Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Finding themselves detained in Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War, five Union soldiers and a dog dare to escape in a hot-air balloon during the worst hurricane of the decade. The balloon sails haphazardly through the storm, tosses Captain Cyrus Harding and his dog, Top, into the ocean, and crashes with the rest of its passengers onto the shore of an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. Fearing that the captain is dead, his servant, Neb, searches the island until he finds Top, who leads him to Harding. This is to be the first of many mysterious occurrences involving the group of men.

They build up a settlement as best they can. The men call themselves “colonists” and name their island Lincoln Island after their great president. They establish a permanent camp in a cave on the side of a cliff and call it Granite House. They plant crops from seedlings that they find and establish a farm with the animals that they capture. They build a boat in order to visit nearby islands and find Ayrton, an exiled sailor who comes to live with the colonists and becomes one of them.

Throughout these adventures, a mysterious force seems to be at work on the island that helps the men in dire times of need. Although Harding is clever and is able to make tools and weapons for the colonists, things they cannot manufacture from the natural resources of the island mysteriously appear as they need them. For example, an intact, waterproof chest of books,...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

The Mysterious Island Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Richmond. Virginia capital of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War at the time this novel is set. Although Verne was fond of the United States, he never visited it. His creation of American places, such as Richmond, is based entirely on his reading and imagination. This adventure starts during the last days of the Civil War. The idea of place as prison is encountered in the novel’s initial location, Richmond, shortly before the South surrendered to the North to end the war. Under siege when the novel opens, Richmond becomes a Confederate “island” inside a Yankee ocean. Within the rebel island are five Northern prisoners who escape to begin their adventure.


Balloon. Hijacked Confederate balloon that the escaping Northern prisoners use to get out of Richmond. The unfamiliar balloon craft becomes as real a prison to the Northerners as Richmond was, for they are caught for five days in the worst hurricane of the century, which carries them across North America and the Pacific Ocean.

Lincoln Island

Lincoln Island. Uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean on which the escaping Northerners’ balloon lands. There, they become castaways on a deserted island and are once again prisoners. Trapped without much hope of rescue, they determine to make the place a “Little America” and transform it through Yankee ingenuity and technology. They christen the island...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

The Mysterious Island Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Angenot, Marc. “Jules Verne: The Last Happy Utopianist.” In Science Fiction: A Critical Guide, edited by Patrick Parrinder. New York: Longmans, 1979. Focuses on a concept of circulation, seen as underlying the mainstays of the author’s narratives: characters, forces of nature, and scientific innovation. Describes Verne as happy in that mobility; views the knowledge that accompanies it as continual and positive.

Costello, Peter. Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978. A detailed and lucid study of Verne’s life and works. Includes a thoughtful review and commentary of The Mysterious Island’s events and character significance.

Evans, Arthur B. Jules Verne Rediscovered: Didacticism and the Scientific Novel. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. Scholarly, forthright discussion explores and clarifies myths and misunderstandings about Verne’s literary reputation and achievements. Perceives the author not as the father of science fiction but of scientific fiction and examines its social benefits.

Jules-Verne, Jean. Jules Verne: A Biography. Translated and adapted by Roger Greaves. New York: Taplinger, 1976. Readable volume by Verne’s grandson, with illustrations and quotations adding to intimate flavor. Recounts highlights of the novel and circumstances related to its development.

Lynch, Lawrence. Jules Verne. New York: Twayne, 1992. The first critical assessment of the complete works by the author. Includes generous synopsis of the novel and analysis of major themes, such as the island itself, and its interconnection with themes from other of Verne’s epics. Excellent introductory resource.