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Explore the world with Robert Louis Stevenson

November 10, 2015 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy
"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive." R. L. Stevenson

There have been a few great adventurers in the history of literature, and I think we all agree  one of the quintessential adventurer-writers is Robert Louis Stevenson. His stories not only inspire us to sail to faraway seas with pirates, but they also invite us to explore the depths of the human psyche in his novels.

Robert Louis Stevenson Day is celebrated on 13th November, his birthday, and we have collected ideas and resources to help you with classroom projects. Invite your students to explore the world with and learn about the life of Robert Louis Stevenson. Then activate or build some background knowledge around two of his most famous novels. The two novels we are visiting today are Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Here is some information about the graded readers:

Who was Stevenson?

Project A

Search the Internet or read the short biography of Stevenson's life in one of the Helbling readers, and find out how the following things are connected to his life.

  • lighthouse engineer
  • law
  • health problems
  • tuberculosis
  • a canoe trip

Project B

What was the relationship between Stevenson and these people?

  • Fanny Osbourne
  • Charles Baxter
  • Auguste Rodin
  • Henry James
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Follow the footsteps of Robinson

Stevenson travelled all his life, both on land and sea, and his journeys fascinated and inspired him to write his stories. Where did he travel? 

Project A

Go to Google Maps and look up (and pin) the following places on a map. Why were they important places in Stevenson's life? 

  1. Paris
  2. Edinburgh
  3. San Francisco
  4. Samoa
  5. the south of France
  6. Italy
  7. the South Pacific
  8. New Jersey
  9. Hawaii
  10. Sydney

Project B

Visit this website and check the list of places Stevenson visited. Which one would you like to visit?

Map from the Helbling Reader Treasure Island. Illustrated by Giuseppe Palumbo. © Helbling Languages

Pirates! Let's find Treasure Island

One of Stevenson's most famous novels is Treasure Island. It was published in 1883. The narrator for most of the story is a boy, Jim Hawkins. He finds a map showing where the terrible pirate Captain Flint hid his treasure. Jim joins Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey on a journey to find the treasure along with a number of pirates, led by the fearful Long John Silver.

Project A

How much do you know about pirates? Check this items of a pirate's inventory and explain what they are. You can also draw a picture of a pirate.

  • white shirt
  • boots
  • long coat
  • baldric
  • belt
  • bandana
  • bottle with holder
  • Jolly Roger
  • hook
  • leather eye patch

Of course pirates usually keep parrots, and they drink rum. Do you know any famous pirates?

Project B

Can you talk like a pirate?

International Pirate Day is fun celebration of pirates, and people who celebrate this day talk like pirates on 19th September. Watch this original trailer of the 1950 film adaptation of the novel, and listen to Robert Newton, the actor who played the role of Long John Silver. His pirate accent inspired many other actors and people to talk like a pirate.

Visit the website International Pirate Day, and find the Talk Like a Pirate worksheet. Find the meaning of the following words.

  1. Directions:
    • starboard
    • port
    • stern 
    • bow 
  2. Pirate vocabulary:
    • Aarrr!
    • Ahoy
    • Avast
    • beauty
    • cutlass
    • Davy Jones' Locker
    • disembark
    • embark
    • foul
    • grog
    • keelhaul
    • lubber
    • matey
    • pieces of eight
    • plunder
    • wastrel
    • weigh anchor

Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Stevenson is also famous for his novels which study the human mind and psyche. One of the most famous novels is The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ (as in the expression “he is a Jekyll and Hyde character”) has become a very common saying in English, and is well-known even by people who have not read the book. The main theme of the book is the ‘divided self’ or the ‘dual’ nature of man. It is centred around the belief that good and evil are present in all of us and explores what could happen if these parts were chemically divided into two separate personalities.

Psychology and philosophy

An important question of the novel is dualism and the double nature of the human psyche. Read about this theme in our post Philosophy in the Literature Class and learn about duals and doppelgängers. There are several stories about doubles and divided personalities. Do you know any of them? Talk about them in class.

Double stories usually have similar features. Read about them and discuss if the stories you know have any of these features.

  1. When the two personalities meet, it usually causes trouble.
  2. The 'other half' usually tries to hurt the person.
  3. The 'other half' usually does unexpected things.
  4. These stories do not often have happy endings.

You can also look at our The Picture of Dorian Gray lesson plan and resources to read about another story which is about doubles.

The names

There is an interesting explanation of the two names (Jekyll and Hyde) on this BBC GCSE Bitesize page. What do you think of it?

Have you read any other novels written by Stevenson? Have you seen film adaptations of his works? Which was your favourite story? 

If you would like to read more about Robert Louis Stevenson, the Robert Louis Stevenson Day (RLS Day) and Edinburgh, the city of Literature, visit these websites:

Organise your own RLS Day in your school! Don't forget to share your Stevenson reading experiences with us.