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  • Writer's pictureLaura Sesana

8 Creepy Fictional Islands

Islands settings are attractive to both readers and writers. An island can be a perfect seaside paradise as well as a place of isolation, where characters are often left to their own devices, far from civilization, other human beings and safety.

“Islands occupy a significant space in literature. They are more than scenic locations; they are literary devices whose natural boundaries help shape and contain narratives,” says writer Ben Myers. “Fictional islands exist as either lost paradises where poetry and contemplation happen, or places where law breaks down and conventional morality gets tested.”

Within the limited space of an island, situations that can easily be dealt with on the mainland can be magnified; a simple nuisance anywhere else can become a matter of life and death on an island. Because of their physical isolation, islands are also usually home to tight-knit communities. This can be a source of strength for its members, as well as a pressure-cooker where resentments fester and lies eat away at the community for years and even generations.

Because there is less room to maneuver and hide—both physically and figuratively—situations occurring on an island will more readily force a character or group of characters to look within or reveal their true character to others. An island presents a limited space, where the option between “fight or flight” often becomes “fight or perish.”

Fictional islands are often even more effective devices, because a writer can tailor a fictional island to suit his/her purposes and set the mood for a book. In many of the following books, the fictional islands are important elements of the story, often becoming as memorable to the reader as many of the characters.

1. Shutter Island, Massachusetts

Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane 2003

“Out past them all, the one they called Shutter lay like something tossed from a Spanish galleon. Back then, in the spring of ’28, it had been left to itself in a riot of its own vegetation, and the fort that had stretched along its highest point was strangled in vines and topped with great clouds of moss.”

Shutter Island is the setting for Dennis Lehane’s novel by the same name, first published in 2003 and adapted by Paramount Pictures in 2010. The fictional island is located off the coast of Massachusetts on the outer edges of Boston Harbor. In the novel, the island is home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels is sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the patients.

On Shutter Island, nature is bold and powerful, with rocky beaches, dense woods, hidden caves and steep cliffs. The island’s inhospitable nature is magnified by a colossal storm that hits soon after Teddy arrives, making it impossible to leave or even communicate with the mainland and heightening the feeling of isolation.

The manmade structures on the island are almost as inhospitable as nature is beyond the high walls of the compound. Once left to rot, Ashcliffe has reclaimed the old army fort once operational on the island has been turned into a hospital for the most dangerous of criminals. The structures on the island include the original commander’s quarters, a lighthouse and a walled-in compound containing the hospital and two redbrick colonials on either side. There is a constant feeling in air that Teddy is not being told about everything that goes on at Ashecliffe and that everything is not as it seems.

In an interview, Lehane said he was inspired by a mental hospital located in Boston Harbor’s Long Island, which he visited as a child. Long Island is still home to several institutional programs including several drug addiction treatment centers and homeless shelters. The brick buildings and ruins of Fort Andrews on nearby Peddocks Island were used as film locations for the 2010 adaptation.

2. Waytansea Island, USA

Diary, Chuck Palahniuk 2003

Waytansea Island is the fictional setting of Chuck Palahniuk’s 2003 novel, Diary. “Waytansea” could be a play on words, “wait and see,” which certainly seems to fit with the novel’s plot.

The island is a quaint summer resort, but it is overrun with tourists and losing its splendor, as the island’s formerly-wealthy residents have turned into an army of maids, waitresses and bellhops that cater to the tourists. They have all lost their houses and live in the top floor of the island’s only hotel, which has become a kind of barracks, housing the island’s eccentric permanent residents.

The island itself is like something out of a child’s imagination,

“Picture the way a little kid would draw a fish bone—the skeleton of a fish, with the skull at one end and the tail at the other. The long spine in between, it’s crossed with ribbed bones. It’s the kind of fish skeleton you’d see in the mouth of a cartoon cat.

“Picture that fish as an island covered with houses.”

The island is picturesque, the home of two famous painters (now deceased) and appears to be the perfect tourist paradise. But like everything Chuck Palahniuk writes, Waytansea has a very dark side. What appears quirky at first—like the fact that all the young men from the island wear women’s costume jewelry, or there is a forgotten statue garden on Waytansea point—soon turns macabre, in a very Palahniuk-like way.

3. Isla Nublar, Costa Rica

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park 1990

Henrique Zimmermann Tomassi, Wikimedia commons

Isla Nublar is home to Jurassic Park and the setting of Michael Crichton’s novel by the same name. According to the book, it is 120 miles off the Coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. The name translates to “cloud island.”

Originally, the island itself is not unlike any other tropical Pacific island, with lush tropical forests and beautiful cliffs and sandy beaches—until Jack Hammond establishes Jurassic Park.

Isla Nublar was inspired by Isla del Coco or Cocos Island, 300 miles off Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. Isla del Coco is a National Park, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The 1993 film adaptation was actually shot in Hawaii on the island of Kaua’i.

4. Hedeby Island, Sweden

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larson 2005

Hedeby Island is the fictional island home to the Vanger family and where a lot of the action in Stieg Larson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo takes place. The book says it is about an hour’s drive north of Gävle, which would put it somewhere in the Gulf of Bothnia. Hedeby is close to land, connected to the town of Hedestad (also fictional), by a two-lane bridge. Other than by boat, the bridge is the only way on and off the island.

Most of the Vanger family either lives on the island or keeps a house there. At first, Hedeby appears to be just a wealthy compound, where each member’s house reflects his or her personality and is an expression of the Vanger family’s wealth. However, as the story continues, the reader learns of a number of horrible occurrences and terrible secrets kept in Hedeby and its seemingly inoffensive houses.

The island’s geography—the fact that the bridge is the only way on or off the island—helps deepen the mystery of Harriet Vagner’s disappearance and plays an important part in setting the mood for the book and moving the action towards the surprising ending.

5. Unnamed Island, Pacific Ocean

The Island of Dr. Moreau, HG Wells 1896

The fictional island in H.G. Wells’ novel does not have a name, but the reader learns that it is a volcanic island on the Pacific Ocean covered with lush jungle. The only humans on the island appear to be Dr. Moreau; his assistant, Montgomery; and Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked Englishman.

Dr. Moreau has been on the island for 11 years and lives in an enclosed compound where he conducts gruesome experiments. Prendick is lodged in an outer room of the compound, but he can hear the anguished cries of the animals as Moreau is experimenting on them.

The atmosphere on the island beyond the compound is just as unsettling as the laboratory inside. While lush and beautiful, the island’s landscape is also dangerous and menacing, especially when Prendick makes contact with its unusual inhabitants.

6. San Piedro Island, Washington

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson 1994

David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars is set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound in Washington State in the 1950s. The island is home to a number of Japanese American families, many of which had been previously confined to internment camps during World War II.

The island is made up of fishermen and farmers, their main crop being strawberries. San Piedro is described as a cold and lonely place, shrouded by fog and weighed down by years of resentment hiding just below the surface.

In this novel, the island itself is not that creepy, but the situation created by the isolation certainly is. By virtue of being an island and isolating its residents somewhat from the mainland, enemies have been forced to live in the tight knit community for years while resentment and suspicion bubble just below the surface.

Inevitably, by virtue of the isolation and the failure to address and resolve the obvious racial tension, the situation comes to a head when a white fisherman is found dead on his boat and a young Japanese family man is accused of the murder, forcing the tension brewing among the residents of the island to the surface.

7. Little Tall Island, Maine

Dolores Claiborne, “Home Delivery,” and “Storm of the Century,” Stephen King

Little Tall Island appears in several Stephen King stories. It is the home of Dolores Claiborne in the novel by the same name, and it is also the setting for the short story “Home Delivery,” and the miniseries “The Storm of the Century.”

In Dolores Claiborne, Little Tall Island has the feeling of all resort and seasonal towns, contrasting between the bright, busy summer with the bleak, lonely winter. Summer is when the island puts its best face forward, when the people who own the expensive summer homes are in residence; winter is when the town’s permanent residents are left to themselves, and the lies and secrets that hide just below the shiny veneer begin to come to the surface.

8. Indian Island/ Soldier Island

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie, 1939

Both the title of the book—considered Christie’s masterpiece—and the fictional island it is set on have undergone several name changes through the years, as certain words have become offensive. Despite the name changes, however, the island’s creepy character remains unchanged.

Located off the Devon coast, Soldier Island is shaped like a huge head bulging out of the water. The house is not visible from the mainland and is located on the other side of the island, where the island’s cliffs slope into a more hospitable harbor. The house is unusual in that it is not the typical haunted house for an Angatha Christie murder mystery. Instead, the house is bright and modern, but this makes it even more creepy.

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