Do favourite books of youth help you recover from the flu? Yes, says Paul Charman.

While off work sick this week I discovered what a healing therapy a beloved kids' book can be.

Stevenson's classic tale Treasure Island (a free copy online) probably shortened my time in bed by days.

I re-read the book between bouts of sleeping, coughing and sneezing.

But I think I'd still be off work sick had I decided to merely lay on the couch watching TV.

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I mean if I'd have had to contend with all that depressing violence that now plagues the world's media.

Yes, if I'd monitored Fox News, CNN and the BBC I would have no doubt become depressed by all that is going on.

But when you're not well you need comfort and reassurance, rather than negativity.

And how better to find it than in a charming familiar story of youth.

And that brings me back to Treasure Island; what a wonderful, if very disturbing yarn!

The sailing passages are accurate, and (in the non-abridged version anyway) the pirates' West Country dialects seem believable . . .

There's much subtle humour, but I'll freely admit it's also one of the most horrifying kids' stories imaginable.

Fully two thirds of the characters get killed off, as the pirates battle it out with those crewmen faithful to Squire Trelawney.

So despite being 36th on the BBC's list of the world's most beloved novels, I wonder at the story's benign image.

Stevenson is, of course, a master at describing action, albeit through the eyes of young Jim Hawkins, whose narration seems tinged with post-traumatic stress.

In fact, this story has seemingly inspired horrendous copycat works.

Take this passage is from Treasure Island's climactic shoot-out:

1) Before you could wink, Long John had fired two barrels of a pistol into the struggling Merry, and as the man rolled up his eyes at him in the last agony, "George," said he, "I reckon I settled you."

2) Now here's a similar passage from Mickey Spillane's infamous work of misogyny, The Jury: "The roar of the .45 shook the room . . . How c-could you?" she gasped.
I had only a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
"It was easy," I said.
If the second wasn't inspired by the first, I'll eat my hat.

But there's moral certainty in Treasure Island, despite the violence.

That good will win overcome evil seems as predictable as the tracks which carry Thomas the Tank Engine, and that's just what an ill person needs to believe. (The only ambiguity coming from Long John Silver's character, as he has redeeming qualities despite being a rogue).

Not that there aren't some dicey moments . . .

The pirates hoist the Jolly Roger above the ship they high-jacked - the Hispaniola - while the Squire's men raise the Union Jack above their Stockade.

One side must win and one must lose, and for a while there it seems that it could go either way.

There's treachery, drunkenness and threats of torture.

And that the pirates are contemptible in their rapid moral deterioration, every kid can see that.

They once kept the Hispaniola spotless but she's soon strewn with broken bottles, cupboards rifled open and mud tramped through every cabin.

And hardened reprobates like Flint's former gunner, Israel Hands (Jim eventually blows his brains out), even make a point of rejecting the divine mercy of the Almighty!
Hands dies, and then by implication goes straight to hell.

Meanwhile, Tom Redruth, an old servant of the Squire's, who is mortally wounded by the pirates, is - we're led to believe by the narrative - assured of life everlasting.

"All's well with him; no fear for a hand that's been shot down in his duty to captain and owner. It mayn't be good divinity, but it's a fact."

Anyway, by the end of the tale most of the pirates are dead and the winners return to England sharing in a cache of gold coins from every nation of the world - one no doubt worth billions in today's money.

That these riches were wrested from previous owners murdered just few years prior, seems to trouble nobody.

So plenty of guns, gold and gloating and zero moral dilemmas.

Trust me - a story like that can really make you better!