(SHOULD I READ IT OR WATCH IT?)
Where my inspiration for these blog posts comes from isn’t always clear to me, but this time, it may be thoughts of upcoming Easter egg hunts. For younger children, it doesn’t get any better than the search for and discovery of egg after precious chocolate egg, until the basket is full.
And though our definitions of treasure may change through the years, the idea of hunting for a hidden trove appeals to us all, I think, and its seed is planted early.
Whether it’s hidden in a cave, sunken or buried, where there’s treasure, there are usually pirates, and pirates are GREAT.
No one knew that better than Robert Louis Stevenson, whose cunning and unforgettable pirate, Long John Silver, from the novel Treasure Island, is probably better known than the real life, notorious 17th century Blackbeard himself (alias Edward Teach) !
The Library’s collection includes Tim Hamilton’s graphic novel adaptation of the original adventure story, as well as the classic movie, released in 1950. If you fancy witnessing Kermit the Frog’s derring-do in the face of Tim Curry’s Long John Silver, you can see them too, in Muppet Treasure Island. Finally, as if the great big sea weren’t enough, Disney sets its most recent version of the story in space, in Treasure Planet.
There are stories about hidden treasure that are flat out, rip roaring fun, though they have little or nothing to do with pirates.
Where else can treasure be found? Well, in Elisabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series, it’s usually found somewhere in Egypt, at the turn of the 20th century, in such places as Amarna, Giza, or the Valley of the Kings, hidden in a desert cave or a mummy’s tomb. Occasionally though, just to keep things challenging, Amelia Peabody, her brawny, brilliant (a delicious and irresistible combination, for sure) and irascible husband Emerson and the rest of her friends and family, also find both treasure and trouble in places like the Sudan, Palestine, and even at home in London and Kent.
If you haven’t yet discovered this fantastically fun and funny series, then you’re lucky in many ways, because you can start with the first novel, The Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975), and work your way through, knowing there are nineteen more equally delightsome novels to come, including a brilliant compendium to the series. Amelia, an unconventional (that’s the understatement of the year), passionate and often hilarious Egyptologist, must have been a deeply satisfying character through which her creator, fellow Egyptologist Barbara Mertz (under the pen name Elizabeth Peters) was able to express her most mischievous and romantic self. Sadly, the author died in 2013.
The one mystery that eludes me is why the books were never adapted to the screen. Do any of you know? The closest I’ve seen to the Amelia/Emerson pairing are Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movies, The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), which feature the romantic duo of Richard “Rick” O’Connell and Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan.
In the end, maybe the best place for Amelia and Emerson is on the page and in our individual imaginations.
If you’re itching for more adrenaline-fuelled treasure hunts, there’s another romantic and adventure addicted couple waiting to be discovered in Clive Cussler’s Fargo series, featuring:
“Sam and Remi Fargo, a husband and wife treasure-hunting team who travel to exotic locales around the globe; unraveling ancient mysteries, unearthing long-lost treasures, finding themselves in sticky situations at every turn…”
Doesn’t that sound good? I haven’t read any of them yet. Maybe I’ll dive in this summer. The series is comprised of the following six novels: Spartan Gold (2009), Lost Empire (2010), The Kingdom (2011), The Tombs (2012), The Mayan Secrets (2013) and The Eye of Heaven (2014). And that’s just so far: at a rate of one per year, who knows how many treasures the Fargos will pile up?!
Sometimes, treasure fuels dreams of revenge, and sometimes, it provides opportunities for redemption. In Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s the treasure on the island of Monte Cristo, revealed to Edmond Dantès in the Château d’If by the Abbé Faria (the mad prisoner-priest) that transforms Dantès’ fate once again, making it possible, ultimately, for him to “Wait and Hope”: his life’s ultimate lesson.
Often, in fiction as in life, treasure is nothing more than a sad expression of human greed and the impulse to hoard avariciously. These dark human impulses are treated with wit, in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, released in 1963 (and part of the Library’s collection), summarized as follows on the Criterion website:
“Stanley Kramer followed his Oscar-winning Judgement at Nuremberg with this sobering investigation of American greed. Ah, who are we kidding? It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, about a group of strangers fighting tooth and nail over buried treasure, is the most grandly harebrained movie ever made, a pileup of slapstick and borscht-belt-y one-liners performed by a nonpareil cast, including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, and a boatload of other playing-to-the-rafters comedy legends. For sheer scale of silliness, Kramer’s wildly uncharacteristic film is unlike any other, an exhilarating epic of tomfoolery.”
History has provided us with plenty of examples of treasure as the spoils of war. Recently, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert Edsel (with Bret Witter), documented the Nazi looting of Europe’s priceless art collections, both public and, more shamefully, private. Edsel’s book was later made into a movie of the same name, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon. It helps that this story, at least, ends well for the good guys.
Though we’d like to think that the Nazis cornered the market in despicable behavior during the Second World War, a documentary film, titled simply Loot, which you can also find on the Library’s shelves, reminds us that there is no moral high ground in this ugly chapter of human history. All you have to do is glance at the summary of the film:
“A feature length documentary that follows two WWII veterans and a used car salesman across the globe in search of their buried wartime treasures. During WWII, Darrel was stationed in Europe. Andrew was in the Philippines. In the chaos of combat, they stole valuable treasures and hid them overseas before returning to civilian life in America. Sixty years later back in America, both men have gone blind with little hope of ever recovering their goods. Both want to recover the treasures that they feel are their own, but with their health failing, they need Lance’s help to travel halfway around the world to find them. So with time, distance and the odds against them, Lance throws himself into their dubious quests to unearth the past, laying bare family secrets and dark wartime histories in the process. “
When talking about evil Nazis and hidden booty, it’s impossible to forget the first and third films of the Indiana Jones series. In the first movie, the treasure is the scriptural Arc of the Covenant itself, but in the latter, I’d say that it’s the “Holy Grail of treasures” Indy’s seeking, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Holy Grail really IS the treasure!
Which brings us to THE Grail hunt novel of the 21st century, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, where the Grail, well, isn’t what anyone expected.
I like to think that our fascination with treasures is a mixture of our refusal to let go of our childhood belief that life is full of excitement and adventure waiting to be lived, and of the same kind of magical thinking that moves us to buy lottery tickets because …well…you never know.
That’s why my favourite treasure hunt story is the one told in the wonderful children’s movie Goonies, released in 1985, directed by Richard Donner and written by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus. Goonies, featuring teenaged Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Martha Plimpton, is a roller coaster ride of a movie about a bunch of friends searching for a pirate treasure (One-Eye’d Willy’s) in order to save their home town. Like many great kids films, it has all kinds of memorable and quotable moments (if you’ve seen it, then you know what the “truffle shuffle” is, and can probably yell “Hey You guys!” and “Rocky Road!” with the right intonation).
The last tantalizing treasure hunt story I leave you with is one that looks into the future. It is, in fact, a redefinition of the whole idea of treasure hunts, because in this novel, the treasure is virtual. It comes highly recommended to me by my son, who just finished it. It’s Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (2011), and found a place on many top 20 novels lists in recent years. Here’s a foretaste:
“It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.”
I think it’s kind of fun that the Library has it in eBook form, rather than print copy. Once I’ve read it (I confess that I’ll read my son’s print copy), I’ll be sure to write a blog piece about it.**
**Note, Saturday, March 14th:
An Online Book Club reader added this exciting little bit of information about Ready Player One: (see ThirdSun):
If your list isn’t already long enough, here are some other books and movies that feature treasure hunts that you can find at the Library:
– Arthur’s Treasure Hunt (children’s DVD) : the movie’s summary explains that “Arthur wants to look for buried treasure, but he is not allowed to dig in the backyard”.
– The entire Pirates of the Caribbean film series:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Curse of the Black Pearl
- Dead Man’s Chest
- At World’s End
- On Stranger Tides
– And finally, the wonderful novel ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, which is, among other things, a hunt for The Sea of Flames diamond.