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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 Victorian era, a ship goes off course and sinks, with three people — a galley cook named Paddy Button, and cousins Richard and Emmeline Lestrange — 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:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: In the film, Richard does this to vent his sexual frustration for Emmeline. Emmeline catches him in the act and later mocks him for it.
  • 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 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.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The commentary track on the DVD for the 1980 movie mentions that Randal Kleiser and his crew never could get a straight answer out of the native islanders they had doing the Human Sacrifice scene as to whether the ceremony they put on in that scene was based on any actual historical religious rituals of theirs. He and his fellow commentators on the track also admit they have no idea what the natives were chanting at that ritual; it could be an actual religious ritual chant, they could be making fun of the cast and crew, or they could just be reciting total gibberish. The commentators go on to invite anyone who happens to know those islanders' language to get in touch with the studio.
  • 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 tears in their clothes and deep tans. The 2012 movie is especially bad about this.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: As they become teenagers, Richard and Emmeline find themselves fighting a lot even though it's playful.
    Richard: Why are we always fighting so much? That should be our New Year's revolution. Stop fighting so much.
  • 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.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • The version aired on TBS cuts out the shot of Paddy's nude photographs, the blood spurting onto the native after the execution, as well as all nude scenes.
    • The TNT version also cuts out the words "Sweet Jesus!"
    • NBC edited 9 minutes from this film for its 1982 network television premiere due to nudity and sexual content.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: In Return to the Blue Lagoon, siblings Richard Jr and Lily fall in love when they grow up.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: In the 1980 film, Emmeline catches Richard stimulating himself manually. She asks what he's doing, and he guiltily says "Nothing!" In another scene when they're arguing, she taunts him extensively about this.
  • 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: In the novel, 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...
  • Diabolus ex Machina: In a movie based primarily around emotional and physical self-discovery, Diabolus is personified in the form of a three-year-old boy throwing oars from boats.
  • Dull Surprise:
    • The acting from the leads in these films was somewhat wooden. Brooke Shields was the first actress to win a Razzie and Milla Jovovich and Brian Krause were both nominated for Worst New Star.
    • Shields' acting was faithful to the book, though — Em's dreamy, almost mystic abstraction is one of her primary characteristics.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Emmeline ogles the shirtless Richard while he's fixing a boat.
    Richard: What are you looking at?
    Emmeline: Your muscles.
    Richard: What about them? You're really acting silly lately, Em. Always saying dumb things like that. Always looking at me funny! You're not coming down with something, are you? Don't give it to me.
  • '80s Hair: Despite being stranded on an island since childhood, Richard somehow manages to have a consistent perm. (Ironically, this was deliberate: the film crew actually thought a perm made him look more "savage" for some reason.)
  • The Film of the Book: As mentioned, four of them, of varying faithfulness.
  • 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.
  • Godiva Hair: Emmeline. To the point (as pointed out by Roger Ebert) of Narm. The makeup artists had to glue Shields' hair to her chest to prevent any inadvertent nip slips.
  • G-Rated Sex: The 1980 version essentially shows Emmeline and Richard gently making out; they never make any motions that indicate they've figured out that Tab A goes into Slot B. This was one of the things critic Pauline Kael hooted at, specifically when Richard later says "Why'd you have a baby?" and Em says "I don't know": "The way they rub limbs, all they'll produce is friction."
  • Happy Ending Override:
    • Both the sequel film and book have 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 is especially egregious in Return to the Blue Lagoon, in which the characters' positions on the boat have changed (they're now lying face-down instead of huddled together) and the scene is reshot to have different dialogue.
    • 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 from 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!
  • Irony: In the 1980 film, after awakening from a nightmare, Emmeline is comforted by Richard and make him promise to never leave her and always be with her. After which she kisses him but as the kiss intensifies, Emmeline pushes him away telling him not to.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Morning Sickness: In the '80 film, Richard awakens one morning to discover Emmeline vomiting by the sea due to her pregnancy.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Done in a somewhat comic scene in the '80 film in which the two kids go running naked ahead of Paddy, who's yelling at them to get their clothes back on.
  • National Geographic Nudity: The film can be said to have this, even with Brooke's hair glued down over her top, but the books have it explicitly, especially 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.
  • No Periods, Period: Emmeline is terrified when she gets her first period, and not knowing what to do about it, refuses to talk to Richard about it.
    • In the book Richard notices as they get older that she sometimes goes off and bathes by herself.
  • Noble Savage: Richard and Emmeline in the original book and film, and Richard (son of the couple from the first movie) and Lilli of 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.
  • Nostalgic Musicbox: Among the artifacts taken to the island is a music box that plays Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9, #2 in E flat major. Emmeline says "That's Chopin! I can play it on the piano." It's used by the kids growing up as a connection with/nostalgic reminder of their life before the island. Sometimes they dance to it. None of this is in the book.
  • 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 show 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.
  • Raging Stiffie: In the first film, there are many shots of Christopher Atkins swimming naked underwater with an erect penis. How the filmmakers got away with an R rating for that is quite a mystery. In Return to the Blue Lagoon, Richard wakes up with an erection, which is sort of what tends to happen to a guy when he's close to Milla Jovovich.
  • 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.
  • Scenery Porn: It even got an Academy Award nomination for its cinematography.
  • 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-knees posture. The only acknowledgement of it being a birth is Richard asking why she had a baby. (She'd left while he was distracted fishing, then he frantically looks for her — in the book, he never finds her and she just comes back with the child. In the film, he does and is with her during the delivery).
  • 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 or Emmeline have had enough of a sex education to recognize the signs of a 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.
  • Wacky Cravings: In the film, Emmeline indulges in coconut to satisfy her pregnancy cravings. note 
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Richard spends most of his time shirtless.
  • When She Smiles: Emmeline in the book.
    ... 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.

Alternative Title(s): Return To The Blue Lagoon