Friday, February 8, 2013

Happy birthday, Jules Verne

Public domain photo of Jules Verne from Wikimedia Commons
     Just a quick post to tell everyone that this is the anniversary of Jules Verne’s birth.

     Verne, a French author of early science fiction and other “voyages extraordinaires,” as his publisher called them, is (of course) the patron saint of most steampunks. Early works of steampunk inspiration include the Disney film version of his Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. (The film of  Verne’s Master of the World was more a cheap ripoff of that film, featuring Vincent Price as a Nemo-ized Robur the Conqueror -- one of the few Verne protagonists to have more than one book about his adventures -- than a true adaptation of the book, though its flying machine did have a steampunk feel.)
     In France, Verne's books were for grownups, but in the U.S. they were treated as kid lit, and thus treated contemptuously. Verne tried to make his works scientifically plausible, and sneered at H.G. Wells' fanciful creations such as The Time Machine and The Invisible Man (although he did later write his own invisible man story, The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz, recently released with a new, more accurate translation).
     Not that Verne was always a great writer. An attempted sequel to Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Le Sphinx des Glaces, sucked all the mystery and majesty out of the story, discarding anything that didn't fit his rationalist leanings, and changing the plot facts  to suit. Really, it would be like a sequel to Dracula where it's revealed that he wasn't really a vampire (Verne did do a similar novel, Castle of the Carpathians, where the seeming supernatural events were rationally explained) or to Frankenstein where we discover he didn't really give life to a creation (which Fred Saberhagen actually did in The Frankenstein Papers).
     Verne became a hero in his own right in the TV series Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, which started out interestingly with Phileas Fogg and Passepartout (from Around the World in 80 Days) as secret agents fighting a secret cabal armed with inventions plucked from Vernes imagination. Verne is first suspected of complicity, then enlisted as an ally in the fight. Unfortunately, after only an episode or two, they were facing vampires and the whole concept went out the window.


     Among my latest book acquisitions is a compendium of new, accurate and respectful translations of Vernes best known works, Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics. It's the size of a phone book, and I intend to reacquaint myself soon with old friends such as From the Earth to the Moon and its sequel, as well as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. I hope the new translations will make them as fascinating to the adult me as the earlier translations were to the youthful me.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home