Reviewer Tom Pope: Tom is a writing teacher and fiction coach who strives to spark the imagination. As a teacher, he works with tutoring services to help students organize essays and understand literary elements like the point of view. As a fiction coach, he aids authors to develop characters, brainstorm conflict pacing and design worldbuilding.
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Author: W. E. Lawrence
Author: W. E. Lawrence
Author: W. E. Lawrence
We Learn From Fantasy
One scene typifies W. E. Lawrence’s Guardian of Paradise. When Kira, the feisty protagonist, storms to the crater site of a seeming earthquake, she confronts the merchant sea Captain Coleman with the knowledge of his thrift of island resources. That scene blends the questions of what type of development disasters strike a community with the meaning of progress. Yet her answers to support her local community show how people and groups can stand up to powerful outside interests that pose a threat.
Kira becomes the guardian of a paradise island when an Australian ship arrives in the late 1800s. Despite her culture as a White woman and daughter of a missionary, Kira has become the adoptive daughter of the local tribe. She lives with the culture of seeing the island as a giver of food and shelter. She sees the customs of sharing similar to the hunter-gather societies rather than the desires for acquisition from the developed world.
Kira becomes concerned when Coleman arrives, offering great gifts so the merchants can harvest foods. Is the trade a devise to seize more from the local community? Is the tribal chief right to ward off Kira’s fears? What role does Doctor Trevor play as a person wanting to find new medicine from plants?
Lawrence’s work strikes chords of many other stories. Readers can almost see the fear of vast mining machines from “Avatar” laying waste to the native community. Or they might see the diamonds flowing to war machines from the movie “Blood Diamonds.” Is the desire for finding new medicine a pure one? In “The “Medicine Man” story, disasters hit as communities became destroyed by diseases brought into their midst. Or by the road that brought more people to uproot their community.
Lawrence’s focus could make us look out our windows at our very local communities where the small helpful service shoe repair has been displaced by a CVS or WalMart. That shoe repairman may have sent the money back into the community, but the megastore watches the flow disappear to corporate plans.
Those questions make Lawrence ask about the meaning of progress. If the island people show signs of great health and enjoy the happy life of an island routine, is it progress for them to increase production for the outside world that takes hours away from them? When people like the captain are driven by goals to hide their intentions, what does that say about progress? Or the stress the captain might feel about needing to increase his wealth?
Lawrence doesn’t just outline the questions and show scenarios through dramatic characters, he also supplies tools of solutions to stop the threat. Kira’s strength to stand against the captain started with her using questions like a detective or journalist. Those answers led to her positioning the Captain to reveal his true intensions.
She started her process by wondering why the gifts for the trading rights were so extensive. If the visitors were simply interested in harvesting fruits, why would they conceal bags of equipment and attempt to hide the reasons for them? Why would the captain want to create an irrigation system for the island when the people already had a system of water flow?
Watch Kira stand up to the Captain while respect the tribal chief’s wish to stop complaining. See the balance she uses. Once Kira does confront the Captain, see how the pressure of time forces the Captain to make mistakes. How do those mistakes help Kira find support with her community?
Lawrence has framed a startling look at how we view other communities, whether in the Third World or neighborhoods right down the street. He shows potential dangers and the meaning of respect between cultures. Is a war possible between the island people and the ship’s crew? Can Kira protect her island without support from the chief? Can she withhold her temper from vengeance against the ship’s people to find a solution?
These forces come into play within a love story between Kira and Doctor Trevor. Can she extend a love for Trevor outside of the usual marital status her missionary family would have liked? Or has she seen the love shown by the island’s community of a communal connection? How does Trevor respond between his quest to find the prefect medicine and the perfect lover?
One missing factor that seems to have eluded Lawrence is the role of Trevor’s friend, the chief petty officer. When Trevor and Kira believe that the only culprits are the captain and officers, they think that the chief petty officer could become an ally. However, the structure of any society frames the thoughts of members. Just as the individual reactions from Kira work within the cultural beliefs of her island society, so do the ship’s individuals operate within the merchant society. The captain is not the only culprit. The chief petty officer would be influenced by the same social forces of economics and pressure from the ship’s owners as the captain.
Lawrence, if he wanted to show a difference, would have had to give some individual reason why the chief would side with Trevor against the captain and officers.
Despite the caveat, Lawrence’s wealth of island images, sensitivity to love, and questioning the idea of development can fill the reader with thrills of finding a new world as well as a new part of his own.