The King of Cannibal Island
The Guy Who Shipwrecked On A Cannibal Island Then Took It Over
Screenplay by Alan Nafzger (t.ly/m4Mk)
Feature Film (134 pages)
One strategy to screenwriting is to write about the weirdest life anyone has ever lived.
LOGLINE: Life comes at you fast.
PREMISE: At the beginning of the 20th century, newspapers were filled with stories about the Swedish man who became the king of Tabar Island. Each day the stories about his life varied from the realistic to fairy-tales. Carl Petterson was a Swedish man who sailed the open seas since he was the age of 17. After a six-year-long career at sea, in 1898 he ended up working for the German trading house Neuguinea-Compagnie that owned headquarters in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea. So his job required him to travel to the other side of the world. On Christmas day, in 1904, his ship sank in the Pacific Ocean, close to the Tabar Island.
Carl Emil Pettersson – Washed up on an island of cannibals and then became their king. What character can beat that?
King Lamry – Tabar Island King at the time Carl arrived on the island.
Princess Singdo (wife #1) – She gave Carl 9 children.
Jessica Simpson (wife #2) – She tried and was eventually successful persuading Carl to leave the island.
It is set mostly in in 1906 and that might may have been long after the Age of Exploration, but there was still land waiting to be discovered scooped up and colonized, and the ocean was (and always will be) a place that could eat you up without warning. The German New Guinea Company was looking to administer the lands off the coast of Australia currently owned by Germany.
It’s easy today to think cannibal natives are boogeymen made up by ignorant people. But they’re very much a real thing. Many many explorers were eaten; it’s undisputed.
Fiji was known as the Cannibal Isles for a reason, as missionaries would find out every so often after mistakenly insulting the chief and then ending up dinner.
Papua New Guinea also had a bunch of islands populated by cannibals, and descendants of those cannibals keep records of the old murders and now ask forgiveness for their ancestors’ table manners.
Even parts of Papua New Guinea still eat human flesh today, though they insist they aren’t technically eating people, since these humans have been possessed by demons.
Carl Emil Pettersson, just an average Swedish sailor. Carl was on a freighter that set out for Sydney traveling through a group of islands called the Bismarck Archipelago. On December 25, Poseidon gave them the gift of a shipwreck, which, even by 1906 standards, makes for a pretty lousy Christmas. And like Green Arrow and Tom Hanks, Carl did survive. He and some other survivors washed ashore and later made it to a different island called Tabar — today part of New Guinea’s New Ireland Province — where they were immediately met by a group of hostile cannibals. Yes, cannibals.
In a cartoon, or possibly even in real life, Carl’s story would end with him tied to a stake over a cooking pot and awaiting a last-minute rescue. What really happened was even more absurd.
They took him to meet the ruler of the island, King Lamry, and when Carl was asked to justify his existence, he said that he had plenty to offer. He could bring Tabar great wealth, he said, if they just gave him a chance. He had some knowledge from his education in Sweden that could be of use to them. Carl wasn’t able to, say, wire a working phone network for the island, or build a steam engine from scratch. But he did know a thing or two about orchards. So he dug up and moved some palm trees in a way that produced a lovely bunch of coconuts.
Promise delivered! This went a long way toward pleasing King Lamry, and also toward earning the favor of the king’s daughter, Princess Singdo. She and Carl fell in love. A few years after he’d arrived on the island as a Grubhub delivery, Carl and Princess Singdo got married and had nine children. When Lamry died, Carl Pettersson became King Carl. His subjects gave him the nickname “Strong Charley,” and he made good on his promise to bring wealth to Tabar again, after discovering a gold deposit on the nearby island of Simberi.
King Carl was certainly living out some kind of dream on that island. But modern conveniences were missing from his life. Like condoms, and medical care. Singdo caught a fever after birth number nine and died. Carl traveled back to Sweden searching for a new wife, and his basic pitch worked. Bride two, Jessica Simpson, came to Tabar and became Queen Jessica. But both Carl and Jessie became ill repeatedly and had to keep leaving Tabar for treatment. Jessica died of malaria, and Carl finally abandoned Tabar and moved to Sydney.
He left the island in the hands of his son, Frederick, who’d actually been studying medicine in New Zealand but was willing to set that aside to be king. Well, until he really got a taste of what island life was like. Then he offered to turn the entire island over to his dad’s home country of Sweden. They apparently didn’t want it — even when Fredrick offered them money to take it off his hands — because Japan wound up taking over the place instead, and then Australia grabbed it after that.
Will this story make you money? Yes. It already has make money numerous times.
Star Wars — This is the inspiration for a famous Star Wars story. Yes. Remember the time C-3PO got captured by the Ewoks and convinced them he was their god!
Pippi Longstocking — Probably the original story will escape you. It was a long time ago, but it make a ton of money for the producers. Preceding Star Wars was the tale of a Swedish explorer who became king of a South Seas island and found gold there, Ephraim Longstocking. Ephraim is the father of Pippi Longstocking. Carl was clearly the inspiration behind Ephraim, but Pippi also had superhuman strength, which might have been inspired by Karl’s “Strong Charley” title.