The Man Who Loved Islands

As a kid, I was always drawing maps. I used to draw maps of islands in my school notebooks. There was something about islands.

Maybe it was just that you could put the whole thing there on one page. There’s the castaway-on-an-island romance thing that had been planted in my mind by reading Robinson Crusoe. Maybe it was a way that a kid could “rule” and have control over his world – something that wasn’t at all possible in the real world.

I did want to be stranded on an island. I especially wanted to have that treehouse from The Swiss Family Robinson (at least the version that was in the Disney film). (Before you ask, I did not get into the TV program Lost. I tried 2 episodes and it didn’t click. Seemed like I should have enjoyed it.)

In college, I came upon D.H. Lawrence‘s short story “The Man Who Loved Islands.” Overall, the story is not a story about me at all – but in the opening, I did find my island fascination was shared by at least one person.

There was a man who loved islands. He was born on one, but it didn’t suit him, as there were too many other people on it, besides himself. He wanted an island all of his own: not necessarily to be alone on it, but to make it a world of his own.

An island, if it is big enough, is no better than a continent. It has to be really quite small, before it feels like an island; and this story will show how tiny it has to be, before you can presume to fill it with your own personality

That was what I wanted as a boy an island all my own, but not to be alone on it, but to make it a world of my own.I did want ones that were small. No Australia for me. I wanted to be able to see it all from the mountaintop and walk it all in a day.

The story I was assigned to read for that college course was the more popular Lawrence story, “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” But “The Man Who Loved Islands” was the one that got me drawing in my notebook during class.

I ended up writing my paper about “The Man Who Loved Islands” (with permission). Written in the late 1920s, it’s an interesting parable of modern man – especially if you see modern man as a kind of “bloodless” man.  The protagonist, Cathcart, is actually everything Lawrence hated and not meant to be some hero to the reader. A very twentieth-century Robinson Crusoe with money, who tries to regain a personal paradise.

Unlike Cathcart, I was not born on an island. In the story, he still lives on one, but dislikes it because there are too many other people on it. The one he buys fits my criteria pretty well – four miles around, with a few cottages to get started. He also owns a smaller island lying off it, which was something I often drew on my maps. I’m not sure why I did though. An island to escape to when the island is too much?

Escape. I guess that’s what the island or the treehouse or the cabin in the woods that I sometimes write about and have on my wish list are really all about.

Of course, it’s a mirage. I don’t think you can escape. It’s like the person who says that they could write that novel if they could get away to that mountaintop cabin for a year.  That’s not what is stopping you from writing the novel.

I know that I would end up working on the cabin’s leaky roof and fixing the island’s sagging dock more often than the other things, but I still want to give it a try.


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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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