@CyrusHarding and The Mysterious Island

Cyrus Harding would have a great Twitter account.

Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island is my favorite novel, in no small part due to the most remarkable of the protagonists, Cyrus Harding*. The only time he’s not fascinating me with his encyclopedic knowledge and determination is when he’s disappeared, presumably lost to the ocean, near the story’s beginning (SPOILER: He is alive). To qualify such a ridiculous claim, though, as the idea that a character from a Jules Verne novel would be a good Tweeter, I should first provide some backstory.

Cyrus and his five companions (one of whom is his Labrador, Top) are POWs in the Civil War who, through their audacity and spirit of adventure (two traits of which they have no shortage), escape from the Confederate fort where they are being held via hot air balloon. A massive storm sweeps the balloon away and eventually drops the men and their canine on a resource-rich but isolated island, where they not only survive, but thrive thanks to their indomitable will and the vast intellect of Cyrus the engineer. As Cyrus leads his friends, all of whom commit themselves wholeheartedly to creating a home on Lincoln Island (the name given their landmass by the group in honor of the then-President), he proves himself to be an endless fount of pithy wisdom, which I love!

“It is better to put things in their worst light at first, and to reserve those which are better, as a surprise.”

This could easily be a Tweet. He even had enough spare characters to add one of the infamous Twitter hashtags:

          @CyrusHarding: It is better to put things in their worst light at first, and to reserve those which are better, as a surprise. #optimism

The possibilities are endless! He could Tweet all his great conversational quotes,

          @CyrusHarding: All great actions return to God, from whom they are derived. #Reassuring

or he could Tweet his own favorite quotes (which I’m pretty sure would be the only thing I’d do with a Twitter – why make up my own words when there are so many good ones already out there??):

          @CyrusHarding: “I can undertake and persevere even without hope of success.” #WilliamofOrange #Thatguyrocked

The six settlers eventually overcome the basic challenges of survival such as food and shelter, leaving them time and inclination to improve their standard of living, to make their stay on the island more like living and less like surviving. It’s the juxtaposition of these two parts to settling that I like the most: Surviving is a natural instinct, but looking for fulfillment, working to constantly better oneself and make the most of a situation is a human instinct. As the basics of survival become less of a pressing issue, however, the island presents new challenges to the settlers, including a mysterious presence whose appearance only comes at times of dire need. This strange, seemingly omnipotent third party brings about my favorite selection from the novel, and one of my favorite quotes of all time:

“Nevertheless, his dogged sense of reason was exasperated to find itself faced with such a thoroughly inexplicable event, and he raged at the thought that around him, or perhaps above him, lurked an influence he could not define.”

I absolutely love the humanism – Cyrus is never as frustrated by any physical or mental challenge on the island as he is by the thought that his life is being governed by the unknown. If there’s any reason to read this novel besides the excellent plot (Verne pioneered science fiction, and if any of the stranded-on-an-island bit sounds cliché, it’s not – he was one of the first to write such a story), it’s Cyrus Harding. If there was ever a role model, the eternally optimistic, strong-willed engineer is it. Cyrus shows us the power of knowledge, as well as the power of confidence and determination in the face of physical, mental, and spiritual adversity. We could use some more courageous men and women like Cyrus Harding.

          @CyrusHarding: A man must do his duty, right to the bitter end! #InspirationalQuotes #YourDutyToReadThisBook


*The more recent and more proliferated translation opts for Cyrus Smith, which is apparently truer to the equivalent of Verne’s original French, but the older translation I read many a time in one of my middle school libraries featured Cyrus Harding, so he’ll forever be a Harding in my heart.


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