The pirate tropes that pervade popular culture today can be traced in large part to Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel, Treasure Island
. However, it is the novel’s afterlife on film that has generated fictional pirates as we now understand them. By tracing the transformation of the author’s pirate captain, Long John Silver, from N. C. Wyeth’s illustrations (1911) through the cinematic performances of Wallace Beery (1934) and Robert Newton (1950), this paper demonstrates that the films have created a quintessentially “American pirate”—a figure that has necessarily evolved in response to differences in medium, the performances of the leading actors, and filmgoers’ expectations. Comparing depictions of Silver’s dress, physique, and speech patterns, his role vis-à-vis Jim Hawkins, each adaptation’s narrative point of view, and Silver’s departure at the end of the films reveals that while the Silver of the silver screen may appear to represent a significant departure from the text, he embodies a nuanced reworking of and testament to the author’s original.
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