Thursday, August 16, 2012
Book Review: The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne
After their ship is wrecked during a storm in the Pacific Ocean, three young men learn to survive on an exotic island. They quickly discover that their new home is almost a paradise, with all sorts of indigenous food and colorful animals, and good weather other than the occasional storm. While they dream of going home, they enjoy themselves in the meantime, having all sorts of adventures on the island as they explore the many wonders it holds. Their peaceful life is shaken after a boatload of vengeful cannibals chase a boatload of rebel cannibals to the island and a violent battle occurs on the beach. The young men take the side of the rebel cannibals and help them overcome their pursuers. In gratitude, the cannibals do not harm the boys. After the cannibals leave, the young men return to their peaceful life, until the coming of a pirate ship permanently ends the peace on the island and plunges them into the greatest danger yet.
I found this book to be surprisingly enjoyable to read, considering its age. The protagonists were likable and had unique personalities. While descriptions of flora and fauna and philosophical musings sometimes went on awhile, they were written in such a pleasant style that I never found them to be boring. The story itself rambled around a bit, as is common for this type of adventure book. The rambly plot flows smoothly for most of the book, then gets a little shaky towards the end, and finally is harmed a bit by a deus ex machina ending. However, the various adventures of the boys are so entertaining overall that the fumble at the end did not seriously harm my enjoyment of the book. With some tweaking to the ending, it would be easy to imagine this book as a film. Christianity is presented positively and clearly in this book, woven in as an essential part of the story rather than just tossed in.
While The Coral Island has a reputation as a “children’s classic,” it is worth noting that the violence in this book can get somewhat graphic. Cannibals slaughter each other in various gruesome ways. Once their enemies are dead, the cannibals sometimes chop them up, cook pieces of them over the fire, and eat them. The dark pagan practices of the cannibals are referenced and occasionally witnessed. The pirates are violent, too, though not as much as the cannibals. Characters are wounded in numerous ways. There is also some lesser content worth noting: The cannibals are sometimes referenced as being nude. Racism, including one racial slur, appears occasionally among the villains. The combination of all this violence and darkness may be too intense for most children and even some teens and adults. However, due to the morality of the protagonists and the healing that is shown as found in faith in God, the book exudes hope rather than darkness.
(c) 2012 Jonathan Garner