Special Epilogue for
"Journey to the Center of the Earth"
If Jules Verne did not invent science fiction literature, he paved the way for those who did. This is John de Lancie for Alien Voices -- with more about Verne and his extraordinary legacy.
The scientific inventions that the public first encountered, not in real life, but in the pages of Jules Verne's books, helped inspire the age of technology in the twentieth century. Fantasy literature, too, benefitted from Verne's foresight, especially
that of H. G. Wells, who became popular in the 1890s at a time when Verne was nearing the end of his career. There were marked differences in their styles; as Verne pointed out: "Wells looked centuries ahead, and out of pure imagination embodied the
unknowable that some day might perchance appear, while I base my inventions on a groundwork of actual fact."
Actual fact -- going to the center of the earth? Sailing 20,000 leagues under the sea? Surviving on a mysterious island? Verne might have been right in theory, but when it came to science, the state-of-the-art had a long way to go in the mid-1800s when
Verne was writing. Verne bridged the distance between fact and fiction -- with imagination.
Jules Verne was born in Nantes, the chief city of Brittany, in France, on February 8, 1828. His father was a comfortable attorney, and Jules's early training was in preparation of following his father into the practice of law.
When not studying, Jules and his brother, Paul, would take turns navigating the family's battered old boat up the River Loire from the southern coast of Brittany.
By the end of his teen years, in the late 1840s, Verne dutifully went to
Paris, fully intending to complete his legal studies. But as he became drawn to the free, Bohemian life in that romantic city, he drifted from the precision of the law toward the
freedom of -- fantasy. To nourish his body, he took a job clerking; to feed his soul, he spent his spare time writing.
A chance meeting with the son of famed novelist Alexandre Dumas developed into a solid friendship. Through the junior Dumas -- who would soon write "Camille" -- Verne met the father, author of "The Three Musketeers." The senior Dumas guided Verne, giving
him confidence to pursue writing as a profession. He also and suggested a writing partnership with his son. The result was a one-act comedy called "Broken Straws" which was presented at Gymnase in 1850 -- to moderate acclaim. He also composed comic
librettos and short stories -- none of which attracted fame, but all of which paid him enough money to survive. Barely.
Of greater interest was a short story Verne composed, in 1851, for a general circulation magazine called Musée des Famililes. The story was titled "A Drama in the Air" and it followed the adventures of a hapless balloon pilot who meets a mysterious
stranger -- thousands of feet above the ground.
Though barely 20 pages long, it set forth the dual themes of science and adventure that would appear throughout the rest of Verne's writing. Its success was only moderate, however, and Verne was wise enough not to give up his day job.
In 1857, according to legend, Verne travelled to Amiens, in the North of France, to attend a friend's wedding. The 80 mile trek was fraught with delay, and by the time he arrived, the services were long over. There was, however, someone who had stayed
behind to wait for him -- a young window named Mme. de Vianne. As the two hurried to rejoin the wedding party, they became better acquainted, then smitten, and before the year was out, they were married and living in Paris.
It was there, in 1860, that Verne met a publisher named Hetzel. Actually, Hetzel was more than a publisher; he was a patron and visionary who had previously circulated the works of Victor Hugo and Georges Sand. No doubt because of Hugo's political
writings, Hetzel had been in exile in Brussels, but when he returned to Paris he engaged Verne to write for him. In 1863, he issued Verne's first full-length novel, "Five Weeks in a Balloon," which greatly expanded the notion of lighter-than-air travel that made
"A Drama in the Air" such a hit. "Five Weeks in a Balloon" was an immediate success and -- as happens only in stories -- one day Verne literally "woke up famous." "Five Weeks in a Balloon" codified Verne's appeal of combining exploration and heroism, and
intermingling science and adventure.
Its profits inspired Hetzel to begin The Magazine of Education and Recreation, whose chief existence -- and income -- derived from Verne's copious writing. Author and publisher soon signed a 20-year contract under which Verne was to produce two works a
year for Hetzel, and thus achieve financial independence.
He was able to do so handsomely by 1870, at which time he and his wife retired to a grand house on the main boulevard of Amiens where he continued to live and write for the next 35 years.
Contrary to a persistent legend that he never ventured away from Amiens, Verne did, in fact, travel. He twice went to England, once to Scandinavia, and even sailed to America -- which was just recovering from the war between the states. He was so taken by
what he perceived as a national spirit of cooperation and resourcefulness that, when he returned to France, he wrote "Mysterious Island" -- about five castaways who construct a civilization out of a wilderness.
Recapturing his boyhood love of water, Verne also sailed along the French coast, first in a small boat, and later (when the money started flowing) in his steam-powered yacht, the "Saint Michel," which he took to Southern Europe, Mediterranean Africa and
Malta. But mostly he wrote books: Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864; From the Earth to the Moon in 1865; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1869; Around the World in Eighty Days in 1872; The Mysterious Island in 1874 and a dozen others.
Were they literature? Prophesy? Or pulp? It depends who you ask.
Scholars categorize Verne as a writer of "boy fiction" -- a brand of escapism where adventure supersedes philosophy, and telling the story is more important than contemplating it. This places Jules Verne firmly among the pulp writers of dime novels and
On the other hand, Verne read widely and had a keen, even obsessive interest in science and technology. More importantly, he possessed the insight to foresee the future application of new discoveries. For example, undersea vessels had been attempted
unsuccessfully when Verne wrote "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" in 1869. But for him to suggest not only building one, but powering it with electricity, took it into the realm of prescience. He was a fearless proponent of lighter-than-air travel, as
well as moving sidewalks, the telephone, stimulation by oxygen and a self-powered travelling device that would later dominate cities as "the automobile."
At the same time, Verne was mired in Victorian sensibilities. Women play minor or non-existent roles in his stories. There is an over-riding sense that science will solve all problems as long as it is held in the right hands. And the destiny of nations is
seen as a positive world force, although the malfeasance of individual men is still a possibility. Above all, Verne is optimistic; perhaps that is why people constantly return to his writing -- for reassurance, and entertainment.
When Alien Voices decided to dramatize Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," we found ourselves confronted with an ironic predicament. Just as science and discovery have changed in the 130 years since Verne began writing about them, so has
fiction writing matured. Where Verne's readers could be entranced by the mere description of fantastic worlds, today's audiences -- raised on movies and modern science fiction -- demand more action, more conflict and more philosophical themes. How to keep
one without losing the other? We hope we've served both.
Journey to the Center of the Earth was a marvel of imagination when it was written in 1864. Verne's vision sparked the interest of contemporary scientists, inspiring them as forcefully as it compelled the public to embrace his work. Readers encountering
the book today, however, may be surprised to discover that it has little in common with the now-classic 1959 motion picture that many people fondly remember. That film starred James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl and was a stirring adventure complete
with rousing music, lizards made up to look like dinosaurs, and a tongue planted comfortably in its cheek. In Verne's original, however, there is no subplot about a conniving competitor to Otto Lidenbrock -- who, for the movie, was changed from German to
Scottish and renamed "Lindenbrook." There is no kidnapping by horse-drawn carriage; the man who inspires the expedition, Arne Saknussem, doesn't have an evil descendant; nobody finds Atlantis; there is no woman along on the trip; and, most shocking of all,
there is no duck named "Gertrud."
What the story does have -- and which Alien Voices preserves and presents in a bold new audio style -- are sea monsters, vast geological phenomena, ocean voyages, a visceral sense of fear and isolation, and a loyalty to the original writing.
Surprisingly, that's more than Jules Verne himself enjoyed in his lifetime. Despite his immense popularity with the public, he was never accorded membership in the celebrated French Academy -- even though that same academy frequently admired his
individual books. Was it personal politics? Snobbery? Or the disdain that so many people in the science fiction field have grown to expect?
Was Verne bitter? We don't know. All we do know is that he continued to write, from his tower study in the boulevard at Amiens, until his death, in 1905, at the age of 77. He had lived into the twentieth century, a century whose vision he had inspired --
and had spent his extraordinary life predicting.
This is John de Lancie for Alien Voices. Thank you for listening.
By Nat Segaloff. ©1997 Alien Voices, Inc.