Last Updated on June 9, 2020

A new podcast drama, The Mystery of Easter Island, tells the story of real-life British ethnographer Katherine Routledge’s journey to Easter Island in 1914.

Easter Island moai statues (left), Katherine Maria Routledge, 1919 (right)

To help keep this site running: Willow and Thatch may receive a commission when you click on any of the links on our site and make a purchase after doing so. 

If you love period dramas and enjoy historical fiction, The Mystery of Easter Island is one for your queue. 

Katherine Routledge, the daughter of aristocratic English parents, was one of the first female graduates of Oxford University and became a pioneer in culturally sensitive exploration. Her memoir of her journey to what was then British East Africa became a surprise bestseller, in part because of her highly personal and self-deprecating writing style.

But her most famous expedition came when the British Museum commissioned her and her husband to sail to remote Easter Island, famous for its huge moai statues. She reached the island during the dawn of World War I, a time when women couldn’t vote and the only way to the South Pacific was around the tip of South America.

Along the way, she fell in love, battled mental illness, and shed important light on the island’s famous moai statues — how they were carved, why they later fell, and what they meant to the oppressed population who made them.

Series’ writer Justin Glanville, a public radio reporter and producer, was inspired to write about Routledge after taking a trip to Easter Island a few years ago.

“I read about her in a guide book, and I couldn’t believe she was so little known,” he says. “I was fascinated by her life story and I think I identified with her a bit, too — her love of mystery, her interest in other cultures, her sense of humor.”

Glanville says the series was a chance to combine his interest in archaeology and adventure with his love of period drama.

“I’m a fan of anything that takes place in another time and place, and I’m a sucker for an English accent.” 

Podcast dramas have seen a boom in popularity in recent years, but The Mystery of Easter Island is one of the few written in the genre of historical fiction.

The series, produced under the guidance of veteran theater director Mindy Childress Herman, was named a finalist in the fiction podcast competition of the Austin Film Festival.

“Routledge was a fearless woman and telling her story using an emerging medium has been a fascinating experiment,” says Herman.

She cast the show with theater actors who performed both in studios and in front of live audiences. Later episodes were produced during the coronavirus pandemic, with actors recording themselves in isolation.

Canadian composer Obediya Jones-Darrell wrote an original score for the series, influenced by the sounds of both Easter Island and early 20th century England. Jones-Darrell, also the series’ sound designer, was selected as one of Canada’s 20 Emerging Diverse filmmakers by Toronto’s Reelworld Film Festival (2019).

Glanville says no one planned for the series to be released during a global pandemic, but the timing couldn’t be better.

“Now that physical travel is so restricted, we need stories to take us places more than ever,” he says. “This one takes you pretty much as far away as you can get without leaving planet Earth.”

The first five episodes of season one of The Mystery of Easter Island are available now via Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle Podcasts and SoundCloud. Learn more about the podcast here.

For further reading on Routledge, try Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island.

If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. You’ll especially like the Best Period Dramas: Edwardian Era list. Also see Strong Women Leads in Period Dramas