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A Different Kind of Horror: Stig Dagerman's 'Island of the Doomed'

By Catherine Ramsdell

Dagerman_island coverIn “Anne”, the 35th episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, demon Ken asks Buffy “What is Hell, but the total absence of hope?”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the novel Island of the Doomed really have nothing in common. One is a fun, albeit sometimes campy, television show that makes many people glad they came of age during the ‘90s rather than the Twilight era. The other is, to quote J.M.G. Le Clézio, who wrote the foreword to the 2012 edition of Island of the Doomed, “one of the strangest novels of the twentieth century” (or perhaps of all time).


Still, as I was reading Island of the Doomed I kept thinking back to episode 35 of Buffy, and that question, because reading Island of the Doomed involves stepping into a world with no hope.


Written by Stig Dagerman in 1946, the book tells the story of seven people—five men and two women—who survive a shipwreck only to land on an island with no food or drinking water where they wait to die. Or as the book jacket relates: it is “a haunting tale that oscillates around seven castaways as they await their inevitable death on a desert island populated by blind gulls and hordes of iguanas”. Even in this extreme situation, these seven people seem unable to relate to, communicate with, or provide basic human compassion to each other. In many ways, they are as isolated from each other as they are the rest of the world.

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Island of the Doomed