Study Guide

Penguin Island

by Jacques-Anatole-Françoi Thibault

Penguin Island Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In ancient times, Breton monk Maël is diligent in gathering converts to the Church. One day the devil causes Maël to be transported in a boat to the North Pole, where the priest lands on an island inhabited by penguins. Being somewhat snow-blind, he mistakes the birds for people, preaches to them, and, taking their silence as a sign of willingness, baptizes them into the Christian faith.

This error of the pious Maël causes great consternation in paradise. God calls all the saints together, and they argue whether the baptisms are valid. At last they decide that the only way out of the dilemma is to change the penguins into people. After this transformation, Maël tows the island back to the Breton coast so that he can keep an eye on his converts. Thus begins the history of Penguinia on the island of Alca.

At first, the penguins are without clothes, but before long the holy Maël puts clothes on the females. The novelty of covering excites the males, and sexual promiscuity increases enormously. The penguins begin to establish the rights of property by knocking one another over the head. Greatauk, the largest and strongest penguin, becomes the founder of power and wealth. A taxation system is established by which all penguins are taxed equally. This system is favored by the rich, who keep their money intended to benefit the poor.

Kraken, a clever penguin, withdraws to a lonely part of the island and lives alone in a cave. Finally, he takes as his mistress Orberosia, the most beautiful of penguin women. Kraken gains great wealth by dressing up as a dragon and carrying off the wealth of the peaceful penguins. When the citizens band together to protect their property, Kraken becomes frightened. It is predicted by Maël that a virgin will come to conquer the dragon. Kraken and Orberosia fashion an imitation monster. Orberosia appears to Maël and announces herself as the destined virgin. At an appointed time she reveals the imitation monster. Kraken springs from a hiding place and pretends to kill it. The people rejoice and thenceforth pay annual tribute to Kraken. His son, Draco, founds the first royal family of Penguinia. Thus begins the Middle Ages on the island of Alca.

Draco the Great, a descendant of the original Draco, has a monastery established in the cave of Kraken in honor of Orberosia, who is now a saint. There are great wars between the penguins and the porpoises at this time, but the Christian faith is preserved by the simple expedient of burning all heretics at the stake.

The history of the penguins in this far time had been chronicled by a learned monk named Johannes Talpa....

(The entire section is 1082 words.)