*** Original and Unabridged Content. Made available by CLASSIC COLLECTION 600.***
An old monk is tricked by the Devil into undertaking a voyage to a remote island to save the souls of thousands who live there. He arrives on the island which is actually a desolate one, inhabited only by colonies of millions of penguins. The old monk whose eyesight and hearing are almost nonexistent, mistakes them for humans and begins baptizing them. In Heaven, God finds Himself in a dilemma; the old monk's unwavering faith compels him to regard the baptisms as genuine.
However, in Christian theology, only humans have souls – hence God is forced to grant the thousands of newly baptized penguins with souls! This is the beginning of their journey into “civilization.” They form communities, governments, elect their representatives, have social norms, wage wars and generally do whatever “civilized” people do. What happens to this bizarre community forms the rest of the plot of this very interesting and amusing satire.
Penguin Island by Anatole France was published in 1908 under the original French title, L'Ile des Pingouins. Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault was a French essayist, poet, novelist and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921 and was also a member of the Academie Francaise. His work is characterized by its quintessential Gallic atmosphere, ironical and whimsical viewpoint and profound humanity.
Some of his concerns are reflected in this scathing satire on the human race. Anatole France was deeply moved and directly involved in events like the infamous Dreyfus Affair which was a terrible miscarriage of justice in which a man was condemned purely on the basis of his race. Penguin Island mirrors the history of humanity, its greed, lust for power, the oppressive authority of institutions like the Church and the State and the overwhelming power of the military, the ineptness of the justice system and the venal nature of politics. As modern readers, we are amazed that such a vitriolic attack on each and every institution could have gone uncensored or unpunished.
Laced with France's brand of caustic humor, there are several amusing passages in the book. The History of Penguinia is indeed a reflection of the history of France and many other countries in the world. Anatole France was greatly admired by George Orwell, whose own satire Animal Farm mocked the emergence of Communism. An extremely prolific writer, Anatole France produced more than thirty works of fiction, several volumes of poetry, works of literary and social criticism, memoirs and biographies, plays and works of historical fiction. Contemporary critics wildly differed in their opinions of his work, but ultimately, he remains a socially-aware observer of the foibles of human beings.
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