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The Mysterious Island (Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction Series) [Paperback]

By Jules Verne, Sidney Kravitz (Illustrator), Arthur B. Evans (Editor), Bojana Cvejic (Contributor), Lieven De Cauter (Contributor) & Stephen Kessler (Translator)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   676
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.75" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   1.9 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 28, 2002
Publisher   Wesleyan University Press
ISBN  0819565598  
EAN  9780819565594  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
At a time when Verne is making a comeback in the US as a mainstream literary figure, Wesleyan is pleased to publish a new translation of one of his best-known novels, The Mysterious Island. Although several editions under the same title are in print, most reproduce a bowdlerized nineteenth-century translation which changes the names of the characters, omits several important scenes, and ideologically censors Verne's original text.

The Mysterious Island was published in 1874, and it is one of Verne's longest novels. The plot depicts a group of men who have become castaways stranded on an island in the Pacific during the American Civil War. The novel describes their attempts not only to survive but also, with the aid of the scientific and technological know-how, to rebuild their world from the meager resources of the island. At the end, however, it is realized that Captain Nemo, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, has secretly been helping the settlers. A marvelous adventure story, The Mysterious Island is also notable for its modern retelling of the utopian deserted-island myth, with repeated echoes of Robinson Crusoe and the Swiss Family Robinson. This Wesleyan edition features notes, appendices and an introduction by Verne scholar William Butcher, as well as reproductions of the illustrations from the original French edition.

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More About Jules Verne, Sidney Kravitz, Arthur B. Evans, Bojana Cvejic, Lieven De Cauter & Stephen Kessler

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! "The reason Verne is still read by millions today is simply that he was one of the best storytellers who ever lived." -- Arthur C. Clarke. Jules Verne started out composing librettos, but the French-born author's passion for travel and exploration compelled him to turn to adventure tales, creating the prototype for today's science fiction. One of the most translated authors in the world, Jules Verne is best known for his classics, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

Jules Verne lived in Nantes. Jules Verne was born in 1828 and died in 1905.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Super Reader  Sep 1, 2007
A group of civil war prison escapees manage to get wrecked on a strange island, after taking off in a balloon.

Being soldiers, they have a penchant for shooting things, breaking stuff and blowing things up. The characters do change over time and evolve in their outlook, while being limited by the knowledge of the time.

It all builds to an exciting climax as the group discovers they are being aided by the elusive Captain Nemo.
marvellous translation  Nov 18, 2006
In one of those odd coincidences, there hasn't been an english translation of this book in about 100 years, but two came out in 2000/1. One is actually available online: it was done as a labor of love by a retired
engineer. I didn't like his prose style, and found that he actively
mistranslated a crucial section to make it politically correct (Nemo's dying words were crucial and not nice ones). So I bought the english-professor's (Jordan) version. I enjoyed it.

Effectively, it was a "Swiss Family Robinson" type story, though it was rather more butt-kicking than that book. It was amusing to note how progressive Verne was in some ways, and how oddly backwards he was in others. For example, Neb (the former slave negro) was treated as a dignified man rather than a shucking and jiving type. However, Verne couldn't help but make jokes comparing him to the "half man" orangutang who became part of the family as well. Worth a looksie if you are a Verne fan. You have to understand what Verne is; he is a man of his time -you will be getting anarchic french Victorian-era technology-optimistic science fiction. If you're interested in that, this is a great introduction to it. If you're not, you'd probably be better off reading something else.

On a trip to Paris, my poking around the Verne themed metro station (a metro made up to look like a victorian submarine) inspired me to check out some Verne.
Castaways in the Pacific  Oct 6, 2006
The book opens with two prisoners of the Cofederate army along with three other men escaping in a hot air balloon. Contrary to their plans, a storm arises that blows them all the way to an uncharted volcanic island in the southern Pacific. Cyrus Harding is the natural leader of the group, and apparently very well informed in matters of science, proceeds to guide the men into establishing a colony, and providing for their every need. They use the resources found on the island, as well as their education. The book is in the genre of "The Swiss Family Robinson", except that as one of the men said, "they quite took the wind out of the sails of the Robinsons, for whom everything was done by a miracle." The first half of the book details how they were able to provide for their needs, and build a home on the island. The reading can become tedious unless the science of the way they performed each action is considered very interesting. I enjoyed it for a while, but not being too scientific myself, near the end of the second half of the book, I just wanted to get through it. It is very detailed, and if I was interested in it all, it truly would have been captivating.

The second half of the book explains certain mysterious occurrences that two of the party had been observing from the beginning. The story moves along more quickly, and the mystery draws the reader to turn the pages faster. They meet Captain Nemo from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in his final hours, and are finally rescued after the island has been blown into oblivion by the volcano.

I enjoyed all the information in the book, but it can a little dry at times. The men develop close relationships as they work together to survive, and they all seem to have unlimited faith in Cyrus Harding to know what to do in every situation. They appear to believe in God, but He is not a part of their lives; one could guess that Jules Verne was an evolutionary deist. We are not told that the men are evolutionists, but their words definitely reveal them to be humanists. So I would recommend the book to those looking for interesting educational entertainment, but nothing deeper.
Mysteries abound  Sep 26, 2006
After reading The Mysterious Island, I wonder how much Jules Verne's current reputation is based on 1950s and '60s movies loosely--very loosely--adapted from his novels. In this book, there are no giant crabs or bees, or aliens, or even women. There are five men and a dog seeking to escape besieged Richmond during the Civil War who are carried off in a balloon by hurricane winds to an uncharted island in the Pacific, where they find and make what they need to survive.

The "colonists," as they style themselves to avoid the negative connotations of "castaways," are an improbable assortment, each man having knowledge or skills that complement those of the others. Cyrus Harding, the engineer, is not only a bottomless well of information about mechanics, chemistry, navigation, and other practical topics, but is also a natural leader. Gideon Spillett, the reporter, is an expert hunter. Pencroft, the sailor, knows shipbuilding and is a willing worker, while his teenage ward, Herbert, is a knowledgeable naturalist and able hunter. Harding's servant, Neb, plays the role of cook and domestic, while Harding's dog, Top, provides keen senses and instinct. When Verne wrote, "It would have been difficult to unite five men, better fitted to struggle against fate, more certain to triumph over it," it cannot have been without some sense of irony, since he is the one who brought them together in his imagination.

While a mysterious influence, whose acts are ambiguous at first but become more tangible over time, rescues the settlers or provides them with just what they need just when they need it, the real mystery of the island is the island itself. Perhaps Verne misunderstood or misused common names; he calls Jup's troop both "orangutans" (apes) and "baboons" (monkeys). He might have been pandering to a Victorian taste for the exotic. The island that the settlers call "Lincoln" for their wartime president is an impossibility of nature. Creatures from nearly every continent and ecosystem roam among an equally unlikely mixture of geological formations and collection of plants. Onagers from the Asian steppes and Middle Eastern deserts, koalas (described as "large" and speedy) from Australia, jaguars from Central and South America, orangutans from the Borneo rain forest, and musmons from isles of the Mediterranean are among Nature's bounty found on this small temperate island. Here, tropical apes, cats, and parrots survive below-freezing winters as easily as the musmons and goats.

The mineral riches are equally diverse, but even as he wonders about this paradise, Harding tells his comrades, "Nature gives us these things. It is our business to make a right use of them," signaling the beginning of man's never-ending quest to conquer and destroy nature. Even the water must be tamed; the settlers must "borrow its power, actually lost without profit to any one."

Under Harding's leadership, and with the occasional help of the island's secret benefactor, the colonists build an incredible infrastructure that provides them with shelter, water, food, clothing, power, tools, and weapons. Harding is not the leader because he is rich, good looking, charismatic, well spoken, or the other things that appeal to civilized man; he is the leader because he knows what to do and how to do it, and has faith in his ability to do it--and because he has intelligent followers in whom he can instill that same faith. The lack of discord among the colonists is as unlikely as the flora and fauna, but it may be Verne's commentary on leadership when it is most needed. When an important decision must be made, Harding refuses to make it without obtaining the opinions of all concerned, including his own servant. Taken away from civilization and its layers of social, moral, and other complexities, and forced into a situation where able leadership and willing cooperation mean not only survival but comfort and satisfaction, these men rise to the occasion. It is no coincidence that the impetus for the arrival on Lincoln Island is the Civil War, one of America's bloodiest, most savage times.

In the afterword, author Isaac Asimov tried to determine the appeal of "robinsonades" like Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Mysterious Island. He came to the conclusion that such tales answer the question, "What do I do if civilization fails me?"--a question that could apply to castaways on an uncharted island or survivors of a civil war or a nuclear or chemical/biochemical holocaust. Perhaps, though, the question is more basic than that. It might be, "Do I need civilization at all?"

While the North and South were counting and burying their dead and trying to heal the nation--a process that in some ways has not been completed--Harding and his group were using both their minds and their hands to shape a near-paradise (interestingly, one in which tobacco is missed sorely, but not women).

The Mysterious Island starts off slowly; too much ink is dedicated to Pencroft's desire to kill eat every creature they encounter, and the characters can seem psychologically shallow and limited to a mature reader. At some point, however, I found myself so interested in Lincoln Island that I, like the colonists, was reluctant to leave it. I was even disappointed by the ultimate fate and home of the settlers, as it did not seem the right place for them to be. While not a literary masterpiece, The Mysterious Island does not need giant crabs, bees, or even women to be a good story of its kind.
"All great actions redound to God, for it is from Him that they come!": Faith and Science  Aug 10, 2006
Jules Verne's _The Mysterious Island_ (1874 - 1875) is a massive work in terms of its scope and development. Verne spends over six hundred pages describing the lives of five castaways on a deserted island over a three year period. The men--Cyrus Smith, Gideon Spilett, Nebuchadnezzar (Neb), Pencroff, and Harbert Brown--have escaped captivity from Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War. Taking to flight on an unguarded Confederate hot air balloon (an "aerostat") during a storm, the five men find themselves blown wildly off course-- providentially, though, to a hitherto undiscovered island in the middle of the wastes of the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike Daniel Defoe's protagonist Robinson Crusoe, who is able to scavenge supplies from the shipwreck, the five men must start their lives anew with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Cyrus Smith, an engineer, is a mechanical genuis, and slowly through his guidance, the colonists begin to establish themselves, inventing (or re-inventing) all that they need to survive. Through the improvements of the colonists, Verne is able to trace the scientific advancements of mankind through roughly five millenia, from the prehistoric period (3000 BC) up to the nineteenth-century. This is a brilliant aspect of the book. We see the colonists move from the production of pottery in a kiln, to metallurgy, the machine age, energy production, and the creation of weaponry and explosives. Verne's knowledge of science is copious, and the novel educates the reader about human progress.

Another interesting component is Verne's use of suspense. He works through the conventions of the castaway genre made famous in _Robinson Crusoe_--for example, the men's discovery that the land is an island not a continent; the question of whether there are other island inhabitants and, if so, whether they are friend or foe; the visit by outsiders; the buidling of a new ship, etc. Verne also adds many new elements. One problem with the book is a major timeline error, which the narrator himself admits in a footnote. The chronology issue will be apparent to readers who have read other Verne novels and who, as a result, anticipate the ending. Why Verne allowed such an error, after meticulously developing his novel with scientific accuracy, is itself mysterious since the ending could have been handled differently.

Two other points of note are Verne's depiction of Neb, a former slave who remains devoted to his previous master, Cyrus Smith, and Verne's predictions about future scientific advancement. On the former point, one wonders what Verne's views were about race relations in America after the Civil War. This friendship, for a contemporary reader, raises many questions. An example of Verne's knack for anticipating the advancement of science is his discussion of alternative energy, namely the hydrogen economy (yes, you read that correctly!). Cyrus Smith comments, "Yes, my friend, I believe that water will one day be used as fuel, that the hydrogen and oxygen of which it is constituted will be used, simultaneously or in isolation, to furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, more powerful than coal can ever be" (327).

Jordan Stump's translation can be a bit ponderous because of its faithfulness to the nineteenth-century French, which is also, it must be said, a strength. Although sometimes plodding, this is definitely a worthwhile book. Stump's translation reveals Verne's fascination with science and Verne's ability to make science absolutely fascinating in a novel.

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