09 July 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Nine!

Welcome to the Distant Isles Challenge!

Islands are interesting. I'll be more equipped to tell you why when July is done. As usual, I'm never more ready to begin a task than when it's finally over.

So just take it all on faith with me for now. Islands are interesting--especially as settings. Just keep reading, okay? =)

Now for "administrative" matters. Please note that 23 July will be a Movie Edition day. You can all blame thank The Mike for this inspired idea. =P

Following that, the last Saturday of this month, 30 July, will be "Wizarding World Day", in honour of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. (I might not be a Potter-head, but I know when to ride a trend.) If you want to participate, the only rule is: No hogging Hogwarts. There are surely enough rooms in the castle to divvy up among ourselves--and of course, it's not the only wonderful place in the wizarding world!

The Island of the Blue Dolphins
Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O'Dell

I felt as if I had been gone a long time as I stood there looking down from the high rock. I was happy to be home. Everything that I saw--the otter playing in the kelp, the rings of foam around the rocks that guarded the harbour, the gulls flying, the tides moving past the sandspit--filled me with happiness.

I was surprised that I felt this way, for it was only a short time ago that I had stood on this same rock and felt that I could not bear to live here another day.

. . . The Island of the Blue Dolphins was my home; I had no other . . .

So essential is the setting to the story that it doubles as the title of the whole text. Only one other such setting has had its own Locus Focus spotlight: the eponymous ancestral home of the Tilneys in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. (See Locus Focus: Take Seven!) But if you think the abbey is any way this island's equal, think again. Austen's Gothic satire would do just as well with the title Catherine (after its naive heroine, whose experiences and growth are not rooted to a single setting), but Scott O'Dell's novel could never have the title Karana. Yes, she is the narrator and putative protagonist; but it is the setting which is the star.

This novel is inspired by the true story of the "Lone Woman of San Nicolas," a Ghalas-at Indian who lived completely alone on an island for eighteen years after most of her tribe had been massacred and the rest had been rescued by a ship that left her behind. Her loneliness is echoed in this book's uniqueness among other "survival stories." Island of the Blue Dolphins resembles novels like Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe or Gary Paulsen's Hatchet only until you remember that Karana is not stranded in some hostile environment she has to adapt to, but is simply home alone and having to make the best out of a horrible domestic situation. This isn't "Man vs. Nature" but "Woman + Home".

And what a home it is! This island has always been a source of food, clothing and shelter to the Ghalas-at Indians; now, in the last native's loneliness, it opens its heart and reveals depths she hadn't imagined. She discovers an ancient cave with images that must have been sacred to her ancestors . . . makes peace with the leader of a dog pack that killed her brother . . . survives an earthquake and a tsunami . . . and even domesticates enough animal companions to laugh at what odd "children" she has ended up having. Despite her circumstances, it becomes for her a place of happiness. And in her stark, simple way, she becomes its most enduring voice.

Centuries after the historical Karana's death, the Island of Blue Dolphins--also known as the island of San Nicolas off the coast of California--became a base of the US military. Karana would not recognise the old home she once knew so intimately, and a very different sort of history is unfolding there. She moved on near the end of her life, and it seems that the island has moved on, too.

Image Source: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell


Lesa said...

Wow! I haven't read my BBB copy of this book yet but I can't wait. I didn't even scan the synoposis-- just grabbed it because of the Newbery sticker-- sounds like an intense and moving story. Can't imagine living alone off the land for 18 yrs!!

Shannon Young said...

I read this book several times when I was little, and I remember watching the film as well. I think the loneliness of Karana's situation always fascinated me. It just didn't seem fair that she should lose her brother in addition to everyone else.

Syrin said...

This is one of my absolute favorite books from childhood. I read it again as an adult and still loved it. Great pick!

Shaz said...

I read this book for the first time last year. I truly have no idea how this woman came out of her ordeal with a shred of sanity. I'm not sure I could survive 18 days with only myself for company.

Enbrethiliel said...


Lesa -- And now you know why I gushed so much when I saw it on your BBB post! =) Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of my childhood favourites. I've loved Karana for years!

Shannon -- Oh, I hadn't known there was a movie!

I'm not sure why I don't remember this as a story of loneliness. Perhaps it's because the prose is so stark. I didn't notice how strongly Karana feels the loss of her brother, the meeting with Tutok, or even her own desolation, until I reread it this weekend. And now I want to write a Character Connection post just about Karana.

Syrin -- It's just so wonderful, isn't it? =D

Shaz -- I'm sure the ordeal left its marks on her psyche, but because she didn't choose to be bitter about it, she still emerged on top. (That makes sense, right?) Had the other Indians of Ghalas-at survived to be reunited with her, I'm sure they would have found her a little "funny" because of everything she had gone through, but although the experience had the power to hurt her, she fought back with real strength of spirit. One thing I failed to get across in this post is the sense that the island was not a prison, but a place of grace for her.