Thursday, May 8, 2014

Megatherium Americanum

When I first decided on this project there was a fantastic sale going on at Better World Books' site and I was able to find at least four of the books on my list. This included The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde - unfortunately not the same copy or a repro but I did go through and mark which pieces were in both; Volume 1 of a selection of Kipling's work; Arthur C. Clarke's The Sands of Mars, and a little known H.G. Wells piece Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island.

I was able to get an exact copy of the Wells book which was first published in 1928, a later Wells piece. Excited, because I love Wells and had never heard of this novel, I decided to start my project with this book. First, before reading, I thought I would do a little research on the book. I turned up practically nothing. This is definitely an H.G. Wells and it is definitely not well-known. On Good Reads there was a review that likened it to a rewrite of the Island of Dr. Moreau. Since I haven't seen the movie or read the Island of Dr. Moreau I naturally asked my boyfriend if he knew what it was about. And, being the fantastic reader of classics and sci-fi that he is, he knew what the book was about. Apparently, the Island of Dr. Moreau is about a man who is shipwrecked on an island that is home to the humanistic animals created by Dr. Moreau. Well, after hearing that I decided that the Good Reads reviewer had no idea what she was talking about. In Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, Arnold Blettsworthy shipwrecks on Rampole Island, home to cannibals and Megatherium Americanum (the Giant Sloth.) I can totally see why the reviewer thought that he was basically rewriting The Island of Dr. Moreau, however, the two books read very differently. In fact, although I'm only on page 194, I believe that - historically - Mr. Blettsworthy's tale is actually more a response to World War I than "an exercise in youthful blasphemy." (Quote from Wikipedia)

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Island of Dr. Moreau deals with the topics of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and interference with nature. Well, several of these themes are addressed in Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, particularly human identity, moral responsibility, and cruelty. However, Wells is looking more at the concept of Civilization - a concept that definitely merited reviewing after the horrors of WWI - and the responsibilities it entailed. I can see the argument that it is a rewriting of IoDM but I think its more that Wells revisited certain subjects in MBoRI than he attempted to re-do an entire novel. I really wish I could find more on it. Ah, but since I did not mean to continue on this subject for so long let me move on.

I am currently on page 194 out of 347. The beginning of the book which details Mr. Blettsworthy's life was very slow. But once his Fiance cheated on him with his partner it picked up considerably. First off, let me point out that I love the language in this book. There is just something about books written in the 1920s. They have this particular way of talking to a reader that is very enjoyable. (My other examples of this are Saki and P.G. Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens.) I think I'll save my next post, which I plan to write at the end of the novel, for a summary of the book. For now let me move on to the other main point of this post!

At some point in the novel, Mr. Blettsworthy lands on Rampole Island and encounters the Megatherium Americanum. At page 194, after several references to this giant sloth, I wondered if this was an actual creature. I put the book down and immediately typed Giant Sloth into Google and came up with a lot of results! So here is what I have learned from this book, so far.

The Giant Sloth existed in the Pleistocene Era. It had giant claws that it used to pull down leaves or possibly stab the stomach of Giant Armadillos - apparently there is some debate on if it turned into a carnivore because it has an arm length that could allow it to strike quickly. The sloth spent a good portion of its time on its hind legs, weighed about as much as an elephant, and served the same grazing purpose as that animal. The first fossils were discovered in the late 1700s in South America. In fact, Megatherium Americanum is thought to have ranged from Argentina to Alaska. It died out sometime around the appearance of the first humans in the Americas.

The website for the National History Museum in London had a lot of very useful information on the creature. Now, admittedly, I did not learn this information directly from the book - I looked it up. But the book inspired me to look it up. Now armed with knowledge of the previous existence of the Giant Sloth, and eager to write a story featuring the creature, I am ready to continue on Mr. Blettsworthy's disastrous adventures.