This is the first in a series of Guest Posts from some of our finest writers. Today, it’s Barry Jonsberg, the writer of the wonderful ‘The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull’.
I first read R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island when I was about eight years old.
You must remember this was a long time ago. Television was in its infancy and really the only way to explore other worlds was through reading. And read I did. Anything. Everything. In that respect, nothing has changed for me.
I read the book in the way I hope children now read my books – mouth hanging open, jaw slack, so focused on what was happening within the pages that a small nuclear device could have detonated around me and it would have passed unnoticed. The story itself was thrilling. Three boys, Jack, Ralph and Peterkin were marooned on a desert island and had to survive against all the odds. Luckily, food and water were in plentiful supply and they were boys who had spent their young lives at sea, so they were pretty useful with their hands. Within a very short space of time they had made their island home a small paradise and spent leisure time swimming in crystal clear lagoons and generally having the time of their lives. Until a group of cannibals landed on the island and they had to defend the invasion. Then pirates turned up…
The Coral Island is probably best known now for being the book that William Golding based his best-selling novel, Lord Of The Flies, on. Golding had a different take on the situation. In his novel, Ralph, Jack and Piggy experience, not a paradise, but a hell of their own making. The Coral Island showed boys who rose above adversity and became heroes. Lord Of The Flies showed boys who crumbled into savagery and became evil. Both books still hold a special place in my heart.
But a strange thing happened when I re-read The Coral Island as an adult. This time I wasn’t completely thrilled by the boys’ heroism and goodness. This time I was slightly revolted by the way they were depicted as colonial heroes holding out against nasty natives. They were symbols of British superiority. They didn’t feel real.
Is there a moral here? Is it best not to revisit favourite books from childhood in case their magic is revealed as nothing more than smoke and mirrors? After all, the past is a different country. They do things differently there [the opening of another of my favourite books].
What do you think?
Barry’s latest book is Queensland Premier’s Award winning ‘Being Here’ (Feb 2011, Allen&Unwin). For more, go to Barry’s website. Barry’s photo is courtesy of Jen Dainer, Industrial Arc Photography.