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     Volume 2 Issue 17 | May 06, 2007|


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Classic Corner

The Mysterious Island

by Jules Verne

The novel is a sequel to Verne's famous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways, though thematically it is vastly different from those books.

The book tells the adventures of Americans on an uncharted island in the South Pacific. The story begins in the American Civil War, during the siege of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederate States of America. As famine and death ravage the city, five northern prisoners of war decide to escape in a rather unusual way by hijacking a balloon.

The five are Cyrus Smith, a railroad engineer in the Union army, his African-American manservant Neb (short for Nebuchadnezzar), who Verne repeatedly states is not a slave but instead a loyal butler, the sailor Pencroff and his protégé Herbert Brown (a young boy whom Pencroff raises after the death of his father, Pencroff's former captain), and the journalist Gideon Spilett. The company is completed by Cyrus' dog 'Top'[1].

After flying in stormy weather for several days, the group crash-lands on a cliff-bound, volcanic, unknown (and fictitious) island, located at 34°57'S, 150°30'W about 2,500 km east of New Zealand. They name it "Lincoln Island" in honour of American President Abraham Lincoln. With the knowledge of the brilliant engineer Smith, the five are able to sustain themselves on the island, producing fire, pottery, bricks, nitroglycerin, iron, a simple electric telegraph, a home in stone called the "Granite House", and even a sea-worthy ship. They also manage to find their geographical location.

Throughout their stay on the island, the group has to overcome bad weather, and eventually adopts and domesticates an orangutan, Jupiter, abbreviated to Joop.

The mystery of the island seems to come from periodic and inexplicable dei ex machina: the unexplainable survival of Smith from his fall from the balloon, the mysterious rescue of his dog Top from a wild dugong, a box full of equipment (guns and ammunition, tools, etc...), the finding of a message in the sea calling for help, and so on.

Finding a message in a bottle, the group decides to use a freshly-built small ship to explore the nearby Tabor Island, where a castaway is supposedly sheltered. They go and find Ayrton (from In Search of the Castaways), living like a wild beast, and bring him back to civilization and redemption. Coming back to Lincoln Island, they are confused by a tempest, but find their way to the island thanks to a fire beacon; which no one seems to have lit.

At a point, Ayrton's former crew of pirates arrives at the Lincoln Island to use it as their hideout. After some fighting with the heroes, the pirate ship is mysteriously destroyed by an explosion, and the pirates themselves are found dead, apparently in combat, but with no visible wounds.

However, six of the pirates managed to survive and even manage to considerably injure Harbert through a gunshot. Herbert then, after recovering, contracts a disease called malignant fever and is saved by a box of sulphate of quinine, which mysteriously appeared on the table in the Granite House.

The secret of the island is revealed when it turns out to be Captain Nemo's hideout, and home harbour of the Nautilus.


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