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Literature / The Blue Lagoon

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The Blue Lagoon is a 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, which follows a pair of teenagers as they attempt to survive on an idyllic tropical island.

In the late Victorian era, specifically The Gay '90s, a ship goes off course and sinks, with three people — a galley cook named Paddy Button, and two young cousins, Richard "Dicky" Lestrange, a 10-year-old boy, and Emmeline Lestrange, an 8-year-old girl, fleeing to a rowboat and sailing towards an island in the distance. Once they arrive, they begin to make the island their permanent home, and Paddy teaches them basic survival skills. However, Paddy wanders off and dies in a drunken haze, leaving the two to fend for themselves.

Several years pass, and the now-mature teenagers begin to explore the island, discovering relics and hidden secrets in the process. Their hot-cold friendship also turns into a full-blown romance and eventually results in Emmeline giving birth to a child and the newly formed family inadvertently leaving the island.

Two sequels were made following the success of the original book. The Garden of God, published in 1923, follows Richard and Emmeline's son, Dick Lestrange (called "Dick M." because he says "Dick" and "Em" while playing with the sailors who rescued him). He ends up with his grandfather (Richard's father) and a sailor from his grandfather's ship, on the same island, and as a young adult meets a marooned woman named Katafa, from the nearby island of Karolin, with whom he eventually begins a romance. The Gates of Morning, published in 1925, has Dick become the king of the native Kanaka tribe on Karolin, and grapples with newfound responsibility and the threat of a rival tribe. All three original novels can be online here under "E-texts".

There have been several adaptations:

Serious scholars of Edgar Rice Burroughs' work believe they can track part of his inspiration for Tarzan to these novels and to Morgan Robertson's earlier novella, Primordial.

The novels and the films provide examples of:

  • Ambiguous Time Period: Despite being written in 1907, the novel intentionally presents an ambiguous time period. This ambiguity serves several purposes: to appeal to a wider audience by avoiding specific historical markers, to create a timeless story focusing on universal themes and characters' experiences, to provide an escapist and fantastical atmosphere, and to allow for symbolism and allegory. While the exact reasons for the ambiguous time period are speculative, these factors contribute to the novel's enduring appeal and exploration of deeper meanings.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: In the film, when Emmeline walks in the water she accidentally steps on a fish and gets sick. The fish that the movie shows is called Stone Fish and in fact, if you step on one the venom will cause excruciating pain, shock, paralysis, tissue death, and if not treated within a few hours, death. Emmeline doesn't seem to suffer from any of these symptoms outside of extreme pain and fever, and it seems it takes some time until Richard finds her.
  • Babies Ever After: Richard and Emmeline have a son whom they name Paddy (Hannah in the book — it's the only baby name they know. The sailors later call him Dick M.). In Return to the Blue Lagoon, Richard Jr and Lily have a little girl.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Even though they're stuck on a deserted island for years, the leads never really look like they're any worse for wear, besides a couple of tears in their clothes and deep tans.
  • Big "NO!": Emmeline screams one upon waking from a nightmare about Richard dying in various ways.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water:
    • How Emmeline discovers her first period.
    • Also, when Richard gets his hands cut from a rope trying to lure in a fish caught by a shark.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: In Return to the Blue Lagoon, siblings Richard Jr and Lily fall in love when they grow up.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Exaggerated, since from early childhood they are literally the only partners of the opposite sex for each other.
  • Children Are Innocent: Emmeline and Richard are this at first before they get older. In fact part of the point of the novel and films is that they remain innocent:
    The thing had been conducted just as the birds conduct their love affairs. An affair absolutely natural, absolutely blameless, and without sin. It was a marriage according to Nature, without feast or guests.
  • Coming of Age Story: Our two main leads are forced to fend for themselves on a deserted island, while gradually becoming closer to each other.
  • Convenient Coma: Emmeline comes walking out of the forest with the baby she had a few hours earlier. She explains to Richard that she felt ill, went to sit in the forest, and then "remembered nothing more" until she woke to find the baby lying beside her. Apparently, she remembers more about the birth later.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Richard and Emmeline name their infant son Paddy after their late caretaker Paddy. In the book, he's called Hannah, because the only baby they ever knew had that name.
  • Deserted Island: Take a wild guess...
  • The Film of the Book: As mentioned, four of them, of varying faithfulness.
  • First Period Panic: Emmeline is terrified when she gets her first period, and not knowing what to do about it, refuses to talk to Richard about it.
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex:
    • Presumably the reason for the first sex scene in The Awakening. The two leads discover a skeleton near their lean-to, and Emma freaks out. Not long after, she has sex for the first time with Dean.
    • They also have this in the 1980 film as Em is recovering from stonefish poisoning that almost killed her. In the book, what they experience is closer to Slap-Slap-Kiss.
  • Happy Ending Override: The sequel has it so that the otherwise-happy ending of the original work (Richard, Emmeline, and Hannah (Dick M) are found sleeping in the boat) is overridden by the reveal that the berries really were poisonous and the adults died. This was Stacpoole's doing. At the end of the first book, the words are "No, sir, they are asleep," just like in the film. We are meant to take the words for granted. The Immediate Sequel (The Garden of God) has Arthur saying "No, they are dead" in the very first line, and we are told they have just stopped breathing at that moment. Seems Stacpoole didn't want to write any sequels; he ended up writing two. First, he killed off Richard and Em; book two ends up taking their son off the island as a boatful of New Hebridean slaves revolt against their white masters, kill them and take over the island; in book three, The Gates of Morning, Stacpoole went into full Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies mode. He killed off the island itself by having it completely swallowed up in a huge typhoon. He followed that up with an Everybody's Dead, Dave by visiting almost the entire population of Kanaka people on Karolin (and Dick, but not Katafa) with a measles epidemic. In the last chapter, Katafa's niece Le Moan offers her life to the gods to spare Dick's life and he begins to recover. Sheesh!
  • Kissing Cousins: Richard and Emmeline are cousins. They are also the only available mates for each other.
  • Last Kiss: Richard and Emmeline tearfully share one in the end, thinking they're not gonna live.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title refers to a line from Lord Byron's Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice.
  • Loincloth: Richard and Emmeline wear them for clothing on the island. In Return to the Blue Lagoon, so do Richard Jr and Lily.
  • Male Gaze: In most adaptations, although most notably in The Awakening. Not that anybody would mind watching Indiana Evans cutting her jeans into a pair of shorts and subsequently putting them on though.
  • Mars Needs Women: As Dick accepts his responsibilities as king of the Kanaka people on nearby Karolin, at the end of The Garden of God, he realizes that (due to a recent misguided war) there are no mature men among them, and not enough war canoes; and because the New Hebridean slaves who overpowered their evil masters and took over the island are all guys they'll be coming to Karolin to steal women, and Dick spends most of the third book getting ready for them. (They never show up, because Stacpoole kills off the island itself in a tsunami.)
  • Mighty Whitey: Dick (Dick M.) Lestrange, son of the original couple, might be this, except he's not there to improve anything. He appears in Garden of God and the followup novel The Gates of Morning. He can best be described as an intelligent, likable and very easygoing Surfer Dude. Katafa, something between a Jungle Princess and a Broken Bird, washes up on the shore and causes trouble. She isn't really a Kanaka, but a Spanish girl who was Raised by Natives. To ensure the plotline, she's been cursed as an untouchable. After sundry how-likely-is-that events, during which he picks up and keeps a Royal MacGuffin, Dick and Katafa fall in love. Katafa becomes touchably soft while Dick becomes both active and passionately caring; she's kind of his Muse. She takes him home with her, where (partly due to his having the royal war club) he is immediately hailed as King; the old King having died in Katafa's absence and Katafa having been thought dead, her return is a miracle. Stacpoole (usually fairly non-racist) clearly implies that in their present predicament, the natives need a white couple to save them — or, at least, that Dick couldn't marry an indigenous woman, so he needed a Caucasian girl.
  • National Geographic Nudity: In The Garden of God, Jim Kearney, the sailor who stayed to help care for Richard and Em's son Dick with his grandfather Arthur, notes that the child doesn't need any clothes, he's sun-browned and "doesn't look naked". Goes without saying that the Kanaka aren't wearing much either.
  • Not Blood Siblings: In "Return Of The Blue Lagoon", Richard Jr is adopted by Lily's mother Sarah and raised as siblings growing up but fall in love as adults.
  • "No Peeking!" Request: In Blue Lagoon: The Awakening, Emma screams at Dean to turn around when he catches her taking a Waterfall Shower.
  • Noble Savage: Richard and Emmeline in the original book and film, and Richard (son of the couple from the first movie) and Lilli in the sequel. They pretty much raise themselves to adulthood and know little of human civilization. They are described explicitly as "far gone in savagery", to the point that they don't talk much anymore (they don't have to). On the other hand, the original inhabitants of the island are seen practicing human sacrifice; nothing particularly noble about them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Richard and Emmeline fear for Paddy when he swallows some of the poisonous "never-wake-up" berries. Worst when they both realize that there's no way they could induce vomiting and realizing their son's going to die. In the book, all we know is that Em has a branch of the plant, called arita, in her hand; it's only implied that she and Richard ingest any, and the sailors believe their child got some through Em's milk but it's clear he wasn't seriously harmed.
  • Perverted Sniffing: Richard sniffs some of Emmeline's hair while she's sleeping.
  • Plot Hole: Being stranded on an island for years, neither Richard nor Emmeline shows any signs of sunburning although they do have some pretty deep tans.
  • Police Are Useless: In the 2012 Lifetime adaptation set in the modern time, where locating a pair of teenagers stranded on an island that's unlikely to be located further than 35 miles away from the spot the Coast Guard intercepted the party boat (judging by the fact they were floating throughout an entire night on an apparently calm sea) proves a tremendous task.
  • Robinsonade: The first two books are definitely this. When you are done reading them you will know how to cook a breadfruit, the uses of liana vine, what to expect in a hurricane, and to clean your campsite thoroughly after meals so you don't get crabs.
  • Screaming Birth: Emmeline doesn't even know she's giving birth, only that she feels sick and is in pain and her body's pushing against something. She instinctively takes a hands-and-knee posture. The only acknowledgment of it being a birth is Richard asking why she had a baby.
  • Scream Discretion Shot: As Emmeline lets out a loud scream giving birth, it cuts away briefly to the animals reacting to the noise and several birds flying out of the trees.
  • Shown Their Work: Stacpoole, a ship's surgeon, lived among the South Sea Islands for years. Everything he wrote about Palm Tree (Richard and Em's island) and Karolin and its indigenous Kanaka people was legit and realistic.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Justified, in that neither Richard nor Emmeline has had enough sex education to recognize the signs of pregnancy. They also don't even know what sex is, or that it causes this.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Richard and Emmeline in a few scenes during their love montage.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Due to their lack of knowledge of human sexuality and intimacy, the romantic and sexual tension between Richard and Emmeline goes unresolved until the middle of the film when Emmeline falls ill and Richard nurses her back to health.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Richard spends most of his time shirtless.
  • When She Smiles: Emmeline.
    ... the little plain face altered to the face of an angel. She had smiled. When Emmeline Lestrange smiled it was absolutely as if the light of Paradise had suddenly flashed upon her face: the happiest form of childish beauty suddenly appeared before your eyes, dazzled them — and was gone.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Richard collects presents for Emmeline's Christmas stocking, not knowing that the "marbles" he got out of some shells are excruciatingly valuable. Emphasized in the book; Em's walking around with a necklace worth fifteen or twenty thousand pounds. Today, that would be over £2.5 million, or over $3 million.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Return To The Blue Lagoon


Blue Lagoon: The Awakening

Stuck on a deserted island with only a male classmate for company, Emmeline showers in the lagoon's waterfall. She needs him standing guard because she knows there's a predator somewhere on the island, but would rather not have to deal with his advances.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / WaterfallShower

Media sources: