One of the things I love most about my Kindle is that there are so many free books to download, many of which are classics. Recently, you may remember, I downloaded a ton of them to broaden my reading palate. The most recent book that I have finished up was The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne written in 1874.
Let me start off by saying that I am familiar with Verne’s work via the movies mostly. I believe I read Around the World in 80 Dyas but later in life did watch the movie – and not the one with Jackie Chan in it. I think my favorite movie was Journey to the Center of the Earth. I never did read the novel but instead saw the movie and was immediately in love. I wonder if I read the book if I would hate the movie afterwards?
This really brings me to the topic at hand which is The Mysterious Island. I will begin by saying that I started to read this book based on my recollection of the movie. Was I in for a shock! The two are really only loosely related, having both the same name and most of the characters remain the same.
The book starts off kind of slow and dry. Jules was very VERY detail oriented in describing to the tiniest degree how something worked or in his description of it. I am not certain if he himself was a genius, highly creative or both. As the story unfolds I began to become disenchanted with the fact the stories main character, Cyrus Harding – an engineer, really knew everything about everything. Not just passing knowledge of a topic but actual tangible real world applied knowledge that no one today possesses.
Let me give a brief run down of the things I recall that 5 men and a dog were able to create from raw elements on an island that apparently had everything to not only survive but to build a utopia on.
- Bow/arrows – feasible
- kiln – maybe but I gotta call bullshit
- nitroglycerin – no chance in hell
- forged steel/iron tools and weapon fired in kiln – again if the kiln were doable then there is a possibility but I am still gonna go with bullshit
- waterwheel for mill – sure
- elevator using water power – unlikely but sure, why not
- gunpowder (I think he made this on the island too) – I find it hard to believe that when mixing compounds that require precise measurements he would be able to make this
- soap from two or three compounds – possible but how would he know about these things – he was an engineer not a chemist – there in lay the biggest problem for me I think – he has all this knowledge across so many fields
- cart – no problem
- telegraph for morse code and tens of thousands of feet off wire, copper maybe – a give about a snowball’s chance in hell he made this work
- ship from tools made and found on the island – unlikely by what do I know and to be honest he did not make this, one of the others on the island did
The more and more I read this book the more and more I honestly despised the way EVERYTHING was just a matter of making from items at hand. I kept thinking to myself that the non-cynical 10-year-old self would have really enjoyed this book. However not being 10 I really struggled with it initially.
At some point I started to root for the stranded survivors to make good their escape. I knew that this story was really for the gullible but still found myself wanting them to succeed. I think part of it was how Jules was going to relate how the Cyrus was going to save the day. I can tell you that if you swapped out the professor from Gilligan’s Island for Cyrus Harding the castaways would have repaired their old boat and bit off that island in one hot Atlanta second, that is for sure.
In the end I was a little disappointed on the anticlimactic finish and was left with a couple of points that didn’t make any sense at all to me in the book. For example, they talk about a killer Dugong – or sea-cow which is mostly a leaf eater. Not to say it doesn’t eat invertebrates and some other tasty snacks like jellyfish they are mostly plant eaters and algae eaters not attack a dog for supper eaters. I found this point ridiculous.
Having said all of that, I did find the book good enough that I wanted to watch the movie to compare. That was my first mistake. I renter the 1961 version and was sadly disappointed in the adaptation of it. Whole character were outright removed or changed up so much to give a whole new complexion to the characters and how they related to one another. Further still was the addition of two women to the storyline for the viewing audience. Again ridiculous.
Giant monster crabs that would have made tasty meat snacks out of all of the men folk had they chose to confront it the way they did. Doesn’t anybody say “Hey, this is really a dumb idea. Lets give our viewers some credit because they are not idiots and we should give them something that doesn’t insult their intelligence?” Nope, guess that’s off the table.
In a few words, there were no redeeming qualities of the movie. It was a poor adaptation of a book from a very creative man way ahead of his time in his writing exploits.
Overall I initially found the book completely ridiculous with its almost godlike main characters ability to create every single thing needed to not just survive but to thrive on this Mysterious Island. However, as the story unfolded I became entranced with the small band of castaways and how they would achieve their latest endeavor. It became a spectacle to see what would happen next.
I realize this book was written almost 150 years ago (138 to be exact) and that I should read it for the enjoyment of the way the author has so dutifully described every nook and cranny of every rock, plant and animal on the island. I also need to set aside my disbelief for all the things I mentioned earlier just because I either cannot imagine them or don’t believe they could ever have happened.
I would like to close by saying that Jules Verne was a VERY detailed individual and would be interested in knowing how much of this he had to research and how much was his own knowledge. I say read the book but stay away from the movie. Apparently there was about 6 episodes to a series that never took off that I haven’t seen. I wonder if I would be disappointed with it? I might have to check it out.
More to come…