Saturday, May 17, 2008
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, narrated by Alfred Molina - review
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, narrated by Alfred Molina
Yesterday afternoon, as my friend Sam came to pick up his kid, I was on the porch with my laptop. "Blogging again?" Sam asked.
"I was just going to write a review of Treasure Island." I said, shutting the laptop.
"Don't let me stop you," he said. "I can just get [Nature Girl] and go."
"Nonsense." I replied. "The book's been out for 130 years, there's no need for me to review it any time soon. Sit down. See if there's any beer in the fridge. Get me one, in fact."
And that's how it goes at my house. That's also, by the way, the major reason I don't write myself. No gift for dialogue. Or plot.
Which brings me to Robert Louis Stevenson, whose gifts for both you don't need me to point out. Henry James praised the book, for Pete's sake. It's captivating:
Enthralled by the action, tickled to recognize the seminal appearance of familiar elements such as the Black Spot, the talking parrot, and "X marks the spot". Spellbound.
It is very worth reading. Or, actually, not.
Hear me out: I never read Treasure Island as a kid. Or Kidnapped, or The Last of the Mohicans, or Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Around the World in 80 Days, or even The Three Musketeers. I was a kid who read constantly and convulsively, anything I could put my hands on. I read while I walked to school, and relied on my friends to stop me before I walked out into traffic. But even though I knew there were wonderful stories inside those books - I'd seen the movies on The Wonderful World of Disney - I just couldn't get past the language. There's a lot to get past:
You might as well have snipped up a hundred words, dropped them in a hat, and pulled out any 41, for all the sense that paragraph makes to my little boys, or to me, for that matter. If I were reading it out loud to my kids, I wouldn't have the first clue how to do it - it's hard to put emphasis in the right place when you don't understand what you're saying. I would stumble, and they would be bored, and we'd miss the chance to enjoy the book together.
Imagine my pleasure, then, to discover this audio version. Alfred Molina, who made his film debut 27 years ago as the treacherous guide in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, reads this book as only an adult British male actor could. Smoothly sailing through narration larded with terms such as "mizzen" and "coracle," "jolly-boat" and "foc'sle," Molina's voice is neither too fast nor too slow, and while he spares no effort bringing his characters to life, he never injects corny suspense or surprise as he reads Jim's narration - he lets Stevenson's words convey the emotion.
Those characterizations, though: amazing. It's as if the entire adult male cast of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are living in our CD player. Molina does outsize and swaggering, like Geoffery Rush's Barbossa; husky and mournful, like Stellan Skarsgård's Bootstrap Bill; his Dr. Livesey sounds as cultured as Lord Cutler Beckett... I swear, Gore Verbinsky could have saved a fortune by simply hiring Alfred Molina and shaving him seven different ways.
We've just finished the book, and it was a terrific thing to share. I would stop the CD every now and then to explain things, "Did you get that? He was in the apple barrel and he overheard Long John Silver planning to take over the ship?" and we Netflix'ed the movie at one point, but by and large the abstruse language fell away, and the story came right through, for all the world like a magnificent ship under sail, cresting the waves.