|Treasure Island character|
|Created by||Robert Louis Stevenson|
|Voiced by||Various Voices|
|Nicknames||Silver, Barbecue, Long John, Jack|
Long John Silver is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the novel Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson. The most colourful and complex character in the book, he continues to appear in popular culture. His missing leg and parrot, in particular, have greatly contributed to the image of the pirate in popular culture. His name is also commonly used as a slang term to describe an extra long glass vessel.
Long John Silver is a cunning and opportunistic pirate who was quartermaster under the notorious Captain Flint. Stevenson's portrayal of Silver has greatly influenced the modern iconography of the pirate.
Silver has a parrot, named Captain Flint in honor—or mockery—of his former captain, 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 about the parrot's buccaneer history. "'Now that bird,' Silver would say, 'is, maybe, two hundred years old, Hawkins—they lives forever mostly, and if anybody's seen more wickedness it must be the devil himself. She's sailed with England—the great pirate Cap'n England. 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."
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."
He also claims to have been the only man whom Flint ever feared. Like many of Stevenson's characters, there is significant 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, belies that duality, 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 treacherous and willing to change sides at any time to further his own interests, Silver has compensating virtues. He is wise enough to save his money, in contrast to the spendthrift ways of most of the pirates. He is physically courageous despite his disability: for instance, when Flint's cache is found to be empty, he coolly stands his ground against five murderous seamen 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. (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."
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 (£420) is considerably less than that of Ben Gunn (£1,000) and what Silver boasts was 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. 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". 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".