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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 252

Five prisoners of war during the Civil War escape in a hot air balloon: Captain Cyrus Harding, Neb (Harding’s servant), Gideon Spillet (a reporter), Jack Pencroft (a sailor), and Herbert Brown (a fifteen-year-old boy). The balloon flying off wildly finally lands near an island where the five members of the...

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Five prisoners of war during the Civil War escape in a hot air balloon: Captain Cyrus Harding, Neb (Harding’s servant), Gideon Spillet (a reporter), Jack Pencroft (a sailor), and Herbert Brown (a fifteen-year-old boy). The balloon flying off wildly finally lands near an island where the five members of the balloon survive and eventually find each other.

The men at this point are busy making a home for themselves on the island because they do not know when they will be rescued. They name the island Lincoln Island. By all measures, the island flourishes. Harding, as a military engineer, know nearly everything (without exaggeration). Much of the book is devoted to showing the ingenuity of Harding and the other men.

All is well until the colonists (that is what they call themselves) see a pirate ship; a battle ensues. In a mysterious way, the pirate ship explodes, but a number of pirates survive, and they attack the colonists. Herbert is wounded.

While the battle is still going on, the colonists receive a mysterious telegraph to go to a hidden cave. When they get there, they meet the famed captain Nemo. They also find out that he was the one who destroyed the pirate ship. Moreover, they also find out that it was he who mysteriously aided them. Nemo asks the colonists to bury him in his submarine, as he is dying.

The colonists build a boat and escape the island, and eventually they are rescued by a ship called the Duncan.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1192

On March 24, 1865, a balloon carrying five persons escaping from Richmond, capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, falls into the sea. Caught in a storm, the balloon had flown some seven thousand miles in five days. The five passengers are Captain Cyrus Harding, an engineer in General Grant’s army; his black servant, Nebuchadnezzar, known as Neb; Gideon Spilett, a reporter; Jack Pencroft, a sailor; and Herbert Brown, the fifteen-year-old orphan son of one of Pencroft’s former sea captains.

The balloon falls near an uncharted island, and Harding, together with his dog, Top, is washed overboard. Once its load is lightened, the balloon then deposits the other travelers on the shore of the island. The next morning, Neb looks for his “master” while the others explore the island. The next day, Herbert, Pencroft, and Spilett take stock of their resources, which consist of the clothes they wear, a notebook, and a watch. They suddenly hear Top barking. The dog leads them to Captain Harding, who, having been unconscious, is at a loss to explain how he arrived at a place more than a mile away from the shore.

When Harding gets stronger, the group decides to consider themselves colonists rather than castaways, and they call their new home Lincoln Island. Harding finds on the island samples of iron, pyrite, clay, lime, coal, and other useful minerals. The colonists make bricks, which they use to construct an oven in which to make pottery. From Top’s collar, they are able to make two knives, which enable them to cut bows and arrows. Eventually, they make iron and steel tools.

Under the brilliant direction of Harding, who seems to know a great deal about everything, the colonists work constantly to improve their lot. After discovering a cave within a cliff wall, they plan to make this their permanent residence; they call it Granite House. They make a rope ladder up the side of the cliff to the door of the cavern, which they equip with brick walls, furniture, and candles made from seal fat.

One day, Pencroft finds washed up on the beach a large chest containing many useful items, including books, clothes, instruments, and weapons. On another occasion, the colonists return to Granite House to find that their home has been invaded by orangutans, who suddenly become terrified by something and begin to flee. The colonists kill all but one, which they domesticate and call Jup.

The colony prospers. They domesticate various animals, use a stream to power an elevator to Granite House, and make glass windows. They build a boat designed by Harding and name it the Bonadventure. As they are sailing it, they find a bottle with a message, saying that there is a castaway on nearby Tabor Island. Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert sail to Tabor Island, where Herbert is attacked by a strange wild man. Pencroft and Spilett succeed in capturing him and take him back to Lincoln Island, where he begins to become civilized again. One day he confesses with shame that his name is Ayrton, that he had attempted mutiny on one ship, had tried to seize another, and had finally been put ashore on Tabor Island by Captain Grant, of the Duncan. Ayrton, who repents his past life, is accepted by the colonists as one of them. He lives at a corral that the colonists had built some distance from Granite House.

One day the colonists sight a pirate ship. A battle between the pirates and the colonists develops, and just when things are going badly for the colonists, the pirate ship seems to explode. Later, the colonists find the remains of a strange torpedo that had destroyed the ship. A short time later, the colonists discover that the telegraph system that Harding had built to the corral was broken down. When they go to the corral to investigate, they are attacked by some of the pirates from the destroyed ship, and Herbert is seriously wounded. Ayrton, moreover, is gone. While the colonists are trying desperately to keep Herbert alive, the pirates set fire to the mill and sheds close by Granite House and destroy the plantation. By the time the colonists make their way back to Granite House, Herbert has weakened seriously. The one thing needed for his recovery, sulphate of quinine, is lacking on the island, but on the crucial night that might have been Herbert’s last, the colonists find a box of quinine beside Herbert’s bed, and the medicine enables him to recover.

The colonists set out to find their mysterious benefactor and to exterminate the pirates. When the expedition arrives at the corral, they find Ayrton, who had been tortured by the pirates but who is still alive. Top then discovers the corpses of all the remaining pirates, who had been killed in a mysterious way. The colonists make plans to build a ship large enough to carry them back to civilization. When they discover smoke rising from the crater of the volcano, they redouble their efforts to complete the boat.

One day the colonists receive a call on the telegraph telling them to go to the corral immediately. There they find a note telling them to follow the wire that was attached to the telegraph line. They follow the wire into a hidden cove, where they find the fantastic submarine Nautilus and its captain, Nemo, who, it turns out, is also their benefactor. He tells them how he had been a rich nobleman in India, how he had been defeated in his fight for the independence of his country, and how he and his followers, disgusted with the ways of humanity, had built a gigantic undersea craft. His followers had died, and Nemo, old and alone, had taken the Nautilus to Lincoln Island, where he has lived for the past six years, giving aid to the colonists because he believes them to be good people. After presenting Harding with a box of jewels and pearls and making a last request that he be buried in his ship, he dies. The colonists seal the Nautilus with Captain Nemo’s body inside and then open the flood valves to sink the ship.

Following advice Captain Nemo had given him, Harding investigates the caverns beneath the island and sees that, as soon as the seawater penetrates to the shaft of the volcano, the entire island will explode.

The colonists work with all haste to complete work on the boat. By March of their fourth year on the island, the hull is built, but on the night before the launching, the entire island is shattered with a tremendous roar. All that is left of Lincoln Island is a small rock formation. The colonists all reach safety there, but their ship has vanished. The colonists stay on the rock formation for nine days.

On March 24, they sight a ship. It is the Duncan, which has come to rescue Ayrton after his twelve-year exile on Tabor Island. The colonists go to the United States. With the treasure Captain Nemo had given them, they buy land in Iowa. They prosper in their new home.

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