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Robert Ellis Smith

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The Magnetism of Islands
by Robert Ellis Smith   

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Publisher:  Privacy Journal


Copyright:  Sept. 6, 2012 ISBN-13:  9780930072575

Fascinating observations on real and literary islands, to explain why they have such attraction to us.

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This eBook delves into the magic of islands, prompted by their isolation, their surrounding waters, their tales of ghosts and pirates and shipwrecks, their labyrinths, their sensuality, their imperative for visitors to shed their inhibitions. Even their shapes are a subject of discussion. Key to this appreciation are "Robinson Crusoe," "The Magus," The Tempest," "The Water is Wide," "The Galapagos," John Fowles' "Islands," and "Swiss Family Robinson." In fact, real islands have more in common with each other, regardless of where they are located, and with literary islands than they do with the mainland nearest to them. In other words, this book tells you why Manhattan and Tahiti, Bali and Nantucket, Sri Lanka and Greenland have lots in common.


What I discovered was that most of these island books exemplify the elements of islands that I came to love as a boy. First, clearly, is the sensuality of islands, which Fowles cannot resist. One reason for the sensuality in island life is the lack of inhibitions; the conventions of the mainland simply do not apply. Any weekend visitor to Block Island or Hawaii finds this out.
The books show also that islands are cosmopolitan places. The opposite would seem to be true, because just about all of them are rural places, isolated by water. But the water is a highway, and so islands, despite their “isolation,” are international crossroads, stopping-off places for interesting pleasure boaters and worldwide travelers. You are doomed to endless isolation at a landlocked site, but, as Robinson Crusoe discovered, on an island there’s always a chance that an interesting and unexpected caller will come by.
As I read more about islands and visited a few, I learned how fragile is their ecology. The wildlife of islands is extremely vulnerable, trusting, and docile. The people are the same way. Periodically they are shaken from their passivity to resist the incursions of ambitious developers, those who would remake the island in their own image. (Of course the outsiders are just demonstrating another truth about islands – they are giving life to the utopian dreams that we all have. Could the utopian stories in Brave New World, in Gulliver’s Travels, in The Tempest, and in Thomas More’s Utopia itself have taken place on the mainland? Hardly anyone visits an island without wanting to change it in some way to make it closer to perfection.)
In my own odysseys through the literature and in interviews with islanders, my goal was to learn how well literature and the arts have portrayed the special ambiance of islands and to what extent these portrayals have colored the islanders’ views of themselves. In knowing more about island life, could I know more about our lives on the mainland?

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