Sep 15, 2012

Long John Silver As Archetype

Two paths converge in this post.

One, is that I used to love Long John Silver's.  It was a sort of fast-food fish/chips place in PA where I grew up.  (Incidentally, I also used to go to a store called Treasure Island- it's where I bought my original Star Wars figures and G.I. Joes).

The second is that I recently read the book Treasure Island, by Stevenson.  And the cook who becomes a mutinous pirate captain?  Long John Silver.  Good choice of restaurant name.  Well, sort of.  The character is very ambiguous.  You're never sure if he's a villain, or is playing both sides, or is truly good-hearted deep down.  Perhaps not the image you'd like to portray for your fish joint.

But then I got to thinking about this guy.  I think we're probably supposed to identify with the main character, Jim Hawkins.  But the more you think about it, and the more mature an adult you are, the more you realize that we aren't all courageous Jim.  Instead, we are really Long John Silver.

Maybe we mean the best, at times.  We really do try to help those around us, just like Silver does with Jim.  But if our friends hid in an apple barrel (like Hawkins does in the book), what kind of mutinous, back-stabbing talk might they hear from us?  What evil lies just under the skin of each of us?

"What kind of friend would pull a knife- when it's him or you, and his kids need shoes? ...what kind of friend would do you in when the bomb goes off- and the shelter's his? ..What kind of friend do friends become when a blind eye turns on the damage done?"- Mark Heard

Silver is playing both sides.  You're never sure if he is being straight with the "good guys" or the pirates.  Does he even know, himself?  If the chance presents itself, will he simply murder all the good character and sail off with the treasure?  But again, as the above song quote alludes, who among us ISN'T playing both sides?  In for the fun, for the gluttony, for the scandal and the gossip, when it feels right, then down on our knees when our mood or whims change and we realize what kind of person we truly are?

This isn't meant to be demeaning, depressing, or insulting.  Simply to interact with a literary character who seems despicable- until you realize you are simply looking in a mirror.

"Oh, no,  who is that?!  Oh, no... it's me"-Daniel Amos

It reminds me of the old song "Cash Cow" by Steve Taylor, when the narrator screams at the end of the song "I deserve better!!"  What, in fact, does any of us 'deserve'?  What do we have to hold over the head of the God of the universe?  Nothing at all.

It's like the Squire, the Doctor, and the Captain in Treasure Island, who resist simply shooting Long John Silver, despite his treachery.  Frankly, the fact that that Creator does anything but destroy us, my friends, is what the old theological word "grace" truly means.

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