Review of the Pirates of the Pines by A.M. Chisholm

Treasure Island was a very successful book in 1883, gaining critical acclaim and popularity for its author, R.L. Stevenson, who until then had not been successful. It is still in print today, and has never been out of print since its first appearance in print.

Stevenson tells a rousing story of a boy becoming a man in a hunt for treasure while battling against pirates, and his characters are memorable –impulsive Jim Hawkins, the morally ambiguous pirate Long John Silver, the evil blind pirate Pew, the dogged Dr. Livesey, the bumptious yet likable Squire Trelawney and many others. Stevenson’s gift for capturing scenes in dramatic detail, a product of his childhood playing with a theatre set of toys, served him well in this book. Like that other great Victorian children’s novel, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island was born when Stevenson told his stepson a story to pass an idle rainy day.

The success of Treasure Island inspired many sequels and prequels, with Arthur Howden Smith penning one of the best prequels – Porto Bello Gold. Pirates of the Pines, originally published in 1915 as the Fur Pirates in the Popular Magazine, is A.M. Chisholm’s homage to Treasure Island. A.M. Chisholm was a writer of western and north-western stories and was one of the main contributors to the Popular Magazine, with an average of five stories every year in the nineteen twenties and thirties.

Introduction to Pirates of the Pines, from the editor of the Popular Magazine
Introduction to Pirates of the Pines, from the editor of the Popular Magazine

Chisholm takes the central plot of Treasure Island and relocates it in the far north of Canada, where rivers take the place of roads, and forests are like seas where you can go for days without seeing anyone on the horizon. While Chisholm borrows the plot from Stevenson, the characters in the story are all his own – they speak in their own north woods dialect and have distinct personalities. I was unable to locate the area he uses as the setting; I did find a river named Carcajou and a lake named Atikameg, but they are so far apart as to make the story impractical. I particularly liked the beginning:

IF it were not for Peggy I should not write this story at all. Peggy is my niece, and I am very fond of her and she knows it. So when she got the idea in her glossy young head we both knew very well what would happen, although I objected that there was no woman in the story except that other Peggy who, being my sister, did not count, and the klootchman Lucille, who was most certainly not a heroine. But Peggy overrode me grandly by saying she was tired of wilderness heroines who crop up where no white man would think of taking a woman. There was something in that.

But I protested further that though I had told the yarn often enough it was quite a different matter to write it. “Bosh!“ said Peggy. “Write it just the way you tell it.”

So I was up against the iron there, too. I do not know just how to make a proper literary start; but, as with most other work, perhaps the main thing is to get started somehow.

My name is Robert Cory. I do not remember my mother. My father, who taught history in a college which is not necessary to name, died when I was a little shaver, and when his friends came to dig into his affairs they found that he had very little money and insurance and only one relative on so far as they could ascertain, a brother who lived in the wilderness that fringed the Carcajou. And so my sister Peggy and I, two forlorn little waifs, were packed off to him, and no doubt everybody was glad to be rid of us.

Now our Uncle Fred, though college bred like my father, had been a rolling stone. But finally he had taken up land on the Carcajou, in the belief that it would someday be valuable, and, of course, as everybody knows now, he was right. But at that time he was land poor. He had several thousand acres of farm and timber lands on which he was hard pressed to make even the small payments required by the government, but often he had not enough money to buy flour.

He worked a scant thirty acres with the help of one man, a slow-moving, lanky, one-eyed Scandinavian named Gus Swanson. This gave him subsistence. And for more he waited till the march of settlement west and north should strike him; and the slow years never shook his faith, which has since been amply justified.

Peggy was his favorite, and from the first she could twist him around her finger, just as the other Peggy now twists me, and to me he was more like an elder brother than an uncle.

And so, you see, as a boy my life was bounded by the Carcajou. I had only faint recollections of anything different. Its waters and bordering forests made up my world, with which I was very well content. In summer, when old enough, I helped in the gar den and fields, and fished and gathered wild berries in season for Peggy to do down against the winter. And in winter I fished through the ice, and set my small line of snares and traps for rabbit and muskrat and mink and fox; and even for the great, silver-gray, soft footed, tuft-eared lynx.

And yet it must not be supposed that Peggy and I grew up like young savages. We had our schoolbooks and our regular hours for study, and our uncle taught us, having been no doubt at much pains to brush up his rudiments.

The plotting had to be changed to fit the new locale (you can’t imagine the narrator stealing a ship in a forest), and Chisholm does a masterly job of changing the elements while retaining the flavor of the original. Murania Press’ reprint of this excellent story is well done, with high quality, easy to read typography and no errors that I could find. The cover is an excellent illustration from Frank Schoonover and suits the book perfectly. If you like adventure stories, this book is for you. To read the first four chapters of the book, click here.

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