The Mysterious Island

by Jules Verne

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Mysterious Island (French: L'Île mystérieuse) is an 1874 adventure novel written by famed French novelist Jules Verne, who is often considered the father of the adventure novel genre. It was published in the same year it was written in, as a part of Verne’s popular series titled The Extraordinary Voyages, which comprises fifty-four of his novels. It is preceded by the critically acclaimed Around the World in Eighty Days and followed by The Survivors of the Chancellor. The novel is a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways, and it shares a common theme with these two novels: the exploration of new undiscovered territories and the human’s nature to adapt and survive.

Based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk—a Scottish privateer and Royal Navy officer who spent nearly five years alone on an island in the South Pacific Ocean—the novel describes the adventures of five prisoners of the American Civil War and a dog, as they escape with a hot air balloon and crash on a mysterious, uncharted island.

The five fugitives are as follows: Cyrus Harding (an engineer), Nebuchadnezzar (Harding’s servant), Gideon Spilett (a journalist), Bonadventure Pencroft (a sailor), and Herbert Brown (Pencroft’s protege and the son of his former captain). They all adapt pretty fast and call themselves colonists of the volcanic and vegetative island. They even name it Lincoln Island, in honor of the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and proceed to do the same to several other geographical points on the island as well.

They combine their skills and their knowledge of science and nature to find their exact location and produce shelter, fuel, fire, food, and tools, such as pottery, artillery, some chemical elements, and even an electric telegraph. However, they soon realize that they didn’t manage everything by themselves and had a bit of help from an unknown source.

After they find a mysterious message in a bottle and survive a pirate attack, they discover that the island is, in fact, the famous Captain Nemo’s hideout, who reveals his true identity as the long-lost Indian Prince Dakkar. He was the one who helped them all along, and right before he dies, he warns them that the island’s volcano might erupt and gives them a part of his treasure, which he procured when sailing with his ship Nautilus, as a final helping gift. True to Nemo’s words, the volcano erupts, destroying the island’s rich flora and fauna, but, thanks to Nemo’s final warning, the five colonists manage to save themselves and are even rescued by the ship Duncan. When they return to the United States, they use Nemo’s generous gift to form a real colony in Iowa.

The main themes of the novel are the fight for survival and the power of friendship and companionship. It is noteworthy to mention that, during their eventful, three-year-long stay on the island, the five main characters don’t have a major argument or a disagreement, and they often work well with each other.

Praised for its captivating narrative, rich and picturesque scenery, and Verne’s masterful storytelling, The Mysterious Island received many positive reviews, by both readers and literary critics. It is considered one of Verne’s best works and is often compared to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The novel inspired many other literary works and, later on, films and video games, and it received many adaptations. Even though some readers deem it a slow read, The Mysterious Island remains to be one of the greatest adventure stories ever told, in my opinion.

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