During his profitable pirating career, Captain Sparrow discovered an unknown South Pacific island that appeared to consist entirely of rocky cliffs but contained a lushly fertile inland landscape. It could only be accessed at high tide from a small hidden recess high in the cliffs. Sparrow and his crew, who were wanted all over the world for their crimes, made the island a hideout where they stowed heaps of gold bars and lots of guns and ammunition. Before his last voyage, Sparrow left some of his crew, several Chilean women, and his young son on the island. But Sparrow had tempted fate one time too many; he and his remaining crew were caught and hanged. Not knowing what happened to their leader and the rest of his men, the pirates and women left on the island degenerated into illiteracy and lawlessness.
A couple of generations later, Charlton Foyle, drifting alone in a lifeboat, happens upon the island’s hidden recess. After gaining access to the interior of the island, he discovers several oddities: huge flesh-eating birds, satyrs and, most interesting of all, a pretty young French woman named Marcelle who was marooned two years earlier and has been hiding from the pirates in the forest. Marcelle is excited to have a civilized companion but can’t show herself because she’s naked. When she tries to steal clothing to cover her indecency, she’s caught by the pirates and is about to be forced to marry their brutish leader, the grandson of Captain Sparrow. Will Charlton, the refined Englishman, come and save her?
The Island of Captain Sparrow, published in 1928, is a classic lost world fantasy which contains many of the themes found in similar stories written in the early 1900s. Charlton Foyle’s adventure is thrilling and the world he discovers is both beautiful and horrible. Because of S. Fowler Wright’s lovely descriptive prose, I felt like I was drifting in the boat, exploring the caves, and peeking through the trees with Charlton. I was truly anxious during the scenes in which Marcelle and Charlton encountered the degenerate pirates. It’s too bad that the plot gradually fizzled after the climax; I wish it had ended more strongly.
One noticeable annoyance with Wright’s story, and this is surely due to the time period during which it was written, is the glaring racism and classism. There are several reminders from the narrator that the islanders were brutes because they were descended from 1. Europeans of the lowest class, and 2. Chileans:
It is doubtless true that the men and women that Captain Sparrow had landed upon the island had been subnormal both in intellect and in moral stability. That is a reasonable supposition considering their occupation and antecedents.
The physical features of the islanders are often described as offensive and contrasted with the attractive features of Charlton and Marcelle who are upper-class Europeans. At one point, Charlton notices that Marcelle, who had been running around the island naked before he arrived, has a suntan. But he quickly assures us that she is tanned “only lightly” for which he thanks the shady forest. Fortunately, “only the soles of her dust-stained feet were very dark.” Another time, Charlton uses a metaphor to suggest that he and Marcelle are like the mighty trees that struggle to push through the “strife” and “parasites” of the forest canopy to rise above the rest of the “savage” jungle. This Eurocentrism is ugly, but perhaps not surprising since S. Fowler Wright, an Englishman, lived from 1874 to 1965.
The audio production I listened to was performed by Napoleon Ryan, a British comedy screen actor. As far as I can tell, this is his first audiobook performance. His presentation was genuine and he has a terrific voice — even his voice for Marcelle was completely convincing. I hope Mr. Ryan will continue narrating audiobooks.
The Island of Captain Sparrow is a relatively short book (only 7 hours) which is fast-paced and exciting. If you you can look past the Eurocentrism, it’s an entertaining example of an old lost world fantasy.