A brief, long-lost essay by "Treasure Island" author Robert Louis Stevenson will be published on Friday, the Associated Press reports. The essay will appear in the Strand magazine, a mystery fiction quarterly out of Birmingham, Mich. The Strand has previously uncovered famous authors' unpublished works.
Although short, the Stevenson piece, titled "Books and Reading. No. 2. How Books Have to Be Written," appears to be part of a longer work. It is especially noteworthy for its critique of the fiction of Stevenson's day. While he himself penned many of the most exciting adventure stories in literature -- "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "Kidnapped" among them -- the author writes that contemporary fiction often bored him.
"In the trash that I have no doubt you generally read, a vast number of people will probably get shot and stabbed and drowned; and you have only a very slight excitement for your money," he writes.
"If you want to know what a murder really is," Stevenson recommends "the writings of a great writer" such as "Macbeth," which contains enough realism to give "what people call a 'sensation.'" Storytelling, he writes, often makes life seem more dreadful, wonderful or exciting than it is.
Andrew Gulli, the Strand's managing editor, said he estimates the essay was written around 1881, while Stevenson was likely at work on "Treasure Island." In the essay, though, the author who brought us such famous swashbucklers as Long John Silver complains that pirates are among those falsely represented in fiction.
"If you read a true account of these rogues you would be thunderstruck," Stevenson writes. "Again and again they try to cross the Atlantic -- what hundreds of decent, respectable merchant skippers do successfully every month -- and again and again they lose their way, cannot find the trade-winds, and, from sheer block-headedness, suffer the last extremities of thirst and hunger."
Perhaps thinking of his own work, he continues: "All this sort of matter, the pirate story people quietly leave out … would not go down with the reader."
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