Sunday, 22 May 2011

X is for... ‘X’ marks the spot

Since I cannot think of a children’s character beginning with ‘X’, let’s look instead at something else that often crops up in children’s stories – the search for hidden treasure!

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!


Treasure Island
Published: 1883
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!

13 comments:

Freya Morris said...

You're definately right - kids (and adults really) love treasure hunting. I wanted to have a treasure hunt at my wedding but was soon coerced to be ordinary. It taps into that fantasy door - what if??

snafu said...

Your childhood seems to have paralleled mine except for the squeaky floorboards, I never thought of that, but I drew endless maps. I loved Treasure Island, it was a book I re-read endlessly. Even without treasure, maps fascinate. The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh would not be quite so good without their maps. Something modern writers seem to have taken to heart, no recent fantasy is ever published without its map.

Old Kitty said...

Oooh I do remember your post about the horseshoe you found!! Yay for treasure and x-marking spots on maps! Take care
x

Out on the prairie said...

I always hoped to find a secret map to follow. We made a few when burying shells with part of the occupant in them, hoping to come back and find them.

Kittie Howard said...

Making a map of your creaky floors, oooh but that's so clever...I smiled at the thought, could imagine your concentration. Thanks for the history of X. I really enjoyed reading how it came about.

Catherine A. Winn said...

I love treasure hunting stories because of the adventures and close calls while on the hunt. Good post!

Fresh Garden said...

I don't like treasure hunting, because honestly, I'm always the treasure.....

KarenG said...

I used to love the treasure hunt when I was a kid, too. I was convinced I'd find buried treasure, or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Karen Clarke said...

As I'm hopeless at map reading, I'd never have found the treasure! I used to love those books though :o)

Happy Frog and I said...

Treasure hunting was a great choice. The only children's choice I could think of was X-Men so your choice is better. I used to love going on treasure hunts and this has brought back some lovely memories for me, thanks :-)

catwoods said...

I love pirates and treasure maps. What a find your blog was this morning and a great reminder of all the incredible sea-faring literature out there.

Plain Jane said...

I was never that creative, but my brothers were. I would play the treasure games they made up.

Deniz Bevan said...

I used to love making maps too! More fun than actually going on a treasure hunt in the house or garden. My sister and used to burn the edges of our maps to make them look authentic...