As from the house your mother seesYou playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent,
He does not hear; he will not look.
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.
Last to the chamber where I lieStevenson is perhaps the last person we would expect to see such gentleness from, and yet he knew firsthand as an invalid child the need for companionship. In fact, this delicacy, need, and bittersweetness are rarely seen in children's literature, but are the very attributes which make Stevenson's poems so childlike, real, and exemplary. In Child's Garden, Stevenson sets forth an image of family life which is stable, Victorian middle class, and free.
My fearful footsteps patter nigh,
And come from out the cold and gloom
Into my warm and cheerful room.
There, safe arrived, we turn about
To keep the coming shadows out,
And close the happy door at last
On all the perils that we past.
Then, when mama goes by to bed,
She shall come in with tip-toe tread,
And see me lying warm and fast
And in the Land of Nod at last.
In Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins as the young and innocent son of an inn owner, finds himself in possession of a treasure map, and decides to pursue the quest. However, the entire crew of the old treasure secretly accompany Jim on the voyage to the island of treasure, capture the ship, and force Jim into their confidence. Despite all the adventure, Jim desires justice and mercy rather than violence and piracy. In fact, Jim carries with him a sense of nobility and reserve that is juvenile and true. In this respect, the pop cultural stereotype of pirate adventures is unfair to Stevenson's original intent. The often unremembered last words of the novel read (Jim is narrating):
The adventures serve Jim by haunting his dreams, and he emphatically throws off all future opportunities to get the rest of the treasure. He would rather retain civility than get riches through incivility. Jim is the star of moral light in the novel. When faced with the opportunity to embrace freedom almost totally on an island, he would rather choose that freedom within a moral society. In this sense, Treasure Island is a Victorian novel; both Romantic and chivalric. In rhetoric, it is modern; almost akin to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels.The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know,where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there forme. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again tothat accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have arewhen I hear the surf booming about its coasts or start uprightin bed with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing inmy ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”
It is upon this unfamiliarity, or what C. S. Lewis would call a longing for "northernness," that the seemingly paradox of Scottish Romantic myth is formed. Although the Highlanders are contrarians and worldly, their geographic and cultural setting is almost ethereal. Highlanders are forced to traverse the wildernesses of Scotland like deer, and the beauty of such an adventure is almost like a crusade. In this sense, the Highlands prefigure a mystic land of paradise rather than worldliness. The protagonist is unfamiliar with the Highlands because it is filled with worldly characters and because it is oppositely filled with beauty and intrigue. In the first case, the protagonist has a desire to get back to his homeland, and in the second, he wishes to explore. This is why David has mixed feelings in the story. Regarding the intrigue for mystery and beauty, there is a scene in the book where Alan and a MacGregor have a bagpipe duel to settle their differences (see illustration above). David is enthralled. The geographic and cultural setting in Kidnapped is far more developed than in Treasure Island.
Although Stevenson still retains his knack for adventure, The Black Arrow almost resembles a Scott or Henty novel in delivery. The story itself takes place during the War of the Roses. Dick, the protagonist, joins an outlaw band and welcomes the York dynastic cause in order to rescue Joanne from the clutches of Sir Daniel Brackley who intends to marry her off to Lord Shoreby. Being a far more complex character than Jim Hawkins or David Balfour, Dick often finds himself making flippant decisions about complex political and social issues in order to accomplish his narrow goals. Throughout the story he is bombarded with the ill effects of such a disrespect for the complexity of his surroundings, and repents for his many flaws. By the same token, he never gives up his narrow quest to save Joanne. The Black Arrow is a rich story that demands the attention of Stevenson's greatest criticizers. It is a clear departure from his simple adventure novels.
Stevenson was a man of diverse talents. Forming an critical opinion of him from Treasure Island or Kidnapped would be very narrow minded. His unique ballance between ever changing and enduring themes is due to his emphasis of liberty and constancy. There is almost certainly something for everyone in Stevenson's works.