The idea of a marked treasure map was made popular in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, published in 1883, but he wasn’t the first author to play with this concept. Thirty-four years earlier James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Sea Lions, begins with the death of a sailor who leaves behind ‘two old, dirty and ragged charts’, which lead to a location in the West Indies where pirates have buried treasure.
There were, however, some limitations to finding treasure in these early books. It would be helpful to be acquainted with a pirate, and to be ready to set sail on a schooner at the earliest convenience. Even to be on talking terms with a parrot would be an advantage. Luckily the Famous Five came along to show us it was perfectly possible to find treasure closer to home, although you still needed your own island.
In Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island, published in 1942, the story revolves around Julian, Dick, George and Anne finding a treasure map with the word ‘ingots’ (gold) marked by a red ‘x’. Luckily the map is of an island owned by George’s family, but before they can search for the treasure they hear the island is to be sold, resulting in a race against time.
The idea of marked maps or a code revealing the way to unknown treasure is very powerful. It crops up in adventure films (The Goonies; Indianna Jones) and books time and time again. However the skill is finding a new way to tell the story!
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure fact one: I used to love making maps of fictional islands.
Treasure fact two: I also made a map of my house detailing squeaky floorboards so I’d know where not to tread when creeping downstairs early in the morning to look at Christmas presents.
Treasure fact three: I used to bury ‘treasure’ in the garden for my dolls to find. I swear some of it is still missing.
Treasure fact four: When my mum and dad moved to our house in the sixties they found a fencing sword behind the coal shed.
Treasure fact five: A recent treasure find was an old horse-shoe when I went for a walk near Glastonbury. I felt very lucky indeed!