Island Obsession

I’m all out of topics to talk lately.


I was thinking about the fact that I liked “Shutter Island” so much – since my childhood I’ve been keen on desert island stories. Perhaps I have  a bias on judging stories that have an island as main background. If not, then I’m just being cliche and following the general unconscious concept that desert islands are the most fertile land to grow fiction and everyone loves the fruit it ultimately bears.

It all started back in 3rd grade with a school task.

We had our teacher read us a text. It was a mini story, the length of one short paragraph. It was intended to be an introduction for a story that we should afterwards develop, headed to wherever our minds were willing. The catch: such story should be “written” in colors in the drawing pad’s blank canvas, instead of the familiar notebook straight lines and it’s best pal, the pen. It was a story about a man in a desert island. I can’t quite remember all the elements given in the preamble that our work was supposed to be based on.  Anyhow, there it was: the island. And we were supposed to draw the story, not write it. Do it in a way that it spoke more than any words. That took my class half an afternoon. I remember everyone was focused and excited about it. After that day, whenever my class was given any art related task, a big part of us kids invariably ended up picturing islands, or something sea related, yet with an island as a part of the landscape. Until one day our teacher, very much intrigued, couldn’t help asking us out: “What’s the issue you all have with islands!? It’s an obsession that you will only draw islands! What’s that all about?” – she then laughed, in a sympathetic way, a little bit to us, a little bit to herself. Perhaps it was a rhetoric question . Perhaps she had the same obsession back in her time. Perhaps she understood us. Perhaps she loved islands when she was a 3rd grader too! And perhaps, in secrecy, she still loved desert islands (scadal!).

Around that same period I had read “Robinson Crusoe” . I was fascinated by it. I re-read it quite a few times. My classmates were not exactly bookworms back then. I used to comment, in awe, about Robinson Crusoe’s adventures, to what the others reacted as if I was an alien from outer space. Three of them actually happened to read Crusoe’s adventures, and with me they shared their awe, – just to make me feel less an alien and more like a normal kid. After all, it was a book that took place in a desert island (big and loud exclamation here) – how could anyone possibly *NOT* want to read it? I got over that, in time. I realized I was too cool, and the other kids just too uncool for not reading, and –  more specifically – for not reading a story that happened on a *desert island* (another big exclamation mark here).

All that happened in 1988.

In 1988 brazilian television was re-running a 1985 soap opera that partly (and mostly) took place on a desert island. Not surprisingly, I was a fan of such soap opera (yeah, so what? but don’t worry… I won’t ramble on soap operas – at least not yet).

A little later I read The Swiss Family Robinson, and then The Lord of the Flies, which added a darker shade to the desert island picture, only to make it more attractive. Yet to increase my island overdose, Family Robinson had a TV series adaptation as well. In a roll I read 20.000 Leagues under the Sea and The Mysterious Island and finally, The Island of Doctor Moreau. In spite of the absence of an island as a main background “20.000 Leagues…” was responsible for a 10 fold increase in my love for desert island stories – fact of peculiar interest, I must say, as later it partly lead me to understand the reason behind my uncanny passion for island stories.

(Intermission – in case you had enough of my verbose childhood memories, this is the time where you can go grab a coffee, while I try to remember if I left any important memories out.  Anyway, it’s almost over, I promisse.)

Personal bias or not, I guess desert island stories trully fascinate people – because it represents all that is new and unknown (this is  where “20.000 leagues…” played a role); new possibilities: good things, yet to be conquered, lying there waiting, untamed, untouched; new beginings full of adventure, thrilling and defying.

“If you could take only one thing to a desert Island, what would it be?” That’s a common question. Whatever one answers, it would certainly be something pleasant. Something important. No one would take as their only company or resource something that they hated or to them was trivial. The island is a metaphor for how we deal with what really matters in our lifes – most importantly, do we know what really matters? It’s a metaphor for new begginings, a dream come true to all the “what if…” we insist to place before all of our past acts.

Until today (that is, in my supposed adulthood), islands continue to be a common subject of interest and fascination. Those same books and stories from my childhood continue to amaze people nowadays (in spite of Harry Potter and awful vampire books). Moreover, other stories came up. Hollywood and television are full of examples: Lost, Castaway, The Island, Harper’s Island, Fantasy Island (a redundant name in my opinion), Shutter Island, and so on.

Now to finish all this, just for you not to think I’m an island freak who spent her childhood and most of her life obsessing over the same subject: I used to read other books, too (awe!). One of my favorite books was called “The Yellow Handbag”, a 1981 book by brazilian writer Lygia Bojunga, and it was quite girly (phew! ), and the main character was a kid with the greatest internal musings that I have ever seen. But that belongs in another blog post.

P.S.: Forgot to mention “La Invencion de Morel“, short story by Adolfo Bioy Casares; and The story of Sinbad the Voyager, from Arabian Nights

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