Literature / The Mockery Bird

The Mockery Bird is a novel by Gerald Durrell, published in 1981. Unlike most of his books, which are autobiographical non-fiction, this book is completely fiction.

The book's protagonist, Peter Foxglove is sent to the island of Zenkali, a small British colony, as an assistant to the native King's (or, as he prefers to call himself, Kingy's) advisor. After meeting the many eccentric inhabitants of the island, he discovers that a thought-to-be-extinct bird, the Mockery Bird, worshiped as a deity by the island's natives, is Not So Extinct after all. But the valley where the bird lives is about to be flooded to build a dam to provide energy for Zenkali's airport, and Peter and his friends need to stop this plan to save the bird.

This book provides examples of:

  • Author Tract: The book is largely about what colonialism and uncontrolled industrial development does to small, exotic islands and their ecosystem.
  • Cannibal Tribe: Both the Fangua and the Ginka, Zenkali's two native tribes, used to be this.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The biologist Dr. Droom, who discovers that amela moth caterpillars feed on ombu leaves, and thus destroying the valley would ruin the island's economy.
  • Cloudcuckooland: Zenkali.
  • Cool Old Lady: Reverend Judith Jaeger is this combined with Badass Preacher: an American priestess, who is obsessed with guerilla warfare.
  • Corrupt Politician: Looja.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hannibal is easily the snarkiest character in the book.
  • Expy: Captain Pappas is basically Spiro from Durrell's earlier book, My Family and Other Animals, while Kingy is the Fon of Bafut from The Bafut Beagles.
  • Funny Foreigner: Since Zenkali is a multi-cultural island, many characters show traits of this, but Captain Pappas is the most straight example.
  • Funetik Aksent: Captain Pappas and the Zenkali natives.
  • Green Aesop: As usual in Durrell's books. The main message is that every creature, including humans, are connected through ecological relationships, and destroying even one species can lead to a cascade that ultimately harms human society.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Kingy is a benevolent dictator.
  • I'm a Humanitarian / Black Comedy Cannibalism: The idea of cannibalism is Played for Laughs. The Zenkali natives used to be cannibalistic, and Kingy sometimes suggests to Hannibal they should reintroduce it, just to make him cringe.
  • Large Ham: Captain Pappas, as well as Hannibal Oliphant and Kingy.
  • Last of His Kind: The last ombu tree, dubbed "Stella". At least until Peter discovers a valley full of them.
  • Lean and Mean: Looja is a very skinny and fragile person.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Kingy went to college in England before returning to Zenkali and becoming the king.
  • Micro Monarchy: Zenkali is a tiny island on the Indian Ocean, run by a benevolent monarch. It is part of the British Empire, but is almost completely autonomous.
  • Multipurpose Monocultured Crop: The amela tree, which is the only plant Zenkali produces and exports.
  • Physical God: The Mockery Bird itself was believed to be this by the Fangua, until its apparent extinction.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Kingy is a smart and benevolent leader.
  • Species Lost and Found: The Mockery Bird is believed to be extinct, but is re-discovered by Peter Foxglove and his friends.