In Islands, Stephen Royle provides a comprehensive gateway to understanding what makes islands unique in ecology, geology and culture. Definition is tricky when it comes to an island, but somehow a bridge or a tunnel does not end island status. He examines islands as enchanted, experimental and utopian worlds. Whether it’s Prospero casting spells or nuclear tests on Pacific atolls, islands are often home to magic both scientific and supernatural. What happens on an island, Royle notes, can break social norms and established scientific laws. The break can be fictional, like The Island of Dr Moreau or Lord of the Flies, which use a mysterious island’s constraints to examine human nature.
A break with norms can also be real, as with the tiny British island colony St Helena. This island, once a prison for Napoleon, preserves a pre-1960s English identity, according to Royle. It is a distant island more English than England itself. And it may preserve an even older England. Back in 1649, St Helena was already described as ‘abouding with ye long observ’d Spirrits of English Men, as certain they are born free and not to be made Subservient to any interest farther than is consistent with their own and the publick good’.
ISLANDS: NATURE AND CULTURE by Stephen A Royle, Reaktion Books, £14.95 (pb)/£12.79 (eBook)
This story was published in the March 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine