Literature: The Mysterious Island

The Mysterious Island (or L'╬le MystÚrieuse, if you want to use the original French title) is a novel by Jules Verne. Originally published in 1874, the book is essentially a castaway story. During the American Civil War, 5 Union Soldiers and their dog companion escape a Confederate prison in a balloon. Unfortunately, a storm blows them off course and they end up on a deserted island, which they are forced to make their new home. This being a Verne story, our heroes are far too industrious to merely survive. Over the course of the book, they tame the island and reconstruct the civilization they left behind. They become quite content in their new home, but never enough to abandon their ultimate quest to re-establish contact with the rest of the world.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it's based on Alexander Selkirk, whose life-story had already served as the basis for Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. Possibly as a way to distinguish itself from the other two books, Verne's yarn adds a mystery sub-plot. Someone or something is watching over the castaways; apparently aiding them at times, but whether their ultimate objective in doing so is for good or ill remains unclear for much of the book.

It was adapted into film as Mysterious Island in 1961, and featured Herbert Lom (Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther films) as Captain Nemo. While (mostly) faithful, there was a lot of Adaptation Expansion with the addition of numerous gigantic creatures on the island, brought to life courtesy of special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen.

Fun fact: While this isn't the most famous of Verne's works, it has the distinction of having inspired two major franchises: Myst and LOST. It was also loosely adapted into the sequel to the 2008 film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, as Journey 2 The Mysterious Island.

Copyright has expired on this book, and it's available on Project Gutenberg here. If you own a Kindle, it's also available as a free download from Amazon.

This book contains examples of:

  • The Atoner: Ayrton
  • Back for the Finale: According to a brief line at the end, the surviving characters of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways all become regular guests at the castaway's colony.
  • Bad Ass: Everyone.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Nemo, near the end.
  • Big Good: Captain Nemo.
  • Canon Welding: Places Verne's earlier books Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways in the same continuity, although that leads to a Series Continuity Error in both. Together, the three books form the "Sea Trilogy".
  • Darkest Hour: the pirates are in the island, Ayrton is missing, and most of the castaways are isolated in the main farm after Herbert was shot.
  • Deserted Island : Played straight with Lincoln Island and subverted by the isle of Tabor.
    • Lincoln Island is actually a subversion too, Captain Nemo lives underneath it
  • The Determinator: Everyone, although Pencroff is probably the most extreme case. If you were ever trapped on a deserted island in real life with these guys, not only would you be fine, but your morale would be at an all-time high.
  • Deus ex Machina: The whole plot is basically a sequence of those. In a surprisingly Tropes Are Not Bad way, they almost always create more suspense than they resolve, until the very end.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina: The eruption of the supposedly extinct volcano combined with underlying geology that makes an island-destroying explosion extremely likely.
  • Dub Name Change: Some of the character names are changed in the earlier translations into English, e. g. Cyrus Smith being turned into Cyrus Harding, and Pencroff becoming Pencroft. Pretty much all translations changed Harbert to Herbert.
  • Eagle Land: Definitely a Flavor 1 example, although Verne's not nearly as overt here as he was with From the Earth To The Moon.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Jup, the orangutan butler.
  • Flipping Helpless: It was done by the protagonists to a giant sea turtle, who then left for some reason. While they were away, the turtle was carried away by a high tide.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation : Ayrton. He's in a pretty bad state when they find him, to say the least...
  • Happy Ending: Verne originally wanted a Bittersweet Ending where the castaways are somewhat depressed at having lost the Island. His editor had him change it to an upbeat one where they buy some territory in the state of Iowa and create a replica of the island to serve as a colony and a tourist attraction.
  • Island of Mystery: possibly the Ur-example.
  • Is It Something You Eat?: Pencroff. Surrounded by the wonders of nature, his interests are still primarily culinary.
  • Large Ham: Pencroff.
  • Meaningful Name: The reporter is named Gideon Spilett (i.e. "spill it," as in break the news).
  • Misplaced Vegetation / Misplaced Wildlife : Lincoln Island has almost implausible levels of biodiversity and has species that couldn't realistically exist in the latitude it's supposed to lie in. This was something already noted by Verne's contemporaries. His answer ? A wink, followed by a 19. century version of the MST3K Mantra slash Rule of Cool argument.
  • The Remnant: Nemo's origin reveals that he is an exiled Indian prince still fighting the Sepoy Rebellion and hating the British.
  • The Reveal
  • Robinsonade: This is played straight with the colonists, but deconstructed with Ayrton. Apparently his loneliness is to blame for the state in which they find him.
  • Science Hero: Cyrus Smith. He's stated to be an "engineer", but seems to be equally at home with physics, botany, chemistry and metallurgy. Between his knowledge and the whole group's determination, they build a plantation, an explosives plant, a smeltery, and a telegraph system out of little more than raw materials (plus a little help from a mysterious benefactor).
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Cyrus Smith Mc Gyvered a water-filled lens from two watch glasses as the castaways initially had no other means of starting the fire.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The animal characters are all quickly killed off in the finale.