This is becoming one of those down-the-rabbit-hole sort of things.
It all started with the exhibition in Lyon about Hugo Pratt and Corto Maltese. I did a follow-up about the Corto series, and I got this idea of doing a re-read of the whole Corto Maltese opus, starting with A Ballad of the Salt Sea.
Which led me back to The Blue Lagoon by Henry De Vere Stacpoole, and from there, while casting glances at Folco Quilici and Thor Heyerdahl, to Morgan Andrew Robertson (that was probably an influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs too).
But it gets weirder than that, and as the rabbit hole gets deeper, I feel compelled to talk about The Lost Islands. Boy but I loved that show as a kid!
The Lost Islands is an Australian TV serial filmed in 1976 – a story about a bunch of kids that are lost at sea during an international educational cruise. The five castaways (Tony from Australia, Mark from America, David from England, Anna from Germany and Su Ying from China) find themselves on an uncharted island called Tambu, inhabited by the descendants of the survivors of the shipwreck of an 18th century convict ship. The islanders have created a strange society and are ruled over by the mysterious Q, a masked man in a monk’s hood, who’s said to be immortal (or at least over 200 years old).
The kids need to escape Q and his henchmen and try and leave the island.
The show featured an engaging (and rather cheesy, in retrospect) opening titles song, that basically brought you up to date on the premise in case you missed the first episode…
You can see the appeal of such a serial for a kid in hie early tens (I was 10 when the series aired in Italy, I think), already immersed in a media landscape crowded with adventure, documentaries and books about exotic places, ancient mysteries and what else. We were all hooked. The series was dutifully followed by all my school chums, and was object of heated debate and speculation during recess in school.
Checking out on the web, I find out that the series, was a modest hit in Australia, but has achieved cult status in Israel, of all places. Possibly for this reason, you can find the whole series (26 30-minutes episodes) on Youtube, with Hebrew subtitles.
As far as I remember, the series closed on an unresolved cliffhanger, and forty-odd years on, the kids are still there, looking for a way out, and trying to unravel the mysteries of the island and of its immortal master.
So, what has all this to do with A Ballad of the Salt Sea?
Well, the obvious connection is the castaway kids, a recurring theme in the Pratt comic, and in the stories by Stacpoole and Robertson, but it gets better than that.
Because in the opening pages of Ballad we discover that Corto and his counterpart Rasputin are both in the service of a mysterious man known as The Monk.
The Monk wears a monk’s hood that completely hides his face, is said to be immortal (or at least over 100 years old), and lives like a king on a mysterious uncharted island. Just like the mysterious Q.
Did somebody in Australia read Corto Maltese and took inspiration from it? Or is this a glimpse at a common source?
And if it is a common source – what is it?
I am open to suggestions.
And this rabbit-hole thing might as well continue, because of course the five kids of The Lost Islands were stranded on Tambu, and that’s the title of a Toto record from 1995 – the one with the pulp paperback on the cover, the one with a South Seas islands sort of illustration. The one I will probably listen as I finish reading A Ballad of the Salt Sea.
Post Scriptum: according to the official Toto website…
The word Tambu is the name for an ancient South-American dance, which is pictured on the sleeve of the album.
While Toto was in the studio going over possible albm titles, David Paich came across the word in a book of 1940s style art. He fell in love with it, and all the other titles were abandoned.
The sleeve (designed by Dan Brereton) shows an American pulp novel from the fifties with the title “Tambu: they ignited the passion of a lost generation”.
Oh, well, that’s a bit of rabbit hole I won’t have to fall through, apparently.
But I’m listening to the record anyway.