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Literature / In Search of the Castaways

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Probably one of the best known and beloved (well, outside of the English-speaking world) Jules Verne novels, In Search of the Castaways (or Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant, The Children of Captain Grant to give its original title) is, on the surface, a deceivingly simple story of a rescue expedition looking for the marooned captain Grant and his sailors. This simplicity, however, belies the veritable feast of adventure, intrigue and betrayal, hope and despair, and, in a truly Vernian style, enough subtly weaved-in geographical knowledge for a master's degree (even if some of it is sadly out of date).

A wealthy Scottish noble, Lord Edward Glenarvan with his friends and family, while testing his newly built yacht, The Duncan, in preparation for his honeymoon trip to Mediterranean, takes part in a shark hunt. The sailors find a bottle with a note in a shark's stomach, which tells of the plight of the titular Captain Grant. Lord Glenarvan tries to get the Admiralty to mount a rescue, but they are unwilling — Captain Grant was a well-known Scottish nationalist, and was lost looking for lands in which to establish a Scottish colony. Everyone in his household is devastated by the news, especially the titular children of Captain Grant, Mary and Robert, who arrived to Glenarvan's home seat, Malcolm Castle, after reading a newspaper account of the discovery of the note from their father.

Then, moved by the children's despair, the young Lady Glenarvan decides that they should mount a rescue by their own — after all, they have a ship, they have money, and this expedition would make for an infinitely better honeymoon trip! The only problem is that the shipwreck note is badly damaged, and only readable coordinate is the latitude — the 37th parallel south. Still the heroes are undaunted and decide to circumnavigate the Earth if needed. What follows is a wild goose-chase around the world, through Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand and all other lands and rocks that happens to sit on the 37th parallel, until the heroes, having been deceived by the half-erased document and its conflicting interpretations, finally find Captain Harry Grant safe and sound on a tiny atoll in the Pacific, at the last possible place.

This simple explanation, though, doesn't even get close to doing justice to Verne's brilliant novel, which is widely accepted as one of the top jewels in the Voyages Extraordinaires crown. A cornerstone of the Captain Nemo trilogy (even if that was conceived in its final form somewhat later), it doesn't really have any science fiction elements, but as an adventure novel it stands tall and proud, and would remain one of the genre's defining work for a long, long time. But beware of the public domain translations as they are notoriously poor, and most translators not only excised any anti-British statements, of which there were many, but also never bothered with Verne's detail, especially measurements and dates.

A film adaptation was released by Disney in 1962. Directed by Robert Stevenson and featuring songs by The Sherman Brothers, it featured Hayley Mills as Mary Grant, Maurice Chevalier as Paganel, and George Sanders as Ayrton. A Sovietic TV series was also released in 1985.

The novel shows these tropes:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Paganel, full stop. In fact, this novel is undoubtedly the Trope Codifier for this trope. He's so airheaded that he joined the team by mistaking the Duncan for his steamer to India!
  • Aerith and Bob: Wilson and Mulrady.
  • Amusing Injuries: Paganel, who was richly tattoed by the Māori during their New Zealand adventures, and was deeply embarrassed by the whole thing, even to the point of never returning to France.
  • Arc Welding: Was later joined together with the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island to form a "Captain Nemo trilogy".
  • As You Know: Guilty as charged, but that's one of the main attractions of Verne's writing anyway, and he's usually quite subtle about it.
  • Bat Deduction: All of the search party's interpretations of the damaged SOS note fall squarely and hilariously into this trope, making this trope not only Older Than Radio, but older than even Sherlock Holmes.
  • The Bet: MacNabbs' carbine vs. Paganel's telescope over whether the latter can list 50+ explorers of Australia. Paganel won, but MacNabbs kept his favorite carbine on a technicality.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The novel, written in French, includes bits and pieces of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Mapuche, Māori, and even a Lachlan form of Aboriginal Australian. This could easily degenerate into Gratuitous Foreign Language, but it's justified by the around-the-world theme and is often quite appropriate.
  • Butt-Monkey: Again Paganel, as he is generally the novel's designated comic relief.
  • Brave Scot: Verne insists on the characters' Scottishness early on, despite having traits most associated with British aristocracy.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: Half of the New Zealand segment consists entirely of this, after the heroes get into altercation with Māori.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: Played with; the volcano doesn't erupt of its own volition, as one would expect, but because our heroes deliberately rig an eruption to help them escape.
  • Convenient Escape Boat: While running from the Māori, the heroes find a couple of the unused pirogues on the shore and hastily make their escape to the convenient European ship seen nearby. Their pursuers promptly give chase in the second boat, and hadn't the ship turned out to be the Duncan, ready to give them some fire support, their fate was far from assured.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: A Message in a Bottle is discovered telling the tale of some castaways, but it is so degraded that only the latitude of the castaways position is legible.
  • Cool Boat: The Duncan, Lord Glenarvan's steam yacht. A small and nimble ocean-going boat, she's been outfitted as a brig, but still was mainly a steamer, posting 17 knots at full steam, and was able to get into any point of the Earth's oceans.
  • Cool Horse: Thaouka, the trusty steed of the Patagonian guide Thalcave.
  • The Film of the Book: Made by Walt Disney no less!
    • As well as two separate Soviet adaptations.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Lord Edward Glenarvan and most of the team.
  • Genius Ditz: Paganel is a supremely talented man and a veritable font of knowledge, and is actually a pretty solid adventurer, but he's so flighty that the only two times that he was without outside supervision are the novel's Funny Moments.
  • Kid Hero: Robert Grant is just twelve at the start of the novel.
  • Meaningful Name: Played straight with the many foreign names, each of which is an actual word in the appropriate language. Exaggerated with the proud and angry Māori chief Karatete, whose name is Māori for "proud and angry."
  • No Name Given: Major MacNabbs, Lord Glenarvan's cousin, who is never referred by his given name in the whole novel.
  • Noble Savage: Thalcave, the Patagonian guide, though he's unusual in that he's actually pretty educated and intelligent in addition to other sides of this trope.
    • Contrast the Māori, to whom Verne is pretty sympathetic politically (the novel includes a long Author Filibuster denouncing British colonialism), but who are still shown as bloodthirsty cannibals because their society is run by a Corrupt Church.
  • The Mole: Ayrton joined the team and lied to everybody that he knows the Britannia's wreck position only to steal the Duncan and become a pirate.
  • Mr. Exposition: Notice the pattern? Yep, that's Paganel again.
  • Overly Long Name: Jacques-Eliacin-Francois-Marie Paganel.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Guess who?
  • Propaganda Machine: An absolutely hilarious part (unfortunately, not found in every translation), is Paganel testing the knowledge of an Australian schoolboy... who was taught that Britain rules the entire Earth. Then he asks the boy whether the English rule the Moon as well... and the boy answers in complete seriousness "They will".
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Couple of times when the team is low on supplies, such as in Eastern Australia or when hiding from Māori in New Zealand, they have to rely on rodents as the only available game around.
  • Rescue Romance: Unusual in that it's not her rescue, but the growing attraction between Mary Grant and John Mangles, the Duncan's captain, definitely has shades of this.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Book: As this was the first of the Captain Nemo Trilogy, but was finished well before the Arc Welding in The Mysterious Island, Captain Nemo is never mentioned here.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: MacNabbs is noted to be perfectly imperturbable by anything, but in a twist on the trope is resolutely Scottish, to the point where he refuses to serve in an English regiment.
  • The Stoic: MacNabbs, who only ever gets fired up by Paganel's antics.
  • Those Two Guys: Wilson and Mulrady, two Duncan sailors who inevitably follow the team on all overland journeys.
  • Team Mom: Lady Helena Glenarvan might be just 24, but she fits the role perfectly.
  • Trope Codifier: For the Absent-Minded Professor with Paganel.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Major MacNabbs and Paganel.

Tropes in the 1962 film:

  • Adapted Out: Lady Helena is nowhere to be seen.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Most of Bill Gaye's lines are Bible quotes taken out of context.
  • Canon Foreigner: John Glenarvan, Lord Glenarvan's son, isn't in the novel, where Lord and Lady Glenarvan are married but have no children. He inherits some of the traits of John Mangles, the ship's captain, such as his budding romance with Mary Grant.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lord Glenarvan and his son, John.
  • Demoted to Extra: Everyone except Lord Glenarvan, Paganel, Mary and Robert, and some of them are removed entirely.
  • The Eeyore: Lord Glenarvan always finds something to complain about. He gets a bit better towards the end.
  • Missing Mom: John Glenarvan, continuing a long Disney tradition.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Bill Gaye. Maybe he's insane, maybe he's pretending to be insane, maybe he's insane and pretending to be insane...
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Paganel and Bill Gaye.
  • Sand In My Eyes: Paganel uses a variant of this at the end.
    Paganel: [to Lord Glenarvan] I must be catching your cold.
  • Twist Ending: Captain Grant didn't throw that bottle in the ocean. Bill Gaye did. Mary and Robert thought it was their father's handwriting because Gaye was a forger.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Lord Glenarvan and Mr. Paganel.
  • Wild Goose Chase: The entire South America sequence is this; turns out Captain Grant is in New Zealand.

Alternative Title(s): The Children Of Captain Grant