Robert Louis Stevenson’s enduring fame rests, above all, on Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, both of which have been adapted for film and TV many times. My own favourite is Kidnapped, also multiply adapted and but a little less celebrated. Stevenson had the rare talent of being able to write rip-roaring adventure stories to grip younger readers, but also the ability to write darker adult tales of psychological torment, like Jekyll and the bitter (though still gripping) revenge saga The Master of Ballantrae.
Critical, academic opinions of Stevenson’s work have fluctuated and varied over time. This is to be expected – no one writing such vivid, exciting and popular stories is likely to win universal approval from the literary gatekeepers. But for me he is a genuinely great writer. Other authors penned exciting adventures in the 19th century but none of them created such vivid, morally complex characters as Long John Silver and Alan Breck Stewart, let alone the tormented soul that was both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
There is an excellent short summation of his life and work on the Poetry Foundation website: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/robert-louis-stevenson
Stevenson also wrote poetry aimed at children, producing a collection – A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885) while recuperating after a brain haemorrhage in the South of France. The poem is about a river, the reflection and beyond it to another world that the child wishes he or she could visit – To me it conjures memories of searching rock pools at Hushinish on childhood holidays and finding a magical world of sea anenomes , hermit crabs and exotic sea slugs and, more recently, encountering the crystal waters of the River Itchen.
Smooth it glides upon its travel,
Here a wimple, there a gleam–
O the clean gravel!
O the smooth stream!
Sailing blossoms, silver fishes,
Pave pools as clear as air–
How a child wishes
To live down there!
We can see our colored faces
Floating on the shaken pool
Down in cool places,
Dim and very cool;
Till a wind or water wrinkle,
Dipping marten, plumping trout,
Spreads in a twinkle
And blots all out.
See the rings pursue each other;
All below grows black as night,
Just as if mother
Had blown out the light!
Patience, children, just a minute–
See the spreading circles die;
The stream and all in it
Will clear by-and-by.
Reflection is this week’s creative theme, suggested by Ivor, and it is a good one as it encompasses so many things – from the literal reflection of a mirror or still pool to psychological reflection – thoughts about life and… well, almost anything. Reflective thought suggests calmness just as reflection on water prompts thoughts of still water. Reflection doesn’t have to be quiet or calm – you could see an explosion in a mirror – still, I think the word does prompt an atmosphere of serenity and stillness rather than action and furious activity.
But what do you think?
I can’t wait to see your writing on this theme