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An ode to Jules Verne

books Updated: Feb 08, 2012 06:06 IST

Hindustan Times
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For most of us, our initiation into the genre of science fiction is through the works of Jules Verne. It has been 184 years since he was born in Nantes in France (today is his birthday) but the products of his prophetic scientific imagination are as popular as ever, available in abridged versions and translated from the original French into innumerable languages.

Verne wrote around 54 novels as part of the Voyages Extraordinaires, though the ones that attract the most attention are Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), Twenty thousand leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). It is important to remember that the contraptions and scientific processes that Verne describes had still not been invented by his contemporary scientists. So in making Nemo the captain of an electric submarine in Around the World or describing a weapon that can deliver electric jolts (much like the modern Taser), describing a light-propelled spacecraft in From the Earth to the Moon or the phonotelephote (somewhat like videoconferencing) in the essay ‘In the year 2889’, he was thinking much ahead of his time, only to be proved right as the ages passed. Later, scientists noted that his scientific details were never fantastic but rooted in reality.

Because of their dramatic potential, many of his works have been adapted to movies. A rough summary of his major works will explain the interest they keep managing to evoke:

Five Weeks in a Balloon: is about an exploration of Africa, undertaken by explorer Dr Samuel Fergusson and his manservant Joe in a hot-air balloon filled with hydrogen, traversing the distance from Zanzibar in the east to modern-day Senegal in the west.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth: in which Professor Von Hardwigg and his nephew travel down a volcano to the centre of the earth, meeting prehistoric creatures on the way, only to surface in Italy.

Twenty thousand leagues Under the Sea: Professor Pierre Aronnax, a noted French marine biologist and narrator of the story, is asked to join an expedition to track down a mysterious sea monster.

Paris in the Twentieth Century: Based in Paris in 1960, this novel has attracted attention of late, mainly because of the protagonist’s predicament of being caught in a society where business and technology is valued but literature and the classics are given a short shrift.

No wonder Verne is often referred to as 'an author before his time'.