Pros: At least it's original
Cons: Goes nowhere, doesn't offer solutions to the 'problems' it suggests
According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, The Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award was created in 1989 by Ted Turner, to be awarded to a fiction work offering creative and positive solutions to global problems. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn won the award in 1991, which will not be awarded again, and was selected out of 2500 entries by a celebrity panel including famous sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury. The award was worth $500,000, the largest single sum ever awarded to a single work of literature.
Only someone like Ted Turner would give a half million dollars for a book like this
In Daniel Quinns Ishamael, a man answers a newspaper ad for a teacher seeking a student with the desire to save the world. The man is directed to a small empty room in a rather plain building and at first it seems like hes been misled. Then he realized that hes not alone. In the next room, separated by a large pane of glass, sits a massive gorilla. And it begins to speak.
The gorilla began its life in the wild but was captured very young when its mother was killed. He was placed in a zoo for some time and had little interaction with people until he was purchased by a carnival. The carnival experience allowed him to work directly with people and he began to observe human ways. Before long, the desire to communicate with humans became overwhelming. One day while working with his new owner, the gorilla willed himself to telepathically speak to the owner. Telepathy is the use of the mind to speak, sort of like the way Obi Wan guided Luke at the end of Star Wars. In other words, when the gorilla speaks, his lips dont move and you only hear his voice inside your head.
Setting up the story was very interesting and odd, but that is the only real plot in Ishmael. The rest of the book is the gorilla explaining his philosophy on human behavior to the man who answered the ad. It is his philosophies that bothered me quite a lot. Many people consider this novel to be profound and thought provoking. I found it to be disturbing. What I got from the gorillas outlook on life is that humans are worthless and civilization is to blame. I think the point Quinn was trying to make is that the ideal lifestyle would be that of an animal. Sorry, but I dont want to live like an animal.
Among the philosophies discussed by Ishmael is the concept of the takers and the leavers. The takers are pretty much all modern humans who hoard up everything from food to goods. The leavers are the people of old, like animals, who only took what they needed. There is one example where it describes herds of animals standing by while their weak ones are killed by predators. This obviously suggests the Darwinian theme of survival of the fittest. There is also another part that really got under my skin when Ishmael started telling what he thought really happened in the book of Genesis. This book tells of so many supposed problems with civilization, but never offers a real solution. I understand that Quinn wrote a trilogy based on this character and that the future novels present ideas for a solution, but as a standalone novel I think Ishmael just presents a bunch of nonsense.
Did you know that Ted Turner is a humanist? Do you even know what that is? In an interview he once said that theres no such thing as a soul. According to the American Humanist Association website (americanhumanist.org), Humanism is defined as, A progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.
In other words, Humanism is just a fancy name for atheism. That bit about without supernaturalism really means without God. After all, atheism is a negative word. Theism is defined as the belief in the existence of God or gods. Atheism is the disbelief in God or gods. Adding the letter A before theism gives it a negative connotation. Claiming to be humanist, rather than atheist, is a much more friendly way of stating your belief, or disbelief, however you see it. Either way, I believe youll reach the same fiery conclusion in the afterlife.
So why did Quinn choose the name Ishmael for his telepathic philosophical gorilla? I checked the authors website (Ishmael.com) and found the following information. "According to our cultural mythology, God lost interest in all other creatures on this planet when humans came along. (Although nonhumans came first, our mythology tells us they were not God's "true" children. Rather, it is humans who are God's true children.) According to Genesis, this is exactly what happened to Ishmael when Isaac came along: his father Abraham lost interest in him. (Although Ishmael came first, he was not Abraham "true" son. Rather it was Isaac who was his true son.) In other words, what Genesis says happened to Ishmael is exactly what our mythology says happened to the non-human community on this planet. This makes "Ishmael" an appropriate name for someone who speaks for this community." As a Christian, I find it insulting that an author who refuses to acknowledge whether he believes in anything or nothing at all in regard to a higher power would use the Bible as a basis for his character in a work such as this.
I will not argue that Ishmael is not a thought-provoking book. It most certainly is. Its just that it brings up a bunch of nonsensical psychobabble without offering any real solutions to the numerous problems it suggests. Im sure many of you will not agree with my review of this book, but I do promise to read the next two novels just to see where Quinn is going with this. I am intrigued by Quinns suggestion, especially with the fact that so many people find this book to be life-changing. In many ways, that scares me.