Jan 27, 2013

The Coral Island: Three Boys in Paradise

William Golding may have gotten the inspiration for his Lord of the Flies from The Coral Island, an 1858 novel by Scottish author R. M. Ballantyne.  But while Flies has a depressing view of the beast emerging once the veneer of civilization is lost, Coral Island is all about bringing civilization -- by which Ballantyne means the British Empire -- to the wilderness.

Three boys are shipwrecked on the desert island: 15-year old Ralph Rover, 18-year old Jack Martin, and 14-year old Peterkin Gay.  They cheerfully construct an idyllic island paradise like that in Swiss Family Robinson, hunting, fishing, sunbathing, and even inventing the sport of surfing.  The only problem is the island next door, inhabited by savage cannibals who sacrifice children to their eel god, but after the British boys trounce them in a battle, they keep to themselves.

After many months, pirates arrive, and capture Ralph.  He befriends one, Bloody Bill, and helps him fight the natives.  Eventually Bill is killed (after converting to Christianity) and Ralph returns to his friends.

After few more adventures, the natives all convert to Christianity, and the boys head for home.

In spite of the moralizing and racism, the book is a perennial favorite,still showing up under Christmas trees across the former British Empire.

The gay content is obvious:

1. The boys are described in adventure story terms as stunningly handsome and supernaturally muscular.  They are frequently nude.

2. No girls allowed.

3. Lots of nick-of-time rescues, falling into each others' arms, holding each other.

4. Jack and Peterkin form one homoromantic couple, and Ralph and Bloody Bill another.

It has been adapted for television twice.

1.  A 1983 British-Australian miniseries starring Danny Adcock, Richard Gibson (top photo) and Nicholas Bond-Owen (second photo).

2. A 2000 British miniseries starring Adam Deacon, William Mannering, and Ashley Walters (left, later photo).