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Synopsis of Aldous Huxley's Island

Detailed synopsis of Aldous Huxley's Island

Island, Aldous Huxley, New York, 1962, 1968, Bantam Books, Harper & Row Publishers.

The story is not complex and covers only a few days. Will Farnaby, a sometime journalist and full-time wheeler-dealer working for industrialist Lord Joseph Aldehyde, purposely shipwrecks his small boat on the south sea "forbidden island" of Pala. Why the island was called forbidden is never quite explained.

It had developed a system of government, of society, of life that provided its people the greatest chance of happiness (by Huxley's determination), based on the Platonic model but lacking a warrior class. By so doing, it had little communication with the outside world. Its nearest neighbor, Rendang, was plotting to take over the island militarily, for its untapped oil reserves. Pala's queen mother, the Rani, a princess of Rendang, disapproved of the Palanese ways developed a hundred years ago by her dead husband's grandfather, lovingly known as the Old Raja, and Dr. Andrew MacPhail, Dr. Robert's grandfather. It was Buddhism without the ritual and western science without the narrow focus. Live in the here and now. Everything is related to everything else. All is One. The young Raja, her son, kowtowed to her authority but secretly (and not so secretly) longed for power, the kind of power exhibited by Colonel Dipa, the dictator of Rendang. And he longed for toys, especially motor scooters (he carried a year old Sears Roebuck catalog with him in his book bag) and armies.

Will's mission is to make contact with the Rani, in order to convince her to contract with his boss for the oil rights of the small island. That the Rani often left Pala to travel to Rendang is soon learned, making Will's subterfuge unnecessary. But the book is not really about Will's story but rather a vehicle for expounding Huxley's world philosophy. More on that later.

On landing on the island, Will injures his knee and is left unconscious. He awakes and is discovered by two island children: Mary Sarojini & Tom Krishna MacPhail. They are the grandchildren of Dr. Robert MacPhail, who soon thereafter arrives with his assistant Vijaya Bhattacharya and Murugan Mailendra, a student. Will recognized Murugan from his earlier visit with Colonel Dipa, the military dictator of the neighboring country of Rendang but Murugan seemed to not want that information known so Will played along. They carry him to the Dr. Robert's bungalow where he is bandaged. Susila MacPhail, Dr. Robert's daughter-in-law and Mary Sarojini and Tom Krishna's mother, treats him there for the pain by hypnotically transporting him to an internal place of rest. When he awakes he reads several chapters of the Old Raja's treatise, Notes on What's What.

His first visitor is Murugan, who thanks him for not revealing him to Dr. Robert. It seems that Murugan, in a few days when he reaches his majority, will become the new Raja of Pala and he was in Rendang meeting with another head of state, Colonel Dipa, but on the pretense of visiting his mother's, the Rani's, relatives. The Colonel's intent was to persuade Pala to open up their oil fields to foreign companies (for a percent of the action). What Will saw, however, was a teenage boy being allowed to drive the Colonel's cars, and at some severe speeds. Naturally, the Palanese leaders would not approve of any relationship with Colonel Dipa. They are terribly backward.

The Rani next arrives with Ambassador Abdul Pierre Bahu in tow. Bahu is an advisor to Colonel Dipa but his chief interest is the lining of his own pockets. The Rani, a bumptious spiritual potentate, wrapped in white muslin, bejeweled with twinkles and jangles and scented with sandalwood, wants what is best for Pala. And she also wants to expand own Crusade of the Spirit, her apostolate to the world bequeathed upon her by her spiritual guide Koot Hoomi, her "Little Voice." And that oil money will help her people greatly. So Will crashed into the forbidden island in order to find the Rani but the Rani finds him. He lets slip to her that he works for Joe Aldehyde. That dear man, she calls him. Will is sure Aldehyde will match and beat any other oil company's offer. She is overjoyed at the prospects for her world crusade and she jingles home with Murugan trailing behind.

As Rani and Murugan are leaving, Nurse Radha Appu arrives to give Will an injection. Bahu stays behind to make the deal with Will -- not the deal for the oil contract -- that could only officially be made by the heads of state -- but the deal for influencing the head of state and the deal for influencing the one who influences the head of state -- that would be Bahu. The blood money is agreed upon, Bahu also departed. Bahu would recommend Lord Aldehyde's company and Will would act as the agent for Aldehyde when dealing with Dipa.

Radha performed her duty and soon after her boyfriend, Ranga Karakuran, a biochemistry student who had just received a scholarship to study at the University of Manchester, arrived. Afterward Will read more from the Old Raja's book and slept.

Later and in the ensuing days Will was shown around the island by Dr. Robert, Vijaya, Mary Sarojini, Susila and the island's school principal. Susila helps him accept the past: the death of his wife Molly a few hours after he told her he wanted a divorce, the loss of his mistress Babs when she grew tired of him, the death of his favorite aunt, Mary, the only person he ever really loved, the death of his boyhood dog Tiger, his only companion in a loveless home. Mary Sarojini helps him, through a child's innocence, see that life is not so complicated if it is lived in the here and now. The island's mynah birds have been trained to remind its residents: "Attention!" "Karuna, karuna." Keep your attention here. Have compassion, compassion.

Vijaya and his wife show him ideal family life and explain the MAC (mutual adoption club). Each child has a company of parents. He may at any time chose to change from one to another. Even in Pala, parents lose their temper. A day or two alone often helps return them to the present. The school principal took him to several classrooms to show him how western science is integrated with the arts and with personal completeness. They call it building bridges. They would study a flower or dissect a frog, then they would draw a picture of that from memory, then they would feel how that applies to themselves and attempt to put into words what cannot be fully expressed. They also learned destiny control, a form of self hypnosis for controlling pain and other experiences.

Dr. Robert explained the history of the island to Will. The Old Raja had a severe growth on his face and he called for a doctor to come to his island and help him. Dr. Andrew MacPhail, Dr. Robert's grandfather, was working in India at the time and thought this might be a nice change. The growth prevented the Old Raja from eating much and he was quite frail. Dr. Andrew saw that cutting away the growth would cause a strain on the Raja's body that would probably kill him. But doing nothing would also bring his death. He remembered an article he had read about a procedure, then called animal magnetism, a form of mesmeric trance that can remove a patient's pain. The article dismissed it as fantasy but at this point there seemed to be nothing to lose.

Recalling as best he could the article, he made passes with his hands downward from the head to the belly, over and over. As he did this, he suggested to the Raja that he would sleep. He did this over and over, day after day and the Raja did sleep. Then he suggested that he would eat and feel no pain and he did. The Raja began to gain strength. Finally, he decided the Raja was strong enough to bear the knife. He again put him in a trance and suggested he would not feel any pain and that he would recover quickly and not take an infection. Dr. Andrew performed the operation and the Raja recovered quickly. Both men were enthused about this technique and began to develop their philosophy together, one a Mahayana Buddhist, the other a western atheist. They built an Agricultural Experimental Station, which Dr. Robert now oversaw, to breed better crops so that no one should go hungry. They designed the educational and health care systems to include the best of the east and west. They did not forbid organized religion but the schools showed though logic and self experience that no god would force his people to suffer as they had done and as the outside world continued to do. They admitted that this was not a utopia but it was darn close.

Ninety nine percent of the book expounds on the Palanese way, presumably Huxley's world philosophy. Although I may not agree with some or much of it, it is very well fleshed out and fairly complete. The man is undoubtedly well versed in the various world literatures and philosophers. I doubt that human nature would have embraced the Palanese way as thoroughly as the natives of Pala did. It relied on people seeing that living a certain way will bring happiness to them most of the time -- it relied on each person's self-control. I rather think that momentary gratifications would have destroyed it long before Colonel Dipa arrived.

And, in the end, we have an unsatisfactory conclusion to the story, unsatisfactory in that the ending was not 'happy' and, also, that it was not well explained. I suppose Huxley meant for the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Dr. Robert's wife, Lakshmi, died of her cancer. He and Susila were there to help her pass on, as Will watched and learned. Outside the hospital, as Will and Mary Sarojini waited to be admitted to Lakshmi's room, Murugan came with a summons from the Rani. It was very important he come right now. Something that he could not talk about in public was about to happen very soon. By this time in the story, Will had come to see that the Pala way was by far the better and he rued any part he had already had in its downfall. He dispatched Murugan back to his mother and accompanied Mary Sarojini to see her grandmother.

That night, after Lakshmi's passing, Susila offered Will a chance to try the moksha-medicine, an hallucinogenic mushroom used by the islanders to bring them closer to their own Oneness. She guided him out of himself until he saw, first the absolute, then the evil that is matter, and finally, reality in all its realness. In the morning they heard the roosters crow and the mynah birds cawing 'Attention!,' and then the young Raja nervously speaking over a loudspeaker admonishing his people to be calm, to welcome their friends from across the strait. The caravan of jeeps stopped at Dr. Robert's bungalow. Shots were fired. Then they moved on. And the mynah's squawked, 'Karuna, karuna,' 'Attention!'

? Lester L. Noll

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