Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

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Amazon Description:

The plot of this novel depicts a group of men who have become castaways stranded on an island in the Pacific during the American Civil War.

Ade’s Review:

NOTE: This book was published in the late 1800’s. I, however, read it in 2013. Due to cultural differences the book may not have been received as intended.

Here we have five civilised men stranded upon a desert island, but as soon as they arrive they act as a plague upon the paradise, slaughtering the indigenous wildlife and destroying the landscape, shaping it to their own end with no respect for the natural world. Not the slightest remorse is shown for the creatures whose lives they destroy; every new beast or bird encountered is met with the same response: “Can we eat it? How do we kill it?”

Oh what loathsome devils! On one excursion they return to find apes inhabiting their home. Rather than peacefully usher them away, the blood-thirsty gang slaughter the lot, taking one final orangutan prisoner to turn into a slave. Indeed, they callously mock the poor beast for its inability to understand the concept of remuneration for its troubles.

The brutality does not end there. Happening upon a large turtle on the beach, the men joyously turn it onto its back so it would die slowly in the sun. Upon finding whale bones, they freeze them curved in fat, to lure animals into eating and thus pierce their stomachs. Oh, what twisted degenerates they are!

So arrogant are these men in their claim to this land that when a ship comes to dock for a similar purpose (to restock food and water), the quintet attack them without mercy, killing every last one.

Over the course of the story it becomes clear that Cyrus Harding is a villain of the most devious kind. I found myself first rooting for the big cats, then the pirates and finally the volcano.

Upon reaching the outcome, I was very disappointed.

Flawed Opposition

The Government’s plan to sell off some of Britain’s publicly owned forests has been scrapped under immense pressure from the public, universal condemnation and a plethora of celebrity opposition. Call it a u-turn or ‘listening to the public’, the result is the same: the government backed down.

A victory for the public? The first of many changes brought about by people-power?

First, lets examine why the government backed down on this policy and not the more controversial education bill. Ironically the cuts to higher education, scrapping of the EMA and raising of fees was labeled ‘ideological’, whilst the selling of the forests was seen as a quick attempt to raise cash. In actual fact the reverse was true. The education bill was a compromise in cash-strapped times. Ideologically both parties would have been more comfortable defending another policy; unfortunately this was the only real option.

The selling of the forests, unlike the education bill, was ideological. The proposal wouldn’t have raised money, reports suggest the government could have even lost money (albeit by an almost negligible amount). The reason for the change was the ideological belief that power should be devolved away from the state, that if you give responsibility to the citizen (rather than dictated from Whitehall) you get a better return for your investment. Everything would remain broadly the same, just run by local businesses and charities; forests and wildlife protected with legislation, except without the government bureaucracy.

The government backed down on this proposal because they could. It was a policy based upon principal rather than necessity and for that reason was expendable.

But what was so monstrous about this proposal? What was getting so many people so incredibly furious? The answer is the mythical bit where the forests would be closed to the public, chopped down, burnt, or whatever other random fears formed in the cynical public’s mind. All nonsense of course, but once the rumor-mill gets going, there’s no stopping it.

So was it a victory for the public? In one sense, yes it was. The public let their views be known and a bill was defeated. The problem is the bill the public were objecting to wasn’t the one being proposed. They were objecting to a bill that never existed, a figment of the collective imagination, and in the process an opportunity to improve the well-being of our forests (by putting them in more capable hands) was missed. It is a dangerous precedent that could mark the end for many of this government’s more radical reforms, whether they are good for the public or not.