Medieval Otaku’s #8: Jules Verne

Dear readers, rather than declaim the superiority of Jules Verne over Tolkien, I must rather deplore the fact that Tolkien is not higher on my friend’s list.  Please feel free to refer to it for the following remarks.  Of those authors in the next three places higher, I have placed H. G. Wells in a personal Index Librorum Prohibitorum–likely due to the influence of author placed on the top of Thomp’s list, G. K. Chesterton.  (I should write a book in the future: All I Needed to Know about H. G. Wells and Bernard Shaw I Learned from Chesterton.)  Concerning Clarke and Grahame, I heartily acknowledge their contributions to the Great Conversation, but I am unsure whether they understood it as well as Tolkien.  Tolkien’s incredible depth of knowledge concerning the Middle Ages, philology, Catholic theology, and immense repertoire of foreign and classical languages made him a very unique vehicle for carrying the moral imagination of prior ages into the modern age.  From C. S. Lewis and above, Tolkien receives a stiff challenge, and it would require a post of at least 1,000 words to discuss–but what a fun discussion that would be!

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But now onto Jules Verne.  This post is supposed to be about him after all!  Certain achievements immediately justify his choice for my list: 1) he’s the Father of Science Fiction; 2) his works have been translated into more languages than Shakespeare and is second only to Agatha Christie in this regard; and 3) His vibrant Catholic faith, in the manner of all the French Romantics, shines through his novels.  This faith seems to shine most brightly as the situations into which his characters fall become more dire, and they are always sure to give thanks to an ever watchful Providence.

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His works also interest me by their lack of prejudice, interesting and swashbuckling characters, and the endless facility of invention displayed by the heroes.  Verne’s characters cover the globe and he delights in people of every culture: Phileas Fogg of Around the World in Eighty Days is British, Germans and one Icelander are the main characters of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Captain Nemo is an Indian, and the heroes of The Mysterious Island Americans.  Despite his perspicacious grasp of other cultures, his French mind does often lend Gallic airs to his characters–particularly in the case of the Americans in The Mysterious Island.  But, Verne had a special place in his heart for America, which may have been due to a perceived similarity between the two cultures as much as an admiration of our audacity and inventiveness.

David Niven as Phileas Fogg

Yet, the character type for which Verne deserves greatest praise is his portrayal of the scientist.  Unlike the modern portrayal of scientists as atheists and brainy intellectuals, Verne’s scientists tend to be men of courage and faith.  I have yet to discover an atheistic scientist in a Verne novel, whether it be Dr. Clawbonny of The Adventures of Captain  Hatteras, Professor Lidenbrock of Journey to the Center of the Earth, or the engineering officer of The Mysterious Island.  The idea behind this is that the whole universe is of God’s making, which therefore reveals God Himself.  So, the more one understands the world God created, the more one can also both understand the Creator and know that Divine Intelligence made the world.  These same persons are also the ones who refuse to throw in the towel during the most trying circumstances and constantly seek for ways out of their difficulties.  Would that all scientists displayed that marriage of fides et scientia!

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All Verne’s novels display high adventure, except perhaps Five Weeks in a Balloon.  My friend told me this was boring, and I confess that I was unable to finish it, though I want to go back to it.  Therefore, my recommendation to people new to Verne is Around the World in Eighty Days.  The work is short and exciting.  Its only drawback may be that the adventure leaves little space for science, which makes it diverge sharply from Verne’s other works.  Those of you well immersed in Verne may give The Adventures of Captain Hatteras a try.  Every fan of Verne whom I’ve met says that they have never heard of this novel, which is a shame.  The work keeps the reader turning pages, and it displays remarkable knowledge of polar expeditions and the unique phenomena of the Arctic.

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