In 1950, shortly after launching the dianetic movement that would eventually become known as Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard paid a visit to the house of noted English author, Aldous Huxley, who at that time was living in Los Angeles. To many, it would appear that Huxley was being rather generous with his time by meeting with such an obvious crackpot and conman. However, Huxley was very interested in fringe science and odd religious or spiritual movements, and despite an apparent distaste for Hubbard as a human being (“rather immature… and in some ways rather pathetic”) Huxley was impressed by his work and his new book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.
In the early fifties, Huxley and his first wife, Maria, were in quite poor health, and to a great extent, their fascination with pseudosciences and bizarre cult-like spiritual movements came from a desire to cure their problems. Of all the quackery they investigated, dianetics seemed among the most useful. It appeared to them that Maria benefited greatly from the dianetic processing they received from Hubbard (who personally audited them on several occasions) and that she received from Aldous:
Maria, meanwhile, has had some success in contacting and working off engrams and has been back repeatedly into what the subconscious says is the pre-natal state. Whether because of dianetics or for some other reason, she is well and very free from tension.
They continued to use dianetic auditing with each other, mixing it with other odd systems of belief like E therapy and hypnosis, but ultimately none of this was able to stop Maria passing away from cancer in 1955.
Huxley, naturally, was devastated by the loss of the woman he had loved for thirty years. However, shortly after, he married his second wife – a family friend who Maria most likely groomed to replace her as Aldous’ wife. Laura Huxley had been following the dianetic movement since its inception, and not only took over as Mrs. Huxley but also as Aldous’ processing partner – “my dianetic operator,” he called her.
Huxley is well-known for his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception, in which he has an hallucinogenic experience with mescaline. A year later, just after Maria’s death, he used LSD for the first time. This experience would become the basis for the “moksha” trip in his last novel, Island. What is not mentioned by most Huxleyan scholars, however, is that while he took LSD for the first time, he was undergoing dianetic auditing by Laura. He wrote in a letter to Dr. Osmond, who had provided him with the LSD, that Laura “has had a good deal of experience with eliciting recalls and working off abreactions by methods of dianetics.”
Shortly after the trip, he began the long and painful process of writing Island, a utopian “fantasy” that he had been planning for decades. It would be the counterpart to his classic dystopian work, Brave New World, presenting an array of ideas that he had explored during the forties and fifties, such as Eastern religion and philosophy, hypnosis, hallucinogens, and dianetics.
Critics of the novel have observed that it was not a particularly brilliant piece of fiction, and indeed Huxley was well aware of that flaw during the entire process of writing the book. He was “disturbed by the low ratio of story to exposition,” as he tried to cram all of his ideas into a short novel form. Throughout the book, most characters just stand around talking about the history and philosophy of the island, and most plot devices seem a poor excuse for more explanation.
L. Ron Hubbard’s ideas appear from the very beginning of the book and pop up (albeit subtly in places) all the way through to the end. At the very beginning, the protagonist, Will Farnaby, wakes on a strange island, called Pala, wounded and traumatized after a painful fall. A young girl stumbles upon him and takes care of him through “psychological first aid” – or rather, dianetic processing. She clears Will’s trauma by forcing him to repeat the cause of his pain over and over, which is the fundamental principal behind Hubbard’s dianetic processing. It is “the usual way” of addressing a problem in Pala, as we shall see.
]It is apt that the very first introduction the reader has to Palan culture is a clear and obvious reference to dianetics. Pretty quickly we are informed that the citizens of Pala live a perfect life in part because they don’t suffer due to the past, unlike poor Will (and Aldous Huxley himself, who was using dianetics to fix his own traumas). Instead, the Palans have trained mynah birds to call “Attention!” and “Here and now, boys!” to keep people “in present time” – a phrase repeatedly used by Hubbard in his 1950 text, Dianetics.
Hubbard’s odd dianetic jargon had infected Huxley’s writing and pops up in his early fifties letters. It also appears throughout Island; for example, the use of a word which is normally extremely uncommon in English – “aberrated” – which appears 112 times in Hubbard’s book. In dianetics, an aberrated person is one with “engrams,” or traumas, much like poor Will Farnaby.
Unsurprisingly, given Huxley’s own personal life, death appears repeatedly throughout the book. Yet the good people of Pala have managed to rid themselves of grief through dianetic processing, and one of them attempts to teach it to Will. Repetition of a problem, she says, is “the only way” to remove its negative effects. In school, children are taught the concept of reactive and analytical minds, and the medical professionals teach a form of the “preventative dianetics,” suggested by L. Ron Hubbard. The nurse even uses Hubbard’s favourite phrase, “present time,” to explain just why the rest of the world is so afflicted by health problems.
Island is certainly not Aldous Huxley’s greatest work, yet it is one of his most important. It is the culmination of several decades of exploration, and it concisely explains his suggestions for the perfect world. In examining this novel, scholars tend to focus on dualism, religion, and psychedelics, yet they miss the fact that one of his great preoccupations was dianetics, which seems to permeate every level of his perfect society.