Saturday, July 31, 2010

Locus Focus - Jungle Boogie

Locus Focus is a meme hosted every Saturday at Shredded Cheddar. It's all about settings that come alive for you in books; so link-up your own choice of setting and read about the settings others have written about!

This Saturday's setting: The Island of the Black Eaters-of-men

Call It Courage
By Armstrong Sperry

"For a quarter of a mile the coconuts held, beautiful trees that were more luxuriant than any in Hikueru. It was always thus in the rich soil of the volcanic islands. Then came a belt of breadfruit and wild bananas, of oranges and guavas and mangoes. The roots of the mape' trees--the island chestnut--twisted over the ground in strange, tormented shapes. Vines trailed like aerial ropes from the high branches where orchids bloomed, while little parakeets fled on swift wings and vanished in the green gloom. Mafatu had never before seen woods like these, for Hikueru was open and wind-swept. These endless legions of trees seemed to close in upon him, imprison him with reaching arms, with heady odors, with eerie light and shadow. Ferns grew higher than a tall man's head; the roof of leaves was powdered with starry blossoms."
Such is the island where the young Mafatu, deemed a coward on his home island of Hikueru and a source of shame to his father, masters his sea-fears alone; alone, but for his dog companion - oh, and those cannibals.

Maybe the solitude of such a place (solitary even from pagan civilization, for cannibals from an adjacent island perform their sacrifices here) is what some like Mafatu need. The very precariousness of his position seems to push him from one great feat to another. Hunting, cooking, making a boat. (The adventure of getting and cooking one's own food is at its most alive here.)

A place most to be feared proves to be Mafatu's space for maturity: those who have the greatest tremblings of cowardice within them are by no means exempt from courage, for courage does not mean merely the absence of fear.

Something about the oppressiveness and immediate wildness of this luxuriant island affords continuous opportunities for Mafatu. Anyways, it's here where he comes into his own:

"On his left hand, far offshore, the reef boomed to the charging surf; the curve of the beach reached out like two great arms to enclose the lagoon. Coconuts and pandanus trooped in shining legions to the very edge of the sea. A flight of green-and-purple parakeets flashed across the sky and vanished. There was no other sign of life. No voices of men; no laughter of children; no footprint in the sand.

The volcanic peak that formed the background of the island rose perhaps three thousand feet straight up out of the sea. It was the cone of a volcano long extinct. From its base, ridges of congealed lava flowed down to the distant shore. Once, in the dim beginnings of the world, this mountain had belched forth fire and brimstone, spreading destruction over the land. But the forgiving jungle through fertile centuries had crept back up the slopes, clothing them in green, green."


Enbrethiliel said...


Would this have been next week's entry if I hadn't changed Nature Settings to Subterranean Settings? =)

This island isn't your typical setting for a coming of age story; but I'm sure many young, immature "Mafatus" walking around today would grow up quickly if they had to deal with cannibals, alone on an otherwise deserted island. ;-)

And there is something about volcanos . . . You've reminded me of another novel set in Hawaii, in which volcanic activity becomes a metaphor for one of the characters. I might feature it in a few weeks, if I have time to reread the book.

Paul Stilwell said...

Yes, this was going to be the Nature Setting Theme before the change! It won out over Lord of the Flies.

I'm actually glad you changed the theme, because it made me think of one I otherwise would not have thought of, in a book that's a lot newer for a change.

It is an atypical setting isn't it? In grade six though I so wanted to be there - with or without the cannibals.

I look forward to that Hawaiian setting, if you do indeed decide to cover it!

Enbrethiliel said...


You must be the first person who was glad! =P

The Lord of the Flies island would have been a good choice, too. I've seen the movie, but not read the book, but the story is seriously settings driven.

And yes, I'll do the Hawaiian setting some time next month. =)