The Mysterious Island

by Jules Verne

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Critical Context

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This classic novel offers an example of Jules Verne’s extraordinary ability to make science fiction seem real. Truly the father of this genre, he mastered the art of describing in minute detail the design and workings of machines and technologies unknown to most people of his time. As a child, Verne was able to witness experiments of an underwater vehicle tested by Brutus de Villeroi. By 1800, Robert Fulton had designed and built a practical submarine that he named the Nautilus. Influenced by these innovations, Verne wove miraculous tales that anticipated the development of such a machine. Like Leonardo da Vinci and H. G. Wells, Verne was able to foresee many technological advances that humans would achieve. This limitless hunger to learn about and build new technologies epitomized all of Verne’s works.

In his novel De la terre à la lune (1865; From the Earth to the Moon, 1873), Verne’s design specifications for his rocket ship are similar to those from which the Apollo spacecraft were made a hundred years later. Verne’s spacecraft was made from aluminum and had approximately the same dimensions as the Apollo spacecraft, was launched from Florida, and was made to splash down into the ocean upon return. Along with such detailed foresight, however, Verne also includes a social commentary of how technology can erode the fabric of society: Technology makes the life easier for the human race, but it also introduces new weaponry that destroys lives. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo is dehumanized and exiled by his own country and then uses technology to seek revenge. Afterward, he finds a home in The Mysterious Island where he can continue to experiment and build his machinery. Mired in a time when humanity was seen as pitted against the inevitable progress of technology, Verne uses Nemo’s character to warn society of both the good and the evil of technological advances. Nemo’s motto for Nautilusmobilis in mobili (everything circulates)—is truly a lesson to keep in mind in an ever-changing world. Technology has far-reaching effects and does not occur in a vacuum. The wonders that technology presents are exciting and compelling to investigate, but society must weigh the costs involved against improvements to the quality of life and the aspirations of the human spirit. New technology may be readily available and may help humankind, but it may also tear irreparably at the fabric of society in the interest of progress.

Verne’s works are classic, easy-to-read stories that will always be popular with readers of all ages. They are especially suited for the young adult audience because they speak to the uninhibited imagination and adventurous spirit of young people who can still believe that anything is possible.

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Critical Evaluation