Island of Aquarius: Savage Hijinks

Island of Aquarius: Savage Hijinks June 19, 2020

Escape from the Island of Aquarius, pp. 92-97

Last week, several readers asked why Dr. Cooper and Jay sit around and chat with Real MacKenzie despite Lila having just been captured by Fake MacKenzie (henceforth “Kelno”), particularly given that they’ve just learned for certain that Kelno practices human sacrifice.

Which. What. This is a lot.

The answer is that Jay and Dr. Cooper ask Real MacKenzie for a way to the surface of the island, so that they can rescue Lila, only to be told that the passage via the underground river won’t be open for some hours yet. Even that should not satisfy them, though, and indeed it does not—they asks whether there are any alternate ways out. They’re told there isn’t.

They’re stuck there.

Lila is having a very different experience.

Lila lay motionless on her cot, too sick in her soul to even pray. Would God hear her anyway? Was He really even there anymore?

Good question.

All over again, she saw her father and brother dropping helplessly, hopelessly into that roaring, gulping, watery grave.

Lord, how can I ever trust You again?

Okay, wait a minute. We know that Lila’s father and brother aren’t dead, but while she doesn’t know this yet, there’s a really weird theological thing happening here. The implication seems to be that Lila will realize she truly can trust God when she finds out God saved Jay and Dr. Cooper’s lives (yeah, sure, it was the island’s geology and Real MacKenzie jumping into the water to pull them out that did that, but she’ll see it this way anyway). But what about all those cases where God doesn’t save someone? Can God not be trusted then?

While Lila is laying there, The Dude comes in. “The Dude” is the term I’ve been told I should use for Candle. I don’t know what it means. I’m told it’s from a movie. I haven’t seen the movie. But I am more than glad for something to call Candle, because frankly, that’s not actually his name—that’s what the white colonizers on this island have decided to call him as a sort of joke, because he attaches a torch to his head to serve as light in the night. I didn’t want to call him that and didn’t have a better idea, so The Dude it is.

Anyway, The Dude comes in and tries to talk to Lila, but he doesn’t know many words of English, despite having spent a full year amongst Kelno’s people, and despite Kelno speaking to him in English several times as though he definitely understands English.

She looked at him very dully. As far as she was concerned, she was dead already. How could anything matter anymore? Why bother being afraid?

This feels like a very understandable reaction.

But his eyes seemed so strangely kind toward her. They had such an odd look in them, something between sorrow and fear. He offered her the food. She only cared blankly at him.

He put the plate down and then knelt there beside the bed, trying to speak, trying to come up with words.

“You … your papa …” he said, struggling, looking this way and that ass if the words would come to him out of the air, or maybe from off the walls. “Me … Me-Bwah!”

Lila wasn’t interested in what this savage had to say.

Yes, that in fact and actually is what it says.

I feel almost like I’m reading the same damn book as the first one. If anyone had listened to Gozan, in the last book, they would have been saved an awful lot of trouble—he’s the one who correctly suspected from the beginning what was actually going on. But instead of listening they dismissed him. Over and over again. Repeatedly. Silly superstitious native.

And here it is again! The Dude knows what’s going on here, and has been trying throughout this book to help the Coopers out—even as they resist his help, over and over again, and never even consider the idea that they should listen to him. Silly babbling savage. 

And here’s the thing—there’s never, ever a moment where our heroes realize they were idiots for not listening to the native. They never, ever apologize. Lila learns, later, that The Dude is a Christian—a convert of the Real MacKenzie’s—and even then she continues treating him like a child—and she certainly never apologizes for dismissing him.

But we’re not there yet. We’re still here, with Lila on the cot, and The Dude trying to communicate to her that he wants to help her—trying to make her listen to him.

Candle rattled on at her in his own words, so frantically and quickly that there was no hope of understanding a thing he was saying. But she couldn’t help seeing the sincerity in his eyes. Was he truly concerned for her?

“What, Candle?” she finally asked quietly. “What are you trying to tell me?”

At this moment they are interrupted; Kelno approaches and they both fall silent. But this reads very oddly. Are we meant to think Lila did wrong to judge The Dude a moment ago? What are we to make of any of this?

The Cooper’s biggest enemy in both books isn’t the external danger they face; it’s their prejudice, which renders them unable to hear or heed warnings, and their cockamamie confidence, which renders them certain they know everything already.

There were footsteps outside, and Candle quickly grabbed up the plate of food and stood there beside the cot, looking like his old, threatening, savage self.

In came the tyrant, the murderer, the antichrist, and oh, was he gloating, and smirking, and cutting her down to size with his eyes!

“Well, Miss Cooper,” he said, swaggering back and forth and letting little chuckles hiss out through his nose, “I trust you are comfortable.”

Did he twirl his mustache too??

Also, The Dude returned to “looking like his old, threatening, savage self”?? This is the good guy we’re talking about here! Why are we doing this, what is the narrative point we’re making? No one ever says “what the the hell, maybe we shouldn’t have assumed Polynesian natives were de facto threatening because what hey, it was the native guy who was trying to help all along and it was the white westerner who TRIED TO F*CKING KILL US.”

These books make no sense. In the hands of someone else, this could be a very good story about the dangers of making assumptions and treating people with bigotry and prejudice. But this is not that story. Peretti never even tries to make this that story. So what is he doing?

She spoke not a word.

“That’s quite all right. I don’t expect you to speak to me. It must have been quite a horrible shock for you to find out how feeble your God really is. You know, I tried to warn your father time and again, but … oh, he was so brazen! Now you see, of course, that it was a very costly mistake! I would say his trust—and your trust—-in this high and mighty God of yours was most severely misplaced!

You see, you see what I mean! MacKenzie is claiming that Lila can’t trust God because he didn’t save her father and brother, and later we’ll learn that she can trust him because he did save her father and brother—what the heck is that supposed to mean for people who prematurely lose loved ones to cancer, or in car accidents? Are they to conclude that they can’t trust God, or that their God is “feeble”? The theology here makes no sense.

Anyway, at this point Lila correctly guesses that he’s not actually Adam MacKenzie, and then we get … this.

He laughed loudly and rudely. “No, no, my child, no! I only led you to believe I was the late Reverend MacKenzie so you would be satisfied that you’d found him and leave the island with a good report. I had no idea you would be so snoopy and persistent! No, actually the name is Stuart Kelno. Lord Stuart Kelno, the last and ultimate prophet! This is my world, my creation. Here, on Aquarius, am God.”

Um what.

I actually want to know a lot more about Kelno. What are his teachings, exactly? What does he believe about himself, and about this place? Because frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any consistent thread, just a tangle of random things Peretti thinks are bad. New age mysticism and witchcraft and paganism; Kelno’s claim that he is building a community founded on peace and harmony, and Kelno’s statement that he is a prophet and the God of this island. I’m not saying these can’t all fit together; I’m just interested in how they all fit together.

Also, for all that Kelno is the one imprisoning and threatening her, it’s Dr. Cooper who put Lila in this place by deciding not to leave an island he knew was dangerous and ruled by a madman, thus intentionally and consciously placing his two minor children in grave danger.

Lila says that Kelno isn’t God, and that he’ll have to answer to God—she sounds more certain of herself than she was feeling a moment ago. Kelno gets mad and then Lila decides to simply stop talking to him. This makes him more mad and he leaves in a huff.

So, points for Lila.

At this point we return to Dr. Cooper and Jay, who are having a leisurely supper with the Real MacKenzie when they notice an air current. The Real MacKenzie tells them it’s because the underground river passage is starting to open up, but says they can’t go anywhere until The Dude shows up with the canoe. But Dr. Cooper is pretty sure there’s something else going on—he says there wouldn’t be an air current if there wasn’t another opening.

Dr. Cooper follows the air, aided by some smoke whips, and then climbs partway up one of the walls until he finds the opening to a tunnel of some sort. The Real MacKenzie says he hadn’t really noticed it before, but also that weird smells and noises come from up there sometimes, so he thinks it’s inhabited.

The Real MacKenzie tells Dr. Cooper and Jay that there is a creature of some sort that lives in the tunnels of the islands and features in native lore, and that Kelno oversees human sacrifices to this creature. This makes Dr. Cooper excited; he tells Jay that he was probably right about there being a volcanic vent at the bottom of the pit of bones that they saw, and that probably Lila is going to be sacrificed there, and that probably this tunnel leads there.

So they all hop into the tunnel.

Which. What.

The idea that they could just find their way to the pit through the tunnels, which must lace through and through this island, is absurd. The idea that they can even traverse these tunnels without getting stuck —how big are they exactly?—is equally questionable, and Dr. Cooper should definitely not be taking another one of his kids into danger, again. 

But, well, there’s the setup—Kelno is going to sacrifice Lila and The Dude wants to save her; Dr. Cooper, Jay, and the Real MacKenzie are climbing through the island’s tunnels in an attempt to get to the sacrifice pit in time, ideally without getting eaten by … whatever it is.

And the race is on.

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