The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson (author) & Ralph Steadman (illustrator)
What makes this book extra special, besides the awesome illustrations by Steadman, is how the story about the murder of Captain Cook is interwoven throughout. After all that the accomplished explorer went through to get there, things went awry after the Hawaiians mistook him for one of their gods, Lono. Eventually they figured it out, feelings got hurt, and he was killed in cold blood.
The perfect backdrop for the jarring, harsh “vacation” Thompson was attempting to get when, as a journalist, he accepts a job in Hawaii. Storms and mayhem ensue when he reaches the Big Island, and he ends up staying 6 months because, well, he can’t get enough of the storms and mayhem.
The book is about his adventures but we learn a few things about the religion of the Hawaiians. Lono is the god of “excess and abundance” while Pele is a “randy Volcano goddess”:
“When Pele had a party, everybody came; she was a lusty long-haired beauty who danced naked on molten lava with a gourd of gin in each hand, and anybody who didn’t like it was instantly killed. Pele had her problems – usually with wrong-headed lovers, and occasionally with whole armies – but in the end she always prevailed. And she still lives, they say, in her cave underneath a volcano on Mt. Kiluea and occasionally comes out to wander around the isalnd in any form she chooses – sometimes as a beautiful young girl on a magic surfboard, sometimes a jaded harlot sitting alone at the bar of the Volcano House; but usually – for some reason the legends have never made clear – in the form of a wizened old woman who hitchhikes around the island with a pint of gin in her kitbag.”
This kind of writing, the few snippets of Hawaiian religion and folklore, the accompanying story about Captain Cook, and the amazing illustrations by Ralph Steadman are what make this book memorable.