Long John Silver limps through Jim Hawkins’ mind long before he meets him. “Beware the one-legged man,” Billy Bones tells Jim, and Jim prepares to do just that. Chapter after chapter, Jim is plagued by nightmares of what sort of horror this one-legged man must be. He imagines him as a monster straight out of myth, hopping after him on a single, deformed limb.
So when Jim finally meets Silver, he cannot believe that this jovial, hard-working man could possibly be the villain of the story. Neither can readers, and when Silver assumes the role of Jim’s mentor, you find yourself feeling glad that this orphaned boy has finally found himself a father figure. When Silver is revealed as the leader of the mutiny – and a thoroughly underhanded pirate to boot – Jim and the reader alike are horrified at the revelation that Silver’s kindness to him was all a façade.
Or was it? To the end of the novel, Silver continues to defend Jim from his fellow pirates, trusting the boy with his life, and saving it in turn. When the plan falls apart, and Silver finds himself staring down a gang of armed men – with only Jim for backup – the reader and Jim both find themselves rooting for him again. In the end, Silver makes good his escape, and no one – not even the priggish Dr. Livesy – is enraged by that.
With his missing leg and his parrot, Long John Silver helped to define our modern conception of what a pirate should look like. With his sympathetic demeanor and ability to talk his way out of any situation, he helped create the concept of the antihero: the likable antagonist, for whom the audience cannot help but cheer. Like fellow Robert Louis Stevenson creation, Mr. Hyde, Silver has had a lengthy afterlife, with characters modeled on him showing up throughout modern books, television and film. One thing is for sure: there would be no Captain Jack Sparrow if there had not already been a Long John Silver.
Cameron Winter is an aspiring author from Lindsay, Ontario. Having recently completed both an Honours BA in History at Trent University, and a certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College, he is currently working on a novel, and several pieces of short fiction. He has been previously published by Black Heart Magazine, and can be found on Facebook.