The Ultimate Treasure Hunt
By Audrey Stallsmith
After we watched the 1990 version of Treasure Island, with Charlton Heston and Christian Bale, it occurred to me that Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t make the pirates the heroes as more modern authors might. Granted, by including the character Long John Silver, he acknowledged the charm that scoundrels and their lawless lives can have.
By contrast, the demanding captain seems like a slave driver. But, in the end, Stevenson’s young Jim wisely turns his back on the cold-blooded Long John.
Jim, after all, has had plenty of opportunity to note the differences between the two opposing groups in the story. Although badly outnumbered, the good guys band together under the direction of the captain to wage a fierce battle against the pirate mutineers. While the former “have each other’s backs” and actually appear to be enjoying the challenge, the latter are inclined to turn against each other at the slightest provocation, proving the old adage that there actually is no honor among thieves.
As Chesterton writes in The Apostle and the Wild Ducks, “It is really time that the absurd pretence of the vices to be romantic were given up. Ever since the time of Byron there has been vague and foolish conception clinging to all men's minds that there is some connection between lawlessness and poetry. . .”
In The Defendant, Chesterton adds that “civilization itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions. . .it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure; while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and wolves. The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies.”
We Christians often feel outnumbered, as if we too are fighting against impossible odds. But we can take a lesson from the good guys in Treasure Island and throw ourselves wholeheartedly and uncomplainingly into the battle anyway.
Too much concern about the outcome is sure to distract us to the point that we fall, and too much worrying about our own safety will prevent us from helping to rescue others. A certain holy carelessness is required, much like what Jim exhibits in his foolhardy attempt to steal the ship back from the pirates single-handedly. Strangely enough, he actually succeeds, simply because he is too young to realize that it can’t be done.
But such happy endings are never guaranteed in this present world. As Chesterton notes in Robert Louis Stevenson, “If there was one point that Stevenson more constantly and passionately emphasized than any other it was that we must worship good for its own value and beauty, without any reference whatever to victory or failure in space and time. . .”
Judging from what I’ve read, Stevenson had a Calvinist father and turned against his religious upbringing later in life. I can’t much blame him, as I probably would have rebelled against Calvinism myself!
However, Stevenson obviously couldn’t escape what he had been taught about right and wrong, even though he may not have been convinced there would be any reward for right. But those of us who believe our ultimate ending is not pre-decided can find the courage to keep fighting, because we trust that outcome will be determined by which side we choose to take down here--that of the Captain or that of the pirates.
The motives of the good guys in Treasure Island weren’t entirely pure as they, too, were hunting for the pirate loot, presumably to keep it for themselves rather than returning it to its original owners as they should have. But there is something about X-marks-the-spot which speaks to the adventurer in us all.
Fortunately, we have a much purer prize to be gained, and are enjoined to give everything we have to find it. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure a man discovered in a field. In his excitement, he sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field—and get the treasure, too!” (Matthew 13:44 TLB)
An eternal paradise is worth more than trunks full of jewels and doubloons. The gold in that realm’s streets will have lost its former purpose anyway, as any kind of filthy lucre will prove unnecessary where everything is provided for us, that everything being God Himself. There, we no longer will feel any compulsion to compete with each other.
Obviously, such an environment would be hell to unredeemed people! In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis notes, “We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”