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Long John Silver (Treasure Island)

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Long John Silver is a fictional character and the primary antagonist of the novel Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson.


In Treasure Island, Long John Silver is a pirate who was quartermaster under the notorious Captain Flint. Long John Silver had a pet parrot called Captain Flint, often seen sitting on his shoulder where she would nibble on seeds. A quartermaster on a pirate ship ranked higher than any officer except the captain himself, and could veto the captain's decisions whenever the ship was not in a battle. The quartermaster was elected by the crew and one of his tasks was to lead the boarding party from the quarterdeck during boarding attacks. Silver claims to have served in the Royal Navy and lost his leg under "the immortal Hawke". "His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham - plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling." He claims to have been the only man whom Flint ever feared. Like many of Stevenson's characters, there is more than a modicum of duality in the character; ostensibly Silver is a hardworking and likable seaman, and it is only as the plot unfolds that his villainous nature is gradually revealed. His relationship with Jim Hawkins, the novel's protagonist, is interesting, as he serves as a mentor and eventually father-figure to Jim, creating much shock and emotion when it is discovered that he is in charge of the mutiny, and especially when Jim must confront and fight him later on. Although willing to change sides at any time in the interests of his own survival, Silver has compensating virtues: he is wise enough to pay attention to money management, in contrast to the spendthrift ways of most pirates, and is physically courageous despite his disability; for instance, when Flint's cache is found to be empty, he coolly stands his ground against five grown men despite having only Hawkins to back him.

Historians have noted that Silver's account of his life experiences during the first half of the 18th century is at variance with the known history of the historical figures he mentions, and that Silver is either exaggerating the range and scope of his exploits for the benefit of Jim Hawkins or for potential pirates he is trying to recruit, or his memory is faulty.

When Silver escapes at the end of the novel, he takes "three or four hundred guineas" of the treasure with him, thus becoming one of only two former members of Captain Flint's crew to get his hands on a portion of the recovered treasure; a separate cache of bar silver is apparently left on the island. (The repentant maroonee Ben Gunn is the other, but he spends all 1,000 pounds in nineteen days.) Jim's own ambivalence towards Silver is reflected in the last chapter, when he speculates that the old pirate must have settled down in comfortable retirement: "It is to be hoped so, I suppose, for his chances of comfort in another world are very small."

Stevenson's portrayal of Silver has greatly influenced the modern iconography of the pirate. Silver has a parrot, named Captain Flint in mockery of his former captain, who generally perches on Silver's shoulder, and is known to chatter pirate phrases like "Pieces of Eight," and "Stand by to go about." Silver uses the parrot as another means of gaining Jim's trust, by telling the boy all manner of exciting stories (many of them likely fake) about the parrot's buccaneer history. "'Now that bird,' Silver would say, 'is, may be, two hundred years old, Hawkins - they live forever mostly, and if anybody's seen more wickedness it must be the devil himself. She's sailed with England- the great Cap'n England, the pirate. She's been at Madagascar, and at Malabar, and Surinam, and Providence, and Portobello ... She was at the boarding of the Viceroy of the Indies out of Goa, she was, and to look at her you would think she was a babby."

He is married to a woman of African descent, whom he trusts to manage his business affairs in his absence and to liquidate his Bristol assets when his actions make it impossible for him to go home. He confides in his fellow pirates, that he and his wife plan to rendezvous after the voyage to Skeleton Island is complete and Flint's treasure is recovered, at which point Silver will retire to a life of luxury.

According to Stevenson's letters, the idea for the character of Long John Silver was inspired by his real-life friend William Henley, a writer and editor. Stevenson's stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, described Henley as "...a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one's feet". In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island Stevenson wrote: "I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver...the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you".

Modern portrayals

Actors who have portrayed Long John Silver in the various motion picture adaptations of Treasure Island include Wallace Beery, Ivo Garrani, Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Eddie Izzard, Lance Henriksen, Robert Newton, Anthony Quinn, Tim Curry, Jack Palance, Brian Murray, Oleg Borisov, Boris Andreyev and British actor Ivor Dean in a televised version of the novel. Robert Newton followed up his two Long John Silver movies with an Australian-produced TV series.

BBC1 has presented the story four times, with Anthony Quinn, Bernard Miles, Peter Vaughan and Alfred Burke, respectively, as Long John Silver.

In the Soviet animated film Treasure Island of 1988, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan provided the voice talent for John Silver.

Ivor Dean played the character in an acclaimed European 4-part mini-series in 1966. He intended to reprise the role in another series with more adventures of Silver. He began writing it with director Robert S. Baker, but his sudden death in 1974 stopped all further plans. In 1985, this script was used as foundation for a Disney 10-part TV-series called Return to Treasure Island, starring Brian Blessed in the role of Long John Silver.

John Silver was also the protagonist in Björn Larsson's fictional autobiography of the character, Long John Silver: the True and Eventful History of My Life of Liberty and Adventure As a Gentleman of Fortune and Enemy to Mankind (ISBN 1-86046-538-2 respectively 91-7263-285-2). The novel was first published in Sweden in 1995.

Silver is the main character in Silver—My Own Tale As Told By Me With A Goodly Amount Of Murder by Edward Chupack (ISBN 978-0-312-53936-8).

In popular culture


John Silver (left) is portrayed as a cyborg in Disney's Treasure Planet.

In anime and manga

  • The 1978 Japanese series Takarajima, he is portrayed as a tall blond man.

In film and television

  • John Silver is depicted in L'ile aux tresors, a movie by Alain Berberian; the cast includes Gerard Jugnot and Alice Taglioni.
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    Long John Silver in USSR movie Treasure Island.

  • In 1988, in USSR movie Treasure Island, Long John Silver was voiced by Armen Jigarxanyan.
  • Tim Curry portrayed Long John Silver in the 1996 film Muppet Treasure Island.
  • Long John Silver is voiced by Jim Cummings in the movie The Pagemaster.
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Long John Silver as he appear in The Pagemaster.

  • The 2002 Disney film Treasure Planet, an animated science fiction adaptation of Treasure Island, depicts John Silver as a cyborg, voiced by Brian Murray.
  • Hector Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean is similar to Long John Silver. He owned a monkey named after his previous captain Jack Sparrow, and was referred to as the "one-legged man" in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

In literature

  • Long John Silver is a Franco-Belgian comics series written by Xavier Dorison, illustrated by Mathieu Laufray and published by Dargaud in French and Cinebook in English.
  • John Silver, a fictional space pirate with mechanical leg who appears in the Italian comic book Nathan Never, was inspired by Long John Silver.
  • According to J. M. Barrie's play Peter Pan, Captain Hook was the only man whom Silver ever feared.
  • Flint and Silver is a prequel novel to Treasure Island written by John Drake.

In music

  • The rock band Jefferson Airplane had a song and 1972 album named Long John Silver.
  • Jethro Tull's song "Mother Goose" (on the Aqualung album) references the title character as well as four and twenty laborers, concluding with the line, "and I don't believe they knew that I was Long John Silver."

In other uses

  • A restaurant chain, Long John Silver's, is named after the character.

Further reading

  • Elwin, Malcolm. (1939). Old gods falling. New York: The Macmillan Company.
  • Karg, Barbara; Spaite, Arjean. (2007). The everything pirates book : a swashbuckling history of adventure on the high seas, Avon, Mass. : Adams Media. ISBN 978-1-59869-255-6
  • Prince, Alison. (1994). Kenneth Grahame : an innocent in the Wild Wood, London : Allison & Busby. ISBN 978-0-85031-829-6
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis; Colvin, Sidney, Sir. (1899). Letters to his family and friends, New York : Charles Scribner's Sons.

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