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Long John Silver

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Treasure Island character
Long John Silver leading Jim Hawkins in The Hostage, illustration by N. C. Wyeth, 1911
Created by Robert Louis Stevenson
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Gender Male
Occupation Cook & Pirate Captain
Nationality English

Long John Silver is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the novel Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson. The most colorful and complex character in the book, he continues to appear in popular culture.


In Treasure Island, Long John Silver is a cunning and opportunistic 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. 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."[1] 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 likeable 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 and narrator, 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 to further his own interests, Silver has compensating virtues: he is wise enough to pay attention to money management, in contrast to the spendthrift ways of most of the 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 Jim, a boy in his teens, to back him.

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 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.[2] Silver has a parrot, named Captain Flint in mockery of his former captain,[3] who generally perches on Silver's shoulder, and is known to chatter pirate or seafaring 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 baby."[4]

Silver 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. Ironically his "share" of Flint's treasure {£400} is considerably less than that of Ben Gunn's share {£1,000} and what he himself boasts is his "share" from England {£900} and from Flint {£2,000}

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.[5] 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".[6] 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".[7]

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[8] 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.[9]

BBC1 has presented the story four times, with Anthony Quinn, Bernard Miles, Peter Vaughan, and Alfred Burke in the role.

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).

The recent 2013 Big Finish audio production starred Tom Baker as Silver, a role he also played on stage at the Mermaid Theatre, London, UK in 1981.

The 2014 original series "Black Sails" on Starz has the character, John Silver, played by Luke Arnold. The series takes place 20 years prior to the events in Treasure Island.

In popular culture

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


  1. ^ Stevenson, Robert Louis (May 23, 1883). Treasure Island. 
  2. ^ Karg, p. 220.
  3. ^ Stevenson, Robert Louis (1883). "chapter 10: The Voyage". Treasure Island. Cassell & Company. pp. 80–81. 
  4. ^ Stevenson, Robert Louis (1883). Treasure Island. 
  5. ^ Prince, p. 78.
  6. ^ Elwin, p. 154.
  7. ^ Stevenson, p. 316.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Adv LJS". Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  10. ^ "''Nathan Never – L'isola del tesoro/Treasure Island''". Retrieved 2010-12-06. 

Further reading

  • Elwin, Malcolm. (1939). Old gods falling. New York: The Macmillan Company. OCLC 968055
  • 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. OCLC 9524286

External links