- Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 and died from complications of diabetes on Mar. 24 1905.
- He was on track to become a lawyer when he started writing articles and fiction for magazines, as well as penning plays.
- In the English speaking world he was regarded as a children’s writer during his lifetime, probably because of the popularity of his genre fiction, which was often abridged when translated. Nowadays of course he is considered one of the “fathers of science fiction,” along with H. G. Wells. As far as I could find, the two of them never met in person, which isn’t too surprising consider their age gap (Verne was 38 years old when Wells was born).
- Verne’s imagination was captured by travel and the trope of the “castaway” early in his life. As a child, he had a teacher whose husband had been lost at sea and believed he would some day be found living life like Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). He often stranded his characters on islands during their adventures, such as in In Search of Castaways (1867-1868), The Mysterious Island (1874), and Two Years’ Vacation (1888).
- Verne made lots of famous friends during his lifetime. His close relationship to Alexandre Dumas Jr. and Sr. helped him as a playwright early in his career. He was also a buddy of the noted French explorer and geographer Jacques Arago whose accounts of his travels around the globe helped to lead Verne to his path as a travel writer.
- He fell in love with Honorine de Viane Morel, the sister-in-law of a good friend, in 1856. In order to provide enough financial security to marry her, he went into finance. But there was no way Verne was going to totally abandon his first love, his literary career. He woke early in the morning to write before heading to the office.
- Two years later, at the age of 30, Verne got his first chance to leave France. That year he traveled to the British Isles, and upon returning to Paris he wrote a semi-biographical novel called Backwards to Britain, but it was not published until 1989. In 1861 he visited Sweden, Norway and Denmark and missed the birth of his son, Michel the same year. After he found literary success, he purchased a succession of larger and larger vessels which he used to travel all around Europe.
- Unfortunately traveling became difficult for Verne after an incident in 1886. His nephew, Gaston, suffered from paranoia and shot his uncle in the leg (or foot, depending on the account) and Verne never fully recovered. Luckily for his fans, this did not stop him from continuing to write sometimes two novels a year.
- According to one article I found, there is a lot of evidence the Verne plagiarized large portions his most well-known work, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He was sued by Leon Delmas in 1863, and the court case was not resolved until 1874.
- With the help of Verne’s son, some of his books were published posthumously.
- Several of Verne’s manuscripts and plays were found in a safe 1989, so have only recently seen the light of day. Among these was a novel called Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was initially rejected by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because of its pessimistic view of the future. The story is set in a dystopian 1960 (97 years after it was written), and predicted the invention of many things that ended up being absolutely correct such as gas-powered cars, fax machines, elevators and sky scrapers.
Verne’s most note-worthy works
I’ve been writing about Verne off and on since I started this website, so I won’t reproduce all of my reviews and info again verbatim.. Here are links to those articles:
The Mysterious Island movies in 2005, 2012 and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2012, which actually served as a sequel to the Journey to the Center of the Earth film. I have not yet read the book myself, but plan to some time in the future and will add a link then 🙂
Are you a fan of Jules Verne? What’s your favorite book?
We Steampunk fans enjoy a nice mash-up of literary references like in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but it takes an exceptional writer to make it all fit together in a coherent narrative. Unfortunately, this sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth shoe horns this notion between overwrought action and family drama in a pretty unsatisfactory way.
A few years have passed since the events of the first film, and Sean (Josh Hutcherson) has a new stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson). His relationship with the former Navy code breaker is rocky, but when Hank helps Sean decipher a message from his wayward grandfather (Michael Caine) they find some common ground. The message reveals that the island in Verne’s novel is not only real, but is the same island described in Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels, and resides somewhere off the coast of the Philippines. (I actually winced when Hank rips the map pages out of the three books in order to fit them into a single island. Have some respect, dude!)
Once they reach Palau, they find that the only people willing to take them to their coordinates (which turn out to be caught in a perpetual hurricane) are a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The four of them crash land on a lush island populated by giant insects and Lilliputian pachyderms, and must fend off a dinosaur-scale iguana within minutes of landing. After a brief respite at grandpa’s house, they journey into the jungle past a volcano spouting gold (a reference to the mountain of gold in Treasure Island), see the remnants of the lost city of Atlantis that Verne described in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and discover that the island is rapidly sinking once again. Without any means of contacting the outside world during the storm, their only hope is Nemo’s Nautilus, which is still hidden somewhere on the island.
Okay, so you know how I like crappy movies? Even I had some trouble with this one. The action is overblown and basically unending and the dialog was hit and miss. I almost stopped watching the film completely when I got to a scene which centered on “The Rock” popping his pectorals and saying it was the best way to get women. GAG! Also, the “science” didn’t really work. For instance, I am willing to play along with their use of island dwarfism/gigantism, especially as the much-lauded 1961 Mysterious Island features giant critters as well, but if the island is trapped in a perpetual storm and periodically sinks to the depths of the ocean, where did the animals even come from???
It’s pretty much only worth a viewing if you like making snarky comments about what you are watching (which is a regular pastime in the Darqueling household) and can take it all with a grain of salt. Also, the effects are pretty awesome so the visuals are cool. But if you are looking for a good story that has much of anything to do with Verne’s book, skip it.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) Pays Homage to the Original Without Just Retelling the Story
I just went back and counted how many TV and movie reviews I have posted since I started this site. Over the last 18 months I have told you about over 20 different films and shows, and to tell you the truth I didn’t even know there were that many to talk about when I started. Plus, I have a list of another dozen or so that are still forthcoming! With the exception of a few, my reviews have mostly been focused on stories that took place during Victorian times, but there are also films that make references to things from that era that occur at later dates. They may lack the Steampunk aesthetic that we know and love, but I think they deserve a nod for their “punking” of the classics.
The big-budget Journey to the Center of the Earth is one of these films, and should not be confused with the mockbuster by the same name that came out the same year. As a fan of the Mummy movies, there was no way I was going to miss Brendan Fraser in another adventure story. It served as the big screen directorial debut for Eric Brevig, someone whose work you have probably seen without knowing it because he worked on the visual effects for tons of movies such as Wild, Wild West, Men in Black, and several M. Night Shyamalan films. I only just finished reading the book, but as I was doing so I was able to draw a lot of parallels between the text and this contemporary reinterpretation.
The world of this story hinges on one central fact: Verne was writing the truth. According to the story, there is a secret society of learned folks called Vernians who are trying to find their way to the places described in the novels. Brendan Fraser’s character, Trevor Andersen, is not a Vernian but a volcanologist who has devoted his life to the study of volcanic tubes. His brother, Max, was also studying this fringe branch of geology, but he went missing on the path described by Verne leading to the center of the earth.
All that is known to his brother and his son Sean (Josh Hutcherson), is that he disappeared during field research in Iceland, but when an old copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth covered in his cryptic field notes (a direct reference to the discovery of the coded message in the professor’s volume in the novel) is discovered among Max’s belongings, Trevor and Sean rush to his lab to investigate the similarities to his own readings. Upon finding that the equipment placed on Sneffels has come back to life after years of dormancy, the uncle and nephew team head to Iceland to retrieve it.
They enlist a tough as nails mountain guide who recognizes the scribbles in Max’s book as belonging to a Vernian because her own father had also been a believer until his death a few years earlier. They hire her to take them up the mountain to get the scientific instruments, but none of them believe in the reality of the story until a landslide traps them in a cave and they have no choice but to descend into the bowels of the earth in hopes of finding a way out. After a side trip into an old mine and surviving a preposterously long fall down one of the aforementioned volcanic tubes they find themselves on the shore of the same sea recorded in Verne’s story. They attempt to voyage across the sea as their predecessors did, and like them fall prey to sea creatures and a terrible storm to find themselves on a distant shore and in danger from the rapidly rising temperatures in the granite chamber.
Oh yeah, and dinosaurs. Did I forget to mention the dinosaurs?
This is a lighthearted, fun movie that borrows some great parts from the original story, and adds some bits of its own. I remember when it came out it was at the forefront of the “we must make every movie 3D!!!!” phase of film-making which has thankfully calmed down in recent times, and some of the added scenes feel like they were definitely conceived with that in mind rather than say, moving the plot forward. But still, it is enjoyable and a nice way to waste 93 minutes if you’ve got the time. A lot of reviewers I read have nothing nice to say about Josh Hutcherson, but I liked him as the moody teen companion to his stodgy uncle.
I also appreciated that the biggest bad-ass in the group was obviously the female mountain guide, portrayed by native Icelander Anita Briem. She was only really in danger like one time because she was carrying all the heavy stuff and it almost drowned her. She’s the one that gets them through the physical challenges and keeps her cool in face of danger, not unlike her counterpart in the Verne novel.
What do you think? Should movies stick strictly to the original story, or is there room for this kind of interpretive punking?
It’s time to return again to our regularly scheduled Jules Verne programming. It doesn’t look like I will make my original writing goal for this weekend, but I will hopefully get to 10,000 words by the end of the month, so I will keep posting things after my tribute to Verne is over.
Voyage au centre de la Terre is the third Verne novel I have read, and so far it is my favorite. There are multiple translations and the names of the main characters are different depending on which one you read. I read the version where the narrator is called “Harry Lawson” rather than Axel Lidenbrock. According to Project Gutenberg, this 1871 translation is the one that is most widely circulated, but it is also not as true to the original text as the 1877 version. Apparently what I read was somewhat abridged, but was still about 470 pages.
So here’s a very brief synopsis: Harry starts his story by setting the scene of his life with his eccentric uncle, whom is most often referred to as “the professor.” But the story really gets going when the professor discovers a coded message scrawled in an antique text he has just purchased. The former owner was a 16th century alchemist named Saknussem who left behind directions to the finding the exact center of the Earth.
The enthusiastic professor drags the reluctant Harry along for the ride to Iceland, where Saknussem’s tunnel is located. With the help of a taciturn Icelandic hunter, they embark on an incredible journey of discovery into the depths beneath our feet. Along the way they encounter living fossils from bygone ages, a huge subterranean sea and a multitude of other wonders.
There were two main reasons that I liked this book more than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. First, the first-person narration by Harry was often very humorous, especially when it came to his own misgivings and cowardice. Second, this story was not bogged down by minutiae. There were only a few Latin names dropped in here and there, and because Verne was pulling this place out of his imagination rather than reporting on a real locations, it freed him to be able to drive the action any way he pleased. It would be nice to read a version that has gone through a modern editing process to get rid of the redundancies that so often occur in these old serials. For instance, the phrase “my uncle, the professor” occurs several times, and the Icelander is referred to as “Hans, our guide” almost without fail, as if there would be some other Hans wandering around hundreds of miles below the Earth’s crust. I am sure it helped readers of the original serial over the course of the year it took to read the whole thing, but it does get to be a bit repetitive when reading it as a novel.
The science in this book doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as others from this period, but for when it was written it was right in the middle of the scholarly debate concerning the origins of life on Earth. In the 1860s, academics had only recently abandoned the straight Biblical interpretation of our origins in light of the discovery of fossil hominids in unexpected strata. There were also distinct schools of thought concerning the nature of the planet itself, the inner workings of which were not fully explained until the theory of plate tectonics was put forth almost a century later.
Perhaps this is the reason, not to mention the enormous sets that would be required, that Journey to the Center of the Earth has only rarely been adapted to film and television compared to Verne’s other works. The first film was made in 1959, but it wasn’t remade in English again until the 2008 re-interpretation which put a contemporary uncle (Brendan Fraser) and nephew (Josh Hutcherson) on the path described in Verne’s novel rather than following the narrative as it occurred in 1864.
In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present. I really enjoyed this twist because it was a chance to call attention to how much has changed in the last century and a half. There are culture clashes even between fellow Americans because of advances in technology and social norms.
Ever since the 1961 version, the trend with movie adaptations of The Mysterious Island seems to be to add some kind of creepy critter to up the ante when it comes to danger and action to what is really a pretty subtle story about a group of castaways. In both the 1961 the 2005 version, all of the animals on the island grew to huge proportions. In this one, in addition to a giant octopus blocking their escape by sea, the island is overrun by apelike creatures who (spoiler alert) turn out to be Nemo’s disenfranchised crew.
The writing had a few holes and the acting was pretty hit or miss, but it was a fun movie all the same. I, of course, like “bad” movies so I will probably put with more than your average movie viewer. You can watch it on Netflix or through youtube below.
This mockbuster was made to piggyback on the major motion picture release the same year of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to the big budget Brendan Fraser movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth that came out in 2008. I’ll bring you reviews of those as well, so stay tuned during March for even more Verne and adaptations!
In the early days after its construction in the 1730’s, “Saville Street” was home to officers of the British military. The next century it became the first home of the Geographical Society of London (today known as the Royal Geographical Society, RGS), which was granted its Royal Charter under Queen Victoria. The RGS was responsible for financing such notable expeditions as David Livingstone’s sojourn into Africa, which lead to the discovery of the Nile’s source (named Lake Victoria) by Sir Richard Burton and John Speke. The RGS moved its headquarters in 1913, which was also the same year that women were first allowed to join.
During the Victorian era, Saville Row become strongly associated with the tailoring trade, and today the street is lined with stores selling natty men’s fashion. On a literary note, Jules Verne gives Phileas Fogg, the hero of Around the World in 80 Days, the address of No. 7 Saville Row. There isn’t a lot to see today, so for me, the most compelling thing about visiting this area ended up being the nearby Burlington Arcade.
If you have heard of this site, it is probably because of Around the World in 80 Days. Phileas Fogg’s journey began at The Reform (as it is colloquially named) over a game of cards, and ended in dramatic fashion on the same spot. The Reform was also featured in politically-minded novel entitled Phineas Finn, which was released as a serial by notable Victorian author Anthony Trollope from 1867-1868.
The club was founded in 1832 as a liberal bastion for people to exchange radical ideas in response to the conservative Whig Party that had held power in London for decades. For many years it was the unofficial headquarters for the Liberal Party, and boasts a huge library filled with contributions from its members. Unfortunately, the inside of the club is off-limits to non-members except for select groups that can visit during a special architectural festival in September, and the exterior is nothing special. But, you can see a few photos of the interior on their website.
Fun Facts and Context
- Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours was Jules Verne’s 11th novel, and like many of the time it was first presented in a serialized format before it was compiled into a book in 1873. It was accompanied by the illustrations of Alphonse de Neuville, a French painter known for his depictions of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
- Verne served in the Franco-Prussian War, and doing research for this book likely served to take his mind off of those events.
- The dates of Fogg’s return to England coincided with the final date of publication for the original serial. Because of this, some readers believed they were reading a real travelogue rather than a fictional story.
- Many people associate a hot air balloon trip with this story, but in fact there was no balloon in the original text. This is likely because the 1956 Disney film added an additional stop in Spain to the tale and the protagonists reached it by balloon. Jules Verne did write about a daring escape by balloon, but it wasn’t until The Mysterious Island was published in 1874.
Timeline and Synopsis of the Story
- September 28, 1872: Bank of England is robbed. 50,000 GBP is stolen. This is the equivalent of four million GBP or 6.2 million USD today.
- October 1, 1872: Phileas Fogg hires Passepartout as his new valet after his old valet gets the temperature of his shaving water wrong. Fogg goes from his home on Savile Row to the Reform Club as usual, and during a discussion about a new stretch of railroad in India he is drawn into a bet with his friends. With the hefty sum of 20,000 GBP (1.6 million today) on the line, he agrees to travel around the world and return at the same time 80 days later on December 21, 1872.
- October 2, 1872: Fogg and Passepartout leave England by train.
- October 9, 1872: After a brief stopover in France, the travelers reach Suez, Egypt and meet Detective Fix for the first time. He is on the trail of the bank robber, and Fogg’s erratic behavior and passing resemblance to the vague description of the burglar make him a suspect. They leave Suez by ship with Fix in tow.
- October 20, 1872: The travelers arrive in Bombay, India, two days ahead of schedule. Passepartout wanders into a temple and is chased out by the monks for not removing his shoes. He arrives at the platform and boards a train bound for Calcutta just in time.
October 22, 1872: Fogg’s train can go no further because the railway is unfinished, despite what the newspapers say. They manage to hire a guide called Parsee and an elephant named Kiouni to carry them on toward Calcutta.
- October 24, 1872: While traveling through the jungle, the travelers encounter a ceremony where a young bride, Aouda, is being prepared to follow her aged husband into death. She cannot struggle because of the influence of drugs, so she is rescued by Fogg and another traveling companion after Passepartout creates a diversion by posing as the deceased man’s body and “rising from the dead” to scare the natives. They escape by means of their trusty elephant and continue to Calcutta.
- October 25, 1872: The travelers arrive in Calcutta with five hours to spare to remain on their original itinerary despite the delay. As soon as they arrive Passepartout is arrested for his transgression in Bombay and both he and Fogg are taken into custody. They use some of Fogg’s considerable cash resources to pay off his valet’s debt and make the noon ship bound for Hong Kong. Aouda continues on the journey because India is no longer safe for her, and she knows of family living in China. Fix, still without a warrant but with high hopes for Britain’s Easternmost colony, tags along in secret.
- November 7, 1872: The travelers arrive in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Aouda’s family member had already moved away from Hong Kong years earlier. While out getting supplies for the next step of the journey, Passepartout gets news of an earlier departure time for their vessel. Fix still has not received his warrant for Fogg’s arrest and is determined to keep him from leaving British soil. Fix invites Passepartout out for a farewell drink and gets him to try opium. The valet becomes so besotted that he falls asleep and Fogg does not hear about the new travel arrangements. In his delirium, Passepartout says the name of the disembarking ship and is brought there and installed in his master’s cabin. He awakes the next morning to find that he has left his master behind, but determined to rejoin him somewhere along his route and alert him to the danger that Fix represents. Fogg hires a small vessel called the Tankadere to carry he and Aouda to Shanghai to catch the ferry to Yokohama at its next port.
- November 13, 1872: Passepartout arrives penniless in Yokohama, Japan. He seeks for ways to continue his journey to America to intercept Fogg by offering his services to the owner of a traveling circus. He is hired as an acrobat and during his first performance is astounded to see Fogg and Aouda in the audience, having also arrived in Yokohama after flagging down the American vessel in the port of Shanghai. Fix continues to travel with Fogg, who is covering all of his expenses.
- November 23, 1872: Fogg and company pass the 180th meridian, which marks the halfway point of their circumnavigation of the planet.
- December 3, 1872: The travelers reach San Francisco and are caught up in a political rally where Fogg has a confrontation with an American named Colonel Stamp Proctor. Fix steps in to help because he needs Fogg to return to England before he can be arrested. The company boards a train that evening intent upon using the Transcontinental Railway to reach New York.
- December 7, 1872: Fogg runs into Colonel Proctor on the train and a duel ensues. It is interrupted by an attack on the train by the Sioux tribe. Passepartout is taken hostage and Fogg, Fix and Aouda are left behind when the train continues on its route as they attempt to devise a rescue mission. With the help of American soldiers stationed nearby, Fogg retrieves Passepartout and the travelers are forced to continue by way of a wind-powered sledge to Omaha in hopes of catching another train.
- December 9, 1872: Arrive in Omaha and board a train for Chicago.
- December 10, 1872: Arrive in Chicago and board a train for New York.
- December 11, 1872: Arrive 45 minutes late for their steamship from New York to Liverpool.
- December 12, 1872: The party boards a ship bound for Bordeaux with little hope of arriving in London before the December 21 deadline, but it is the only ship leaving with a destination even close to England.
- December 16, 1872: Fogg proceeds to buy the ship from the captain and throw all of the wooden parts into the furnace to fuel their journey. He redirects the ship to bring them to Liverpool, England.
- December 21, 1872: With six hours to reach London in order to win the bet, Fogg and co. arrive in Liverpool. They would have just enough time to beat their deadline, but now that they have finally arrived on English soil, Fix arrests Fogg. It doesn’t take long to find out the real bank robber had been caught during the mad dash around the world, but the short delay is just enough to lose the wager for Fogg. He arrives in London 5 minutes late.
- Actually, December 21, 1872: The party gained an entire day during their journey, but they have yet to realize it. Aouda proposes marriage to Fogg and he heartily accepts. They intend to marry that very day and send Passepartout for the parson. When he arrives at the parson’s door he says he cannot perform the ceremony at that time because it is Sunday and he was busy on church business. Passepartout races back to Savile Row and whisks Fogg away to the Reform Club, where he arrives exactly on time to win the wager.
References in Steampunk Literature and Other Media
- Philip Jose Farmer wrote The Other Log of Phileas Fogg as part of his Wold Newton Universe. In it, Fogg is the foster child of an alien and Captain Nemo is aligned with another race of aliens. The bet and journey around the world were an elaborate cover story to disguise Fogg’s quest for an alien artefact that would change the tide of the war between the two competing races.
- It has been adapted for film five times since 1919, the most recent being in 2004, where martial arts expert and comedic actor Jackie Chan played Passepartout opposite Steven Coogan (Night at the Museum, Despicable Me 2) as Phileas Fogg in a new adaptation of the novel.
- It has been adapted for television four times since 1972, including a Japanese version where all the characters are animals.
- It was adapted for the stage for the first time in 2001 by Mark Brown. He has also written a sequel for the stage for another Victorian classic in the form of The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.
- In 2014, a game called “80 Days” was launched by Inkle Development Company. It is an interactive game that blends the story and retro-futuristic technology.
- Also in 2014, Ben Steele released a version of Around the World in 80 Days (a Steampunk Reimagining) with illustrations by Josh Ross. It includes “lost” content and a board game.
- The International Steampunk Symposium in April of 2015 is going to feature the theme “Around the World in 48 Hours” as an homage to Verne’s work.
I caught this quirky two-parter for the first time close to when it first aired in 2005. I wasn’t familiar with the Mysterious Island book, but the premise sounded fun and I was familiar with several of the actors. During my research I found several people who say their favorite rendition is from 1961, but I haven’t had a chance to see that one yet. So during March I will bring you reviews of adaptations in 2005 and 2012.
Quick book synopsis: During the American Civil War, five people escape a POW camp in Virginia by stealing a reconnaissance balloon. They end up crash landing on a tiny island off the coast of New Zealand. Their chances of survival seem bleak, especially with bloodthirsty pirates afoot, but thanks to a mysterious benefactor they create a cozy home for themselves. It turns out that their “host” is none other than Captain Nemo, who has retired the Nautilus and now lives with a single servant on the island. (Note- the chronology of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as it relates to this book is problematic. The American Civil War ended in 1865, but 20,000 Leagues takes place in 1866, which means the war would have been over before the events of The Mysterious Island.)
Now onto the movie. It originally aired on the Hallmark Channel in two, 90-minute parts. This makes it a big commitment for a single evening. In this version, the lead role of the engineer and Union soldier is played by Kyle MacLachlan (Sex in the City, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and in place of two of the soldier-types they substitute a comely widow (Gabrielle Anwar) and her teenage daughter. They also decided that building up the mystery surrounding Nemo (Patrick Stewart) wasn’t worth their time, so giant CG animals are added to the mix. The pirates, lead by Vinnie Jones (Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) also get a more central role in the plot.
Though this is technically not a mockbuster because it did not accompany any big-budget release with a similar name, I would file this under that heading in terms of quality. The graphics were probably pretty good 10 years ago when it came out, but look pretty choppy and fake by today’s standards. I actually dug the addition of the monsterous creatures because it added action to what would be a pretty boring film, but my inner geek has to complain for just a second. I am perfectly fine with suspending my disbelief enough to buy into the explanation that the animals got really big because there was radioactive material on the island, I can live with that. But the uber ant was like 20 times bigger than the XL rat. Proportions people! Ok, I am done now.
So, yeah, if you like giant insects and a plot dripping with pirate-itude, then by all means, check this one out (both parts are embedded below). If you are trying to get your hands on a faithful portrayal of Verne’s vision, maybe try to find the 1961 version instead.
Even if people aren’t a fan of science fiction, chances are they have heard of this book or seen the 1954 Disney movie version. If you read my review of Around the World in 80 Days, you know I am only lukewarm on Jules Verne’s writing style, but I’ve read a few different Steampunk books that use Captain Nemo as a character, so I wanted to go back to the original source to learn a bit more.
It all begins with the mysterious disappearances of various vessels in 1866. Many believe a giant sea creature is behind the attacks, and the narrator, a French marine biologist named Pierre Aronnax, is enlisted to aid in the search while visiting New York. He departs from the United States along with his faithful manservant, Conseil, and together they join a team of explorers including a Canadian harpooner named Ned Land. Shortly after setting out, the intrepid team encounters the creature, only to find it is in fact an incredibly advance submarine captained by one of the most famous figures in all of Steampunk literature, Captain Nemo. The rest of the story details the journey of Aronnax, Conseil and Land as they criss-cross the globe as Nemo’s prisoners.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was incredibly well-researched. I used to work at an aquarium, so I probably was able to get a bit more out of it than the average reader, because the narrator, Aronnax, goes into exhaustive detail about the different marine animals he encounters while traveling the seven seas with Nemo. I would like to read it again some day, but this time I would make sure to find an illustrated version. When the story was originally published as a serial in Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation from 1869-1870 it did not include any illustrations, but since it was compiled as a novel a few years later there have been several illustrated and even a graphic novel version of the tale.
But, this meticulous detail can also be a drag. The Mister and I read this one out loud as we often do with the books I review, and even though I have my science background and he is a Roman historian, we both stumbled over the multitude of Latin names. Though of course it makes sense to use the proper scientific names of species, both for clarity and because the narrator is a marine biologist, it can make the actual reading a bit tedious. We were about halfway through when my brain was just begging for a giant squid to attack. This bit of action comes very late in the book, and gets a lot more attention in movie adaptations than Verne gave it in the text.
Unlike Around the World in 80 Days, where the indefatigable Passepartout can offer a respite from the monotony of travel, there is no comedic relief in 20,000 Leagues. Nemo is an interesting and enigmatic character to be sure, but I think overall it makes for pretty dry reading. The science in this book is sound, so it holds up to time better than Journey to the Center of the Earth, but for me it wasn’t really entertaining enough for the slog through over 300 pages.
Jules Verne died in March of 1905, so to commemorate his many contributions to the science fiction canon that have inspired myriad interpretations within Steampunk, I am devoting all of March to Verne-themed books, movies, artwork and characters.
Here are few things to look forward to this month:
Steampunk Sourcebooks for Around the World in 80 Days and Jules Verne himself
Reviews of two adaptations of The Mysterious Island
Unveiling a brand new 3D paper illustration by yours truly
Book reviews of two classic Verne tales
But there is still space in my editorial calendar for a few more things, so feel free to make suggestions! Have you ever dressed as a character from a Verne novel and you’ve got a photo you want to see on my blog? Do you know some fun facts you think others would enjoy? Let me know : )
I have been “poorly” as they say here in Britain, meaning that I have been under the weather for a few days, so I didn’t make it into the city yesterday as I had planned. But, with all the trains, planes and automobiles lately I have gotten plenty of reading done in anticipation of my upcoming articles for the ezine, so here is a book review to tide you over until I can start posting about London in earnest.
I chose to do an in-depth article on Around the World in 80 Days mostly as an excuse to watch the 1956 movie again that I remembered from my childhood, but of course I needed to start with the text itself. I won’t go into a lengthy synopsis here because I will be doing that for my upcoming Sourcebook, so I’ll skip straight to the review.
I really expected to adore this book and it had all the makings of greatness, but all and all I’d say this one isn’t a must-read for a Steampunk or a Jules Verne fan. The voice of the narration is inconsistent and swings between third-person omniscient and totally opaque, especially when it comes to Detective Fix who is pursuing Fogg through his journey on suspicion of bank robbery. I also felt like the action, the real meat of the adventure, was often treated as a footnote with very little description whereas the reader must sit through several pages of Mormon history and detailed itineraries of exactly where their train is stopping. For instance, Passepartout is taken hostage by the Sioux during the trek across America, but all we know if the daring rescue is that Aouda and Fix paced a lot while waiting.
There are definitely gaps that would be fun for an author to try to fill, and indeed Philip Jose Farmer attempted to do just that in his novel The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, which is the next book I will review.
What is it about our many legged friends that makes them a popular trope in Steampunk?
۞ Monster Cephlapods have been the major focus of several classic works of Science Fiction and Fantasy such as H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the 1830 Tennyson poem The Kraken. There is also a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story called Horror of the Heights that features a flying tentacled monster. In more recent times both the Kraken and Cthulu-like monsters have made appearances in Hollywood blockbusters like Hellboy and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (though you also get a good look at the Kraken after it is death in Pirates of the Caribbean: World’s End).
۞ Their bodies are also reminiscent of complex machines. The long skinny tentacles are like wires or tubes and their movement is powered by water, not unlike steam vehicles. As a bonus their bodies kind of look like they are wearing a helmet and goggles all the time, and if Steampunk had an official symbol I’m pretty sure it would be a pair of goggles (or maybe a gear).
۞ Brian Kesinger, the talented artist behind Otto and Victoria and the book Walking Your Octopus: Your Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephlapod, did an interview for ComicMix.com, and when asked about his choice to draw an octopus as a couture pet he answered:
“I find octopuses extremely fun to draw. It is a real challenge inventing eight different things for them to do in every image. They are nature’s original multi-tasker and they certainly have captured the imagination of a lot of people. Along with the squid and other Cephalopods, octopuses seem to be a sort of theme animal for steampunk so when I set forth trying to render an image of a high class Victorian lady and her boutique pet the choice was obvious. What was not obvious was how popular Otto has become since I first drew him a year ago. He has inspired fan art, tattoos and I’ve even seen girls cosplay Victoria and conventions around the country! And for that I am so grateful and it keeps me drawing octopus.”
Cephlapods are fascinating creatures that are about as far away from human as you can get.
۞ I used to work at an aquarium so I got a chance to spend lots of time observing octopus and my personal favorite cuttlefish. These invertebrates can move in three dimensions, jetting around the water column and feeding on smaller animals.
They are also totally visually stunning. Undulating tentacles aside, many of them can change color and shape at will, which makes them masters of disguise. Want to have your mind blown? Check out the PBS documentary below for more information about cuttlefish camouflage.
I’ve collected just a sampling of the Steampunk art featuring our many-legged friends out there on the interwebs. In most cases you can get the artist’s name by simply hovering over each image and you can open a gallery of larger images by clicking on any thumbnail. If you see something that is mislabeled or you know who is behind one of my unlabeled entries please let me know so I can give the artist the credit s/he deserves.
Click on any thumbnail to open the gallery of larger images.
The enigmatic Captain Nemo made his first appearance in Jules Verne’s science fiction classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870), which takes place in the late 1860s. Little is revealed about the mysterious figure besides his hunger for scientific knowledge and his rejection of imperialism and by extension, most of the world above the ocean. He and his dedicated crew exist “below the law” by rarely stepping foot on dry land and aiding those oppressed by imperialism. In the second novel featuring Nemo, The Mysterious Island (1874), he tells a group of castaways that he is the son of a raja named Prince Dakkar and that he lost his family in the First Indian War for Independence against the British (1857). After the death of his loved ones he goes into hiding and embarks on secret scientific research, culminating in an electric submarine called the Nautilus.
Fun Facts and Context:
۞ Nemo means “Nobody” in Latin
۞”20,000 Leagues under the sea” is often interpreted as the vertical distance down into the depth of the ocean, but it is a slight mistranslation of the french title “Vingt mille lieues sous les mers” where mers (meanings seas, plural) was translated as “sea.” It is meant to indicate the horizontal distance traveled under the water, not the depth of the water. 20,000 leagues is 6 times bigger than the diameter of the planet (each league is 4 kilometers).
۞ In the original manuscript, Nemo was a Polish noble whose family was killed in the January Uprising (1863-1865) by Russian oppressors. Fearing a blow to sales (as well as insulting France’s ally), Verne’s editor asked him to change the character and keep the details shadowy.
۞ Though he is an Indian prince in the final iteration of the novel, Nemo spent most of his formative years in Europe so he speaks with a British accent (he admits to speaking French, Latin and Gerrman as well).
۞ And though he hates the imperialist nature of European nations, the Nautilus is full of treasures from around Europe including an organ which Nemo plays masterfully. There is also a substantial library on board to feed his scientific pursuits.
۞ Nemo has a brief appearance in one more of Verne’s works, a play called Journey Through the Impossible. The play was not published until 1981 after a handwritten copy was discovered in 1978. The first English translation was completed in 2003.
۞ There was a real submarine called the Nautilus, which was designed by an American inventor living in France named Richard Fulton. It was developed in the late 1700s and was powered by a hand crank.
Captain Nemo has appeared in various adaptations of Verne’s novels, but few of these belong in the Steampunk canon. For instance, the 1954 film adaptation is heavily influenced by the style and politics of the era, and some important details are changed (for instance, the Nautilus runs on nuclear power rather than electricity). You can find a full list of Captain Nemo’s appearances here, but for the sake of this post I am focusing on the versions of Nemo that fit firmly into Steampunk.
For instance, Alan Moore’s graphic novels (and the film adaptation) featuring The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In this series, Nemo is much more callous, even bloodthirsty, than the original character. Verne’s Nemo saved whales, Moore’s Nemo mows down people with machine guns (Volume 1).
Captain Nemo also appears in The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, a 1973 novel by Philip Jose Farmer. If you haven’t guessed it, this is a crossover novel that takes place in the world of Around the World in 80 Days but incorporates (or rather co-opts) characters from other novels like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. In Farmer’s account, Captain Nemo is better known in some circles at Professor Moriarty.
Kevin J. Anderson rewrites Captain Nemo’s history (and brings a childhood spent with Jules Verne into the mix) in his novel, Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius (2002).
Check out my gallery below for various versions of this Victorian antihero and other steamy sea captains.