Tag Archive: Jules Verne


Continuing through my massive backlog of cheap classics via nook, I ended up spending some time with Jules Verne again rather quickly.  And I loved it.  But even now, weeks later (my reviews are very behind), I still can’t place exactly why.  Let’s try to figure that one out together.

If you think back to my review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, you will recall that a chief complaint was the overall repetitive nature of the text.  Well, Verne (or his translator) doesn’t seem to have quite so much trouble with that here.  You will also recall that my chief praises were of the book’s adventurous spirit and sudden gravitas.  Well, those are both present here as well, and in spades.  Around the World does seem to take much more of a “and then there was this cause why the hell not” sort of approach to the story, but it works.  I mean, there’s not much going on in terms of plot, but it is certainly more cohesive and present than in 20,000 Leagues. And what Around the World lacks in Nemo, it makes up (partly, at least) in Phileas Fogg.

Loathe as I am to continually compare this book to my last with Verne, I have no choice.  Honestly, I loved them both, but this one just shoots out of the gate with so much more breathlessness.  The characters, while all equally inexplicably and impossibly noble, are differentiated significantly more than “this one’s Canadian and impatient, these ones love fish, and this ubermensch has a mysterious past.”  Don’t doubt that they are all caricatures, but it’s a book about a bet to circumnavigate the world.  And that’s exactly what it feels like.

After the exhaustive cataloguing of Conseil, I fully expected his counterpart here, the circus-gymnast-cum-suddenly-devoted-manservant Passepartout, to be some sort of amateur geographer, listing off altitudes and precipitation and waxing eloquent on the virtues of European imperialism.  And that last part does have a place in the story, but humorous and speedy observation takes the place of global oceanic surveys and the very few big events that happen deftly blend that same rush and humor with an honest desire to give the audience a couple of delicious red herrings and make the characters as genuinely good as possible.

I really didn’t mind in the least just how much of this story Jules Verne pulled out of his butt as I burned through it over some toast and  orange juice.  Don’t take any of the characters so seriously as Captain Nemo (who continues his badass reign) and don’t worry too much about the few incidences of spontaneous Europeanization.  Nothing this breezy can offend too deeply and it’s too much fun, and far too short, to get up in arms about it.

A shorter (and likely less eloquent review) yes, but it’ll suffice for what it is I’m reviewing.  Give it a shot.  I’m no Phileas Fogg, but I’ll bet it’ll sit with you just fine.

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The first thing to be said is that I really should be more prompt.  Secondly, Captain Nemo.  Let’s back up, shall we?

I finished 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some time ago and although I’m not sure I had any specific timeframe in mind at the outset, the book definitely took me longer to finish than anticipated.  No doubt because there is a great deal of dry (*harhar*) material padding out what is otherwise a none-too-hefty story.  So should you read it?  Yes.  Yes you should.

This is my first time reading Monsieur Jules Verne, a posthumously claimed father of science fiction literature, and I was initially shocked by the repetitive nature of a great deal of the text.  Looking back, I’m sure some of the blame falls on the translation, the translator of which I fail to recall.  However, a great deal of the novel is epithetical.  Every character has a select number of traits by which they are referred and identified, most irritatingly in Conseil, a Flemish “lad” who is called “gallant” entirely too often.  And Conseil is really a very good place on which to hinge certain strengths and weaknesses of the text overall.

You see, Conseil is a cartoonishly slavish devotee and manservant to his master, the venerable Professor Arronax, through whose eyes the reader is related the story.  The man is fully extreme in his occupation and acts as the professor’s pet classifier.  Arronax, being an eminent marine naturalist, relates huge sequences of nomenclature and geological data for each of the Seven Seas traversed.  Yes, that’s right.  So far as he was able Verne included, in long-ass lists, every marine plant, animal, and rock formation that he conceivably could have without calling the thing a specialist text.  Being no expert marine naturalist myself, I was forced to take his word on it as he wowed me with the wonders of the sea and the limitless potential of electricity.  When Conseil was mentioned I always went on guard, knowing that a whole heap o’ fish were about to come pouring off the page.  And yet, this grounds the novel somewhat intriguingly.

You see, our own venerable Steven Lloyd Wilson has called science fiction, and I’m either paraphrasing or completely filling his mouth with totally foreign words, a vehicle to poke at our limits and celebrate our potential for progress.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea does all of this.  However the science shook out historically (despite coming up with a full early model for the submarine, Verne was no seer (and the Nautilus is no mere submarine)) it made the book feel like an exploration.  This is science, it says.  It may not jump off the page, but look at how everything else jumps off of it!  Most of the book is spent cruising under the waves without any real problems beyond a weirdly stir-crazy Canadian harpooner.  There are scenes of action and adventure, and the science serves as a sink of the real world that leaves the reader hopelessly unprepared to really tackle the improbability of many of the characters’ discoveries, but one issue stands out from amongst the rest.  Preeminent, ridiculous, necessary, feared, and beloved: Nemo, captain to the Nautilus and an apparent god among men.

It doesn’t take an ancient Greek to tell that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is hugely indebted to the Odyssey. Nemo’s very name is a callback to Odysseus’ clever introduction in Polyphemus’ cave, and there are few characters in literature quite so simultaneously tragic and haughtily superior as those two.  And Nemo is a fully ridiculous character.  He speaks God knows how many languages (without a trace of accent), he’s inexhaustibly wealthy, he’s got a veritable Library of Alexandria in his study aboard the submersible, he’s a scientific genius a century ahead of his time, a singularly compelling individual, and a totally, unbelievably, unrelatably preposterous character.   But every time he keeps or loses his cool, playing the pipe-organ (onboard, in the aforementioned library) with distracting mystery or fighting a shark with a knife(!), the reader is game for it.  This character is a total badass.  He is a consummate human being in his accomplishments and his questionably stubborn faults.

Read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You might not always feel like much is going on, but when something does happen you will be knocked right the hell over and you will read those damn fish-lists for just one glimpse of Nemo going mano-a-mano with a giant squid with nothing but an axe and unquenchable fury.  And then something genuine and human will happen out of absolutely nowhere and, inexplicably, you will feel just a little bit like crying.