didn’t have Dr. Watson to ask obvious questions with seemingly impenetrable answers, and receive in return an “Elementary, my dear…” diatribe, Sherlock would be confined to his foibles, largely a cocaine habit and a penchant for the violin.

But it’s not the hero that needs a bozo, it’s us. Warren Buffet famously said “if you don’t know who the fool in the market is, it’s probably you.” We are the straight man to whom the hero laboriously explains. In action flicks like Indiana Jones, the straight man is by necessity a bimbo, making up in sex power for the wind which whistles between her ears. And putting Dr. Jones into sticky situations which form the action scenes of the movie.

Works such as The Da Vinci Code, and more recently The Lost Symbol, are in a league of their own. In both, breathlessness has become an art form, but the word should never be confused with suspense. No one ever eats or drinks, and no one ever has sex.  I haven’t been able to finish Dan Brown’s last offering, I probably ran out of oxygen at some stage, but the plot development is by and large predictable, or at the very least unsurprising. A critic from Time wisely identified the ubiquitous presence of a “brainy-hotty” – I love that expression; brainy-hotties are forever in the path of Prof. Robert Langdon, but perhaps due to excessive swimming duty in the early morning hours, or to the enormous power drain of his puzzle-piecing, the good professor never has any hotty totty.

These ingredients are also the soul of sequels, where the same hero (but always a new hotty) moves smoothly into a brand-new situation, set in an altogether similar different country and far-away period. For my part, the only sequel I can offer is the Portuguese version of The India Road. Finally the book has hit the distribution chain, with the title O Caminho da India. I counted eighteen copies in FNAC (a French chain, similar to Borders in the US) today, and I can assure you that feels good. The cover is quite different, so I thought I’d paste it here.

 

What Treasure Island shares with The India Road is the spirit of adventure, and the dreams of the age of sail. And the fact that those maritime routes were first opened up by the Portuguese, and by the Spanish conquistadores who followed them – the treasure map hidden in the sea chest of Billy Bones led to the hoard of Captain Flint, deep in the Spanish Main.

The pieces of eight so loudly proclaimed by the parrot on the shoulder of Long John Silver were none other than the Castillian peso de a ocho, the eight real silver dollar. None other than the spoils of the India road.

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