Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mysterious Island

Book: The Mysterious Island
Author: Jules Verne
Edition: epub – Gutenberg, 1874
Read: January 2013
440 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

In today's adventure story mania, we are much to interested in action and not in people or how things happen. Verne does not write that way. He takes the stories of five prisoners during the Civil War and weaves it with survival, another castaway and mysterious providence to form his story.

The five prisoners of war escape during the siege of Richmond aboard a hot air balloon, during a storm. This storm takes them all the way to the South Pacific, someplace close, but not to close, to New Zealand. There, they are left without their leader, Cyrus Harding. The band of castaways make due until the dog, Top, who came with them finds them and leads them to the unconscious body of Cyrus Harding. Harding survives.

From here, the five castaways start to create a life and bring civilization to the uninhabited island. Through their ingenuity and determination they set up various industries, such as a pottery and glass shops, a foundry, livestock pens and places to farm. Life seems pleasant, except for three things. First, they miss their country and wonder what is the outcome of the Civil War. Second pirates invade, but are rebuffed. Third, there is this mysterious agent at work on the island.


There are several unexplained occurrences on the island.  always and everywhere he pondered over those inexplicable facts, that strange enigma, of which the secret still escaped him[Cyrus Harding]! (204) These include, most of these are recited on page 289:
  • Cyrus Harding being found unconscious in a cave without a scratch a mile from the ocean, but with no visible means of having arrived there.
  • Top, the dog, finding the castaways in the middle of a storm on a strange island, several miles from where he came ashore.
  • Top being thrown clear of the dugong
  • The dugong killed mysteriously, underwater by what like a sharp blade.
  • A cask of supplies appearing while they were surveying the shore.
  • A lead bullet in a young rabbit.
  • The castaway's canoe appearing a long ways from where it was moored, right when it was wanted.
  • Note in a bottle, recently written, asking for help on an island 150 miles away.
  • On the return trip from rescuing a fellow castaway, a fire is lite, guiding the rescuers back to the island.
  • A pirate brig which is about to blast the castaways home is blown up itself.
  • Box of quinine is found on a table in their home
  • Five marauding pirates who are left over from the blown ship have been found dead from what looks like a lightening strike.
Some of the castaways think there is a supernatural reason, Harding is more reserved and is looking for the reason behind these. When the cause of the mysteries is discovered, is Verne saying that there is not a need for the supernatural? Can every obstacle be overcome by ingenuity, intelligence and strong humans? Not sure because Verne has his chief man blessing God because for supplying their benefactor.

One of the themes is the ability of these men to persevere even when it appears there is no chance of rescue. This is shown at the start when Verne attributes a quote of struggling even when there is no hope left. To the last when Lincoln Island is no more than a small granite rock. The men of this book continue to work.

Note: There is only a few references—and you have to look hard for them—of females.

It seemed like to me, everything which Cyrus Harding attempted succeeded as he expected. There were sometimes when there was trial and error, such as when they were trying to make glass. But even this succeeded. This is so improbable. But it is also part of the charm of the story. There is a man who can figure out anything by examining the situation around him.

What drives Harding is that he does not believe in chance, but in hard work finding answers to problems. Intelligence wins out over letting the dice roll. When I was working, something I would ask occasionally is which would you rather be, lucky or smart? To me, lucky was better since you could always have a problem bigger than you could solve. But the real answer was being smart really tipped the tables for you to be lucky.

There is a certain element of this book where it is a follow up to Verne's book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But Mysterious Island, is a different book, telling a different story—Verne just cleans up some of the background to 20,000 Leagues.

 As a story, do not look for action packed drama—even though there is drama and action—but it is not as tame as Tom Hanks in Castaway. This is a plodding stories where you see the lives of men in isolation and how they overcome obstacles. Yes, there is action in it, but there is also explanation about how the survivors are able to create their solutions—the solutions do not come out of thin air, but from knowledge and self-reliance. So be prepared to read lots of descriptive text.

The writing is well done, though a good dictionary by your side helps. I was kept involved with the story. Of course, I had read it before as a teenager, during my Jules Verne era. Still, there is so many books you were really enthralled with as a youth which you realize they were not suitable for a mind a bit a long in years. It is good to know that Verne still can captivate.

New Words:
  • voracious (21): Having or marked by an insatiable appetite for an activity or pursuit; greedy
  • couroucous (33): ???-type of animal
  • presentiments (41): A sense that something is about to occur; a premonition
  • titra (49): to shake or tremble
  • palanquin (53):  A covered litter carried on poles on the shoulders of four or more bearers, formerly used in eastern Asia.
  • Lamantin (108): The manatee.
  • Dugong (108): A herbivorous marine mammal (Dugong dugon), native to tropical coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and southwest Pacific Ocean and having flipperlike forelimbs and a deeply notched tail fin.
  • Saponifying (112): To convert (a fat or oil) into soap.
  • Chelonia (154): An order of reptiles, including the tortoises and turtles, peculiar in having a part of the vertebræ, ribs, and sternum united with the dermal plates so as to form a firm shell. The jaws are covered by a horny beak.
  • Quadrumana (192): A division of the Primates comprising the apes and monkeys; - so called because the hind foot is usually prehensile, and the great toe opposable somewhat like a thumb. Formerly the Quadrumana were considered an order distinct from the Bimana, which last included man alone.
  • Ruminants (202): Any of various hoofed, even-toed, usually horned mammals of the suborder Ruminantia, such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and giraffes, characteristically having a stomach divided into four compartments and chewing a cud consisting of regurgitated, partially digested food.
  • Diminution (218): The resulting reduction; decrease.
  • Fowling-pieces (242): shotgun
  • esculents (260): Suitable for eating; edible.
  • qui vive (308): On the alert;
  • spars (318): A wooden or metal pole, such as a boom, yard, or bowsprit, used to support sails and rigging.
  • Antiphlogistics (339): Reducing inflammation or fever; anti-inflammatory.
  • Coaptation (340): the joining or reuniting of two surfaces, esp the ends of a broken bone or the edges of a wound
  • suppuration (345): The formation or discharge of pus
  • quotidian (357): Recurring daily. Used especially of attacks of malaria.
  • Tertian (357): Recurring every other day or, when considered inclusively, every third day:
  • febrifuge (358): A medication that reduces fever; an antipyretic.
  • Assidous (359): Unceasing; persistent
  • mobilis in mobile (406): Latin for "moving amidst mobility", "moving within the moving element", or "changing in the changes"
  • ebullition (413): A sudden, violent outpouring, as of emotion:

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: Are we rising again?
  • Last Line: There, to conclude, all were happy, united in the present as they had been in the past; but never could they forget that island upon which they had arrived poor and friendless, that island which, during four years had supplied all their wants, and of which there remained but a fragment of granite washed by the waves of the Pacific, the tomb of him who had borne the name of Captain Nemo.
  • I can undertake and persevere even without hope or success. Attributed to William the Orange, pg 7
  • He had tried them. He knew their abilities. Pg 82
  • an energetic man will succeed where an indolent one would vegetate and inevitably perish. Pg 125
  • Why should we be ill, since there are no doctors in the island? Pg 126
  • I [Cyrus Harding] seriously believe that the aspect of our globe will some day be completely changed; that by the raising of new continents the sea will cover the old, pg 139
  • Chance! Spilett! I [Cyrus Harding]  do not believe in chance, any more than I believe in mysteries in this world. There is a reason for everything unaccountable which has happened here, and that reason I shall discover. But in the meantime we must work and observe. Pg 272
  • the world is very learned. What a big book, captain, might be made with all that is known!" "And what a much bigger book still with all that is not known!" answered Harding.  Pg 386
  • So is man's heart. The desire to perform a work which will endure, which will survive him, is the origin of his superiority over all other living creatures here below. It is this which has established his dominion, and this it is which justifies it, over all the world. Pg 390


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