John O’Melveny Woods rediscovered “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson one summer when he was staying with friends who had a bookcase full of classics. While Woods had loved the book as a child — especially the pirate characters — he was surprised to find that the story had elements that delighted him as an adult.
Woods felt sad when the story ended, and that prompted him to write its sequel.
“Return to Treasure Island” begins three years after Jim Hawkins leaves Treasure Island, when Jim learns that Long John Silver has been captured and sentenced to hang. Jim decides to help Long John Silver. The two set out to find a huge treasure — the pharaoh’s gold.
In an online video interview, Woods described his trepidation about writing a sequel to one of the world’s great classics. “A bad version would be worse than none at all,” he said.
The first step in re-creating Jim’s world was getting a feel for the language, Woods explained.
“The book was written in the late 1800s and language had a different cadence then,” he said. “It’s a more difficult language for modern readers to understand, but I didn’t want to make it completely modern, so I split the difference.”
Woods recorded all the pirate dialogue to train his ear. “Once I got the language, it was clear how the book was going to sound,” he said.
He decided to retain as many of the original characters as he could, then added additional characters plus a romance.
“The first book was a coming-of-age story, from boy to man. This one also includes a love story,” Woods said. “I also needed to get Hawkins back to Treasure Island, so I created a reason for him to come back.”
Woods aimed to provide the means for readers to revisit the world of the original story.
“My hope for ‘Return’ is to bring the reader back into the joy and adventure of ‘Treasure Island,’” he said. “I brought Jim back to the same kinds of moral dilemmas he faced in the original, and I wanted the reader to have the fun of going through a treasure hunt.”
Readers sometimes tell Woods that reading “Return” made them want to read the original again. “That to me is a very fulfilling moment,” he said.
Woods will visit Pages Bookstore Thursday, July 22, at 7 p.m.