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Literature / The Mysterious Island

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The Mysterious Island (or L'Île Mystérieuse, 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, five prisoners, 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, that'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.


A first person point and click game also exists. It's page can be read here: Return to Mysterious Island

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. Big time.
  • Back for the Finale: According to a brief line at the end, the surviving characters of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways all become regular guests at the castaway's colony.
  • Badass Bookworm: Cyrus spends most of the novel using his brains to solve problems, but even he's a good shot and even shanks a pirate.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Nemo, near the end.
  • Big Good: Captain Nemo.
  • Canon Welding: Places Verne's earlier books 20,000 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 Cyrus and Top being rescued, finding a crate of tools and useful items, tossing down a ladder, lighting a beacon during a storm, blowing up the pirates.... 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.
  • Down to the Last Match: The castaways lose all their matches save one in the balloon crash. Pencroff fails to get the match to light, since he is too nervous; his hands are shaking and he's afraid he will snap it.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In the very last chapter, Jup the Orangutan is off-handedly mentioned to have fallen into a crevice and died.
  • 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.
  • Evil Counterpart: The six pirates that survive the sinking of Speedy to the castaways.
  • Flipping Helpless: It was done by the protagonists to a giant sea turtle, who then left to get a cart. While they were away, the turtle was carried away by a high tide or Captain Nemo helped it get back to its normal position.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on in the book, the narration establishes that such is Cyrus' Science Hero ability that you could tell the heroes the island was an erupting volcano and they'd only point at Cyrus and say he could handle it. Guess what happens at the end.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Ayrton. He's in a pretty bad state when they find him, to say the least...
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Most of the colonists (save Pencroff) believe the stranded pirates should be shown mercy and allowed to live, after seeing how repentant Ayrton became. Then they shot Herbert.
  • 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. When the colonists test out the cannons they recently installed, his hurrahs are as loud as the explosions.
  • MacGyvering: From a couple of watches and a dog's collar to a civilization.
  • Meaningful Name: The reporter is named Gideon Spilett (i.e. "spill it," as in break the news).
  • Misplaced Vegetation / Misplaced Wildlife: Lincoln Island has frankly implausible levels of biodiversity and has species that couldn't realistically exist in the latitude it's supposed to lie in. This was something that even Verne's contemporaries noticed. His answer? A wink, followed by a 19th-century version of the MST3K Mantra slash Rule of Cool argument.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Pencroff's insults are sometimes described by their severity rather than being listed.
  • Note From Ed: Verne's creative solution to the Series Continuity Error mentioned above (see the "Canon Welding" entry) was to call attention to it in a couple of footnotes supposedly added by the publisher. Each of which simply refers the reader to the other footnote!
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: Herbert and Pencroff continue the identify an animal by its scientific name/edible or not gag from 20,000 Leagues.
  • 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).
    • Herbert studied botany as a hobby, which comes in useful on the island when it comes to identifying plants.
  • Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: Cyrus Smith McGyvered a water-filled lens from two watch glasses as the castaways initially had no other means of starting the fire.
  • Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: Bonadventure, Gideon, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus...
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The animal characters are all quickly killed off in the finale, except for Top, the only one colonists brought with themselves.
  • With This Herring: The characters start out with not much more than the wreckage of a balloon and whatever little is in their pockets, and end up with a working telegraph line, railway, and iron mine. It's basically the 19th century equivalent of Minecraft without the creepers.


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