Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Living a boy's adventure tale

One of the things I love most about living in California is going to the beach with my family. One of the places I hoped to go when I served my LDS mission over 26 years ago was somewhere in the islands of the South Pacific (instead I went to southern Brazil and loved it!). I used to have a 50 gallon saltwater reef aquarium, and it was amazing! (I hope to set one up again sometime when I have more time.) One old movie I love watching with the kids is "Swiss Family Robinson," and I'm probably one of the few people who really liked "Castaway" with Tom Hanks. Heck, I even got into watching the TV series "Lost" for a little while (and I'm not a TV-watcher). And I've already mentioned that a couple of my favorite books are Robinson Crusoe and The Mysterious Island. I even enjoyed Lord of the Flies. Notice any pattern? Me neither.

Just kidding! Of course I love the beach and love the idea of living on a tropical island (this is probably because I grew up where it was really cold in the winter). But since getting shipwrecked on one doesn't look very likely in my case I can at least keep reading books about people who are so lucky, and the latest one is The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne. Written in 1858, this book is NOT in the same class as the literary classics I mentioned above but it's still a classic – it's just more of a children's classic (with a caveat, as I'll explain). In fact, it was the inspiration for Lord of the Flies and Treasure Island.

The story is told by 15 year old Ralph of his adventure being shipwrecked on a small island in the South Seas with two other young shipmates, Jack (18) and Peterkin (14). They quickly make themselves at home, and even though they have very little in the way of materials scavenged from the wreck, they find fruits, roots, fish, ducks, and even wild pigs to eat. And it's very idyllic for a while, exploring the island and swimming in the warm ocean and hunting and just living a boy’s adventure tale. Even when a couple of large canoes land on shore and two groups of Polynesians get out and have a battle, they're having a great time. (Of course, the boys intervene and help defeat the attackers, but they still choose to stay on the island. Alone. And I can't say I blame them.)

But things take a much darker turn when pirates arrive, and this marks a change where the story becomes quite violent. Nowadays we tend to look down on filling our children's minds with violence (unless it's from video games, of course) and some parents might be a little surprised at some of the savage customs that apparently used to be quite widespread among Polynesians (like smashing their enemies skulls, eating their enemies, sacrificing babies to eel gods, and surfing). Also, an overriding theme throughout the book is the civilizing influence of Christianity, and although I'm a Christian I had to roll my eyes at how often Ralph speaks of praying and the goodness of God and thankfulness for salvation. If you think Robinson Crusoe overdoes it, you won't after reading this one! But Ballantyne was deeply religious and felt it was his duty to provide boys with an uplifting story. Fair enough.

And, honestly, I actually enjoyed it for the most part. Of course, I like a little cannibalism now and then. Besides, if I ever actually ended up on a desert island in real life I'd probably die. If not from eating something I shouldn't have then certainly from the world's worst sunburn! So it's probably just as well that I stick with the stories in books.

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