island“At this very moment when so many catastrophes were occurring on land and sea, a drama no less gripping was taking place in the stormy skies.  A balloon, carried like a ball at the top of a waterspout, was travelling through space with a velocity of 90 miles per hour, turning around as if it had been seized by an aerial whirlpool.” – p 3

In this slightly less famous of Jules’ Verne’s novels, we meet five brave men who have been stranded on an unmapped island in the middle of the ocean.  They boarded the balloon as a means of escaping their imprisonment by Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.  By the fluke of the century’s worst storm, their balloon is carried nearly 1,000 miles and they barely make it alive onto an undiscovered island.  Realizing there is little hope of rescue, Cyrus Smith, Pencroff, Spilett, Neb, and Harbert do their best to make a home on this island, which they christen Lincoln Island.  Using their various skills in science, botany, hunting, and sea navigation, they not only survive but thrive.  However, there’s a mystery on the island in the form of a shadowy benefactor, who makes a point of helping them at opportune moments yet still remains hidden in identity.

If you’ve read any of Jules’s other works, you know how scientifically he writes his fiction.  He never leaves anything unexplained.  This can be satisfying and overwhelming at the same time.  For example, I appreciate that we receive an explanation as to how Cyrus Smith was able to make nitro glycerin, but I don’t really need to know why he rejected making dynamite on the scientific level.  And you receive this level of information about most aspects of the castaways’ lives.  This is balanced, however, by the mysterious presence on the island, who at times helps and alternately terrifies the inhabitants of Lincoln Island.

I always have to force myself to get into a Jules Verne novel, because I am not as scientifically bent as he probably hoped many of his readers would be.  But he is a wonderful storyteller, and in spite of these emphases on science, you come to deeply care about his characters and can find it easy and natural to care about what’s going on in the plot.  This book has a thoroughly enjoyable story and a satisfying ending.  I recommend it to any of you who don’t mind a bit of wordiness.

“The Mysterious Island” was written by Jules Verne and published between 1870 and 1874.

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