Nearly a century after his death, five “lost” manuscripts of Verne are part of the SF master’s return to active publication (Invasion of the Sea, The Mysterious Island, both 2002).
This latest, first published in French in 1909 after being massively rewritten by Verne’s son Michel and now stripped to its original spare form, is an unabashedly speculative novel of civilization and nationhood, and a powerful man who yearns to be free from both. In Magellania, the archipelago forming the southernmost reach of South America, a primal scene occurs: a native stalks a wild guanaco and is pounced on by a jaguar, which is then shot by a mysterious but revered European, Kaw-djer, who arrived in the islands some years before. Kaw-djer takes the mauled native back to the man’s village in his longboat, but the man dies before they arrive. Saddened, Kaw-djer returns to the home on another island that he shares with the native channel pilot Karroly and his son, while the narrator explains the status of Magellania in the 1880s: territory as yet unclaimed by any nation, which is why Kaw-djer, who lives by the dictum “Neither God nor master,” has settled there. Unfortunately, Chile and Argentina soon lay claim to the region, and Kaw-djer, with nowhere else to go, in a gathering storm steers his boat to the island forming the southern tip of the archipelago, intending to throw himself into the sea. But a ship in distress gives him pause, and he and Karroly do what they can to save it; disabled and dismasted, it finally wrecks on a more sheltered island, where its cargo of hundreds of emigrants on their way to South Africa is mostly saved. The emigrants, from the US and Europe, winter over on the island, and, later, when a Chilean emissary offers to give the island to them if they’ll settle on it, they accept. Kaw-djer now has a place to remain free—but at a price.
Interesting philosophically and geopolitically, and a window on a world a hundred years gone: a distinctive tale still has the power to charm and provoke.