April 2, 2021

I is for Isles

         (My A-Z Blog Challenge theme this year is Mythical and Imaginary Places.  Find out more about the April #AtoZchallenge here.)
        There’s something intrinsically magical about islands.  Mythology and fantasy are full of magical islands, and as for sci fi, space travel is essentially nothing but sailing a vast ocean from isle to isle, especially when planets are very homogenous, as they often are in older sci fi.  Part of the appeal of islands is that each one can be separate and self-contained, with its own inhabitants and properties that can be utterly unlike any other.  Secondly, islands are hard to get to, so that contact between us and them is minimized, and it’s easy to imagine discovering new ones that no one else from our world has ever encountered.  Add to that the possibility of hiding islands with mist or storms or shoals, or endowing them with the ability to float (in water or air) so that they won’t always be at the same geographical coordinates, and you have an ideal place for magic and adventure.
        The classical Greeks had the Fortunate Isles or Isles of the Blessed, where the temperature was always perfect, there was only dew instead of rain, fruit and birds of every kind thrived, and the heroes of legend lived there forever.  Avalon, aka The Isle of Apples, is the magical place where Excalibur was forged and where Arthur was taken to be healed and to rest until his eventual return.  Penglai, aka Horai, off the east coast of China, is the mountain island where the Eight Immortals have their ceremonial meals.  Everything is white, with palaces of gold and platinum, and jewel-bearing trees.  Buyan is an island in the Baltic Sea that can appear or 
disappear behind magical tides.  It is inhabited by the Sun and three Winds (not South) and the Morning and Evening Stars, and it’s also the place where Koschei the Deathless keeps his soul.  West of Portugal can be found Antillia with its seven cities founded by seven bishops escaping from Umayyad conquerors.  The sand of its beaches is rich in gold, which is all the more reason for its inhabitants to keep it hidden.
        Irish myths know of numerous islands to the west.  Hy-Brasil, southwest of Galway Bay, is shrouded in mist except for one day every seven years.  Saint Brendan’s Island, discovered by that monk on his epic voyage, is west of Northern Africa and also concealed by mist.  Despite that, it is always day there, and the 15 days that Brendan and his crew stayed there turned out to be a year in the rest of the world.  And then of course there’s Tír na nÓg, or the Land of Youth, an island realm of everlasting youth, beauty, good health, and abundance.  It takes three days to sail there following the path of the sunset across the ocean.  There is an enormous tree growing at the center of the island, and the singing birds on its branches are the souls of the dead.  One of my favorite details is that the buildings there are thatched with feathers.
        Then there are all the islands of more recent fantasy.  Just to name a few…
Asteroid B612, the home planet (aka island) of the Little Prince, a rose, and three volcanoes (one extinct).  (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Berk, the home island of the Viking tribe of the Hairy Hooligans and their dragons.  (Cressida Cowell, and Dreamworks)
Caprona or Caspak, near Antarctica, but ringed by cliffs concealing a tropical Lost World within.  (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
Dinotopia, an isolated island on which humans and dinosaurs have developed a peaceful joint society.  (James Gurney)
Infant Island, the home of the queen of kaiju Mothra and her priestesses, often the place where eggs are laid and larvae hatch.  (various movies)
The Island of Dr. Moreau, in the southern Pacific, where Moreau experimented with turning animals into humans.  (H.G. Wells)
Lilliput, an island of people only six inches tall, visited by Lemuel Gulliver.  Gulliver also visited the flying island Laputa, the island Glubbdubrib where he met many famous ghosts, and the island of Luggnagg where the people grow old but never die.  (Jonathan Swift)
Muir Island, off the northwest coast of Scotland, the location of the world’s largest mutant research lab.  (Marvel Universe)
Myst, reached through a magical book, and the site of an ancient puzzle that must be solved.  (Myst video game)
Neverland, near the Milky Way, or also possibly in the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens, it has many suns and moons, a forest, and a lagoon.  (J.M. Barrie)
Skull Island, in the Indian Ocean, home to all manner of oversized dinosaurians, as well as the monstrous gorilla King Kong.  (Merian C. Cooper and RKO Pictures)
Spidermonkey Island, a floating island that was heading too far south.  If it got too cold everything would die, so Doctor Dolittle got a a pod of whales to push the island back up to its proper latitude near South America.  (Hugh Lofting)
Utopia, somewhere in the New World, deliberately separated from its mainland by digging a 15 mile wide channel in order to keep its perfect society apart from its imperfect neighbors.  (Thomas More)
Wild Island, connected to Tangerina by a long string of rocks, and inhabited by all manner of very wild animals, and a young dragon.  (Ruth Stiles Gannet)
        Of course we’ve already seen Gont, and will visit a few more islands before we’re through the alphabet, but that barely scratches the surface of all the magical islands in the world (or, indeed, not in the world).
        The MORAL of Isles: If you want a lost world, an unspoiled paradise, or a bite-sized individually packaged adventure, look for an island.
              OR:  Everyone loves an island!
        So, what fantastical isle would you most like to visit?  (And if you’re playing A to Z Scavenger Hunt this year, I just gave you something to check off!)

[Pictures: The Immortal Island of Penglai, painting by Yuan Jiang, 1708 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Oisín and Niamh arrive at Tír na nÓg, illustration by Stephen Rein from The High Deeds of Finn by T.W. Rolleston, 1910 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Asteroid B612, illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince, 1943;

Skybax Rider over Dinotopia, painting by James Gurney, c 1992 (Image from Heritage Auctions);

Utopia, woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein from Utopia by Thomas More, 1518 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Map of Wild Island by Ruth Chrisman Gannet from My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, 1948 (Image from Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center).]


Mike said...

Like the art work, The Island of Dr. Moreau might be my favorite book by Wells.

Olga Godim said...

I also have the word ISLAND for the letter I. I guess, we think alike.

Brett Minor said...

Wow! This was much more interesting than I anticipated. And I had read many of those stories, so I could relate. I will be returning.

Visiting from A to Z
Blogging at Transformed Nonconformist

Lisa said...

No thank you to visiting any of the islands you mentioned! Dinosaurs, mutant labs, dragons, experiments on animals, grow old but never die... Give me a nice tropical island with sandy beaches and friendly, but not too many, locals! I enjoyed the west end of Puerto Rico very much. I'll take that island! And, as we know, because our former President informed us, Puerto Rico is an island, "This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water.”

I am doing the scavenger hunt, so thank you! I thought Island would be easier!

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

You list many idyllic isles along with a few that are controversial. I would choose one with eternal peace and lots of available fruit and vegetables, but with something of a mystery to add to the adventure.
Theme: Novel Research - novel meaning interesting, different, unusual.

JadeLi said...

Tasmania is a place I'd like to visit.

My "I" Jethro Tull song is here:

AJ Blythe said...

I hadn't realised how many islands featured in lore, even though I knew quite a few of those stories. There must be something about islands that lends itself to storytelling, but I'm not sure what it is?

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I love stories about imaginary islands. They are endlessly fascinating. I once did a presentation on them in History class, and drew a large map :)

The Multicolored Diary

Anne Higa said...

What a great list and a reflection on what makes islands so special. I'd never thought of it quite that way before, but this is so true.

Anne from annehiga.com

Keith's Ramblings said...

It never occurred to me just how many fantasy islands there are. If I was to visit just one, it would have to be Lilliput. I've always liked Gulliver's Travels.

Deborah Weber said...

It'd be all about the Little Prince's Asteroid B612 for me. And now that that's established, I'm feeling the urge to re-read The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy based on the de Saint-Exupéry snake character.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for coming by, everyone!

Lisa, you're right that many of these islands have dangers!
Gail, I think you're looking for just the right balance: peace, vegetables, and mystery! lol
Jade, I'd love to visit Tasmania, too.
Zalka, I would have loved to see your presentation and map. How old were you?
Deborah, I didn't know there was a book about the snake. I may have to look into that.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I love the use of islands in folklore and fantasy.

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: Different Imps in Folklore

Mrs Fever said...

I live on an island, so I don't find them particularly fascinating, but since my island is in the PNW, I can certainly relate to the "shrouded in mists" bit. ;)

One "mythical" island that might be fun to visit would be Gilligan's Island...