Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island, and while there is obviously a difference between an M-rated adult show and a children’s adventure story, I was amazed at how similar two really are.
1. Three main characters transfer from Treasure Island to Black Sails: Billy Bones, Captain James Flint, and Long John Silver (a few other minor characters also appear in the tv show, but I will let them remain secret so that you might enjoy the surprise).
When they appear in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Flint is dead, Billy is a drunk, and Silver is a villain. The television show begins loosely 20-30 years before the novel, and our characters could not be further from the people we know they will someday become. Watching the evolution of their character arcs is satisfying, and despite knowing where will someday be, it is nonetheless suspenseful to wonder just HOW that could possibly happen.
2. The pirates in Black Sails thankfully forego the pirate speak found in Treasure Island. Ours speak English properly and beautifully, and I could not be more grateful to avoid 38 hours of “This is a handy cove and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop. Much company, mate?”
1. There is a lot of violence in Black Sails, so when I reread Treasure Island, I was surprised to find pretty much more of the same. In the children’s novel, a man nearly breaks a child’s arm, and several men die in gruesome ways: trampled by horses, stabbed multiple times, and shot through the head. Pirates are dangerous whether on the page or the screen, it seems.
2. A running question in Black Sails is in differentiating between the actions of “civilized” men and “amoral” pirates. Although the novel is not nearly as nuanced as the show, there are still traces of this theme, such as when “civilized” authorities celebrate the tragic deaths of innocent men, so long as those men were deemed “bad.”
3. Another central premise of Black Sails is the act of piracy as performative art. Captains play the part of villains so that the next ship along with surrender without fighting for fear of the name Flint (or Vane, or Teach). We see this performance in Treasure Island as well, although ironically, it is primarily presented in its opposite form. Long John Silver spends most of the first half of the novel acting like a civilized man, and even when his true role is revealed, he continues to play the part in hopes that this will gain him what he wants.
In the end, you do not need to know about both Treasure Island and Black Sails to appreciate the other, but I do think it’s enjoyable to see one through the lens of the other!