Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2019 Evelyn C. Leeper.


AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/19/2010]

I assume that everyone knows the "gimmick" in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS by Jules Verne (ISBN-13 978-0-670-86793-6) is. If not, you may want to skip this comment. Okay, here goes. The whole trick of how Phileas Fogg wins his wager turns on the fact that he gains a day crossing the International Date Line, but does not realize it until it is almost too late. The problem with this is that it assumes that at no point during the trip after crossing the International Date Line did Fogg ever have occasion to see a newspaper or hear the date (or day of the week). Well, maybe it is possible that with all the rapid changing of trains, which seemed to run daily, it is conceivable that they all might be oblivious to the day, but they were rushing to get to New York, where the "China" was sailing for Liverpool on November 11. And they got there on what they also thought was 11:15PM November 11, only to discover the "China" had sailed forty-five minutes earlier. Except of course, it is really November 10, and there is no way the ship would have sailed a day early!

There are other inconsistencies. For example, asked what time it is, Passepartout says it is twenty-two minutes past eleven. Fogg says, "You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it's enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, October 2nd, ..." There is no way that it can take three minutes to say, No matter; it's enough to mention the error. Now from this moment...."

It is also not clear why, if the "Carnatic" sails on November 14, and "would cross the ocean in twenty-one days," Fogg was "justified in hoping that he would reach San Francisco by the 2nd December." It would seem that the earliest he could expect would be December 5. (In fact, he does make it by December 2, somehow.)

[Many other inconsistencies and errors are footnoted in http://www.ibiblio.org/julesverne/books/awed%20revd%20edn.pdf.]

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/18/2019]

I recently watched the 1989 TV movie AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and then re-read the book AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS by Jules Verne (ISBN 978-0-670-86793-6), translator unknown (so it was probably an early, bad translation). This may explain some of the errors, but not the ones I talk about below; they are also errors in the original French.

For example, Verne refers to San Francisco as "the Californian capital" (Chapter 25), although he also refers to Sacramento as "the seat of the State government" (Chapter 26). He is definitely off-base, though, when he writes, "It was in 1862 that, in spite of the Southern Members of Congress, who wished a more southerly route, it was decided to lay the road between the forty-first and forty-second parallels." In 1862, the Civil War was raging, and there *were* no Southern Members of Congress.

More seriously, Verne has had Fogg emphasize that he must be in New York on the 11th. He then writes, "... at a quarter-past eleven in the evening of the 11th, the train stopped in the station... The 'China', for Liverpool, had started three-quarters of an hour before!" SPOILER AHEAD. Now, since the whole point of the book is that Fogg gained a day when he crossed the International Date Line, when he thinks he has arrived in New York on the 11th, it is actually the 10th, and the "China" should not have sailed. There is no explanation for this.

And while we're at it, the 1956 movie, the 1989 TV movie, and the 2004 movie all have a hot air balloon trip across France. This is not in the book. (This is hardly the biggest divergence from the novel of the 2004 film.)

To order Around the World in Eighty Days from amazon.com, click here.


"Dr. Ox's Experiment" by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/18/2003]

Jules Verne's "Dr. Ox's Experiment", published as a novel with illustrations, is really only a novella, and a fairly predictable one. There's some attempt at social satire and commentary, but Verne is better at the "techie" stuff (in this case, a gas that causes aggression), while Wells was the sociologist.

To order Dr. Ox's Experiment from amazon.com, click here.


FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/12/2011]

In preparation for one of the Worldcon book discussions this year, I read FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON by Jules Verne. The translation I read was the 1874 translation by Louis Mercier and Eleanor E. King (hereafter referred to as Mercier/King), in a book published in 1905 (no ISBN). The other translations I referred to were the Edward Roth, from the same era and reprinted by Dover (ISBN 978-0-486-46964-5), and the Walter James Miller in THE ANNOTATED JULES VERNE: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (ISBN 978-0-517-14833-4). I also compared them to the French original, available on-line. You can take it as a given that any public domain (pre-1922) English translation of Verne is pretty bad. I've commented on this before (in my review of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), but will point out a few examples here. (Why did I read these translations? Because they are the ones we had in the house.)

The result of all the bad translations is that Verne's knowledge of Florida (and the United States in general) often seems as shaky as his knowledge of the moon. Mercier/King has Stones Hill, near Tampa, have an elevation of 1800 feet; the highest elevation anywhere in Florida is 345 feet. The Edward Roth translation is only marginally better than Mercier/King's, with and elevation as "nearly a thousand feet." But Verne got it right: the original French gives Stone's Hill an elevation of only 300 feet. (Well, I thought it was the original French, but Miller also says 1800 feet. Was the on-line version corrected by someone?)

However, both Mercier/King and the original French has the highest elevation of the Appalachians (in New Hampshire) as 5600 feet; it is actually 6288 feet. (Roth re-writes the passage to get it right; Miller claims Verne said 6600 feet.) Both Verne and Mercier/King have that the highest elevation of the Rocky Mountains is 10,700 feet; it is actually 14,433 feet. Verne does not seem to know about the Sierra Nevada at all. And when he places the high point in "the territory of Missouri", he is being anachronistic, since while the Missouri Territory did include Longs Peak, the territory was re-organized and renamed in 1821, well before the time of the story. As it reads, though, it could easily be read as the state of Missouri, which is patently ridiculous. There are no peaks that high in the state of Missouri. (Again, Roth corrects Verne's errors, and places it in the "Territory of Colorado"; Miller annotates it.)

Indeed, Roth takes such liberties with sections of Verne that at times it is scarcely a translation at all. When one reads Mercier/King, one gets an abridged version with sloppy translation and most of Verne's science left out; when one reads Roth, one is reading an American author's paraphrase of Verne containing a lot of elaboration that Verne never wrote. The result is that when I compared one translation to the other, or to the original French, I often got the feeling I was looking at four different books.

One entire chapter Mercier/King leaves out is titled (in Roth's translation) "Which Lady Readers Are Requested to Skip". There is nothing racy here--it is full of scientific information about the moon. But the title scarcely represents Verne's attitude toward women, because his original title is "What It Is Impossible Not to Know and What It Is No Longer Permissible to Believe in the United States" (as Miller accurately translates it).

And another minor translation example: Mercier/King translates "en deux mots" as "in two words" when clearly what is meant is "in two sayings".

Much has been made of the similarities between Verne's moon launch and the Apollo program. Both launch from Florida, both carry three men, both use up-to-the-minute materials, one named the cannon Columbiad and the other the ship Columbia, and so on. But Verne launches from the west coast of Florida, not the east, and uses a "count-up" (to forty) rather than a count-down, providing additional support to the claim that Fritz Lang invented the countdown in FRAU IM MOND.

Verne had an odd idea of how duels were fought in the United States: he seemed to think that the two participants entered a forest with guns and dogs, and hunted each other like wild game. He thought there was a venomous spider as large as a pigeon's egg--and with claws--that was native to Florida. (To be fair, the naturalist William Bartram describes a spider of this size, though I doubt he mentions claws.)

Verne has included humor--though at times one is more likely to call them attempts at humor. There is certainly black humor in his description of the Baltimore Gun Club: "Crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, iron hands, gutta percha jaws, silver skulls, platina noses, false teeth--nothing was wanting to the collection; and W. J. Pitcairn, the statistician already mentioned, calculated that in the Gun Club, on an average, there was only one arm for every four men, and one pair of legs for every six." And he gives us (according to Miller) Tom Hunter, whose "wooden legs, resting on the fender in the smoking room, were slowly charring"; Billsby "trying to stretch the arms he no longer had"; Colonel Bloomsbury, who could not stuff his hands in his pockets, "though it was not pockets he lacked"; and J. T. Marston, "scratching his gutta-percha skull with his iron hook." (This is Miller's translation; Roth gives Bilsby one glass eye and makes Bloomsbury the only armless member named; Mercier/King's is much shorter and omits Bloomsbury altogether. Miller's is the most accurate.)

On the other hand, a lot of Verne's attempts at humor rely on national stereotypes, such as in his descriptions of how much money each nation contributed and why. Again, the two translations disagree on details, but the general idea is certainly Verne's. (Another example of this in Roth's translation, describing the tourists from all over the world who come to the launch, seems to have been entirely invented by Roth; it does not appear in Verne's original at all.)

What was not made clear was whether the book discussion would include ROUND THE MOON (a.k.a. ALL AROUND THE MOON), which is usually included as the second part of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. The Dover book lists both titles, but the Mercier/King volume just calls itself FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON even though it includes ROUND THE MOON. Miller does not include it at all.

And I will note in passing that the 1958 film version of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON is terrible, and as inaccurate as the earlier translations, providing yet another story in place of Verne's. One feels obliged to compare this to H. G. Wells's FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Verne was dismissive of Wells's work, saying, "Where is this cavorite? Let him produce it." But Verne's method of propulsion is no better, for all his attempts to make it scientific. You can fire a shell from a cannon, but not a capsule containing human beings. Well, not and have them survive, anyway. Wells's work certainly has more characterization and less infodump, and frankly has aged better.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/20/2012]

And finally, a correction to my comments on the translations of Jules Verne's FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON in the 08/12/11 issue of the MT VOID:

I had said:

The result of all the bad translations is that Verne's knowledge of Florida (and the United States in general) often seems as shaky as his knowledge of the moon. Mercier/King has Stones Hill, near Tampa, have an elevation of 1800 feet; the highest elevation anywhere in Florida is 345 feet. The Edward Roth translation is only marginally better than Mercier/King's, with and elevation as "nearly a thousand feet." But Verne got it right: the original French gives Stone's Hill an elevation of only 300 feet.

Recently Dorothy Heydt asked me, "Uh, dumb question: did Verne say 'feet' or 'meters'? Because (in absence of other data which I bet you can supply) if he actually said 'feet' (in spite of being a 19th-century Frenchman) and somebody thought he had said '300 metres' and converted it into 'feet', that would actually be 'nearly a thousand feet'."

So I went to look at what Verne actually wrote was: "Cet emplacement est situé à trois cents toises au-dessus du niveau de la mer par 27°7' de latitude et 5°7' de longitude ouest;"

So actually it seems to say 300 fathoms, which would be 1800 feet. So Mercier/King got it right.

How did I get it wrong? Well, GoogleTranslate says "fathoms" if given the single word "troises", but "feet" when given the whole sentence! I must have fed the whole sentence in and (foolishly) assumed the translation was correct!

To order From the Earth to the Moon in the Walter James Miller translation from amazon.com, click here.


NAME=castaways>IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS OR THE CHILDREN OF CAPTAIN GRANT by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/03/2017]

IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS OR THE CHILDREN OF CAPTAIN GRANT (ISBN 978-1-4191-2581-2) is a novel in the same "series" as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, but it is a very loosely connected series. Only one character connects 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and only one character (a different one) connects THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS. This connection means that those who have already read THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND will have some of the surprises in IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS spoiled for them.

I have a few complaints about Kessinger Publishing. First, the translator is uncredited. (This is undoubtedly a public domain translation by this point.) The "formatting" was not checked--every few pages the string "V. IV. Verne" (preceded by two new-lines) appears in the text, often in the middle of a sentence. Also, when someone says that something cost (e.g.) six pounds seven shillings, it appears as "pound 6 7s." Obviously they just substituted the word pound for the actual symbol without worrying about the correct grammar.

The volume is also that new wide, floppy trade paperback format with large print and wide margins. They probably did this to justify the $37.95 price tag, but at that price, I want decent proofreading. (Especially since the book is available from Project Gutenberg.)

Verne made his share of mistakes as well, though. The series as a whole has serious chronological problems: Captain Nemo is at the island for the entire period of THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, which began during the American Civil War and ended several years later with Nemo's death. Yet 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA begins well after the end of the Civil War and Nemo is traveling around, hale and hearty. Nemo does not appear in IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS, but its story starts in early 1864, and in December of that year, the characters are talking about President Johnson and Lincoln's assassination--except that it is still four months before that assassination!

Without Captain Nemo and the Nautilus, there is no science fictional content to IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS, but it firmly in the "exploration of remote lands" genre that was so popular in Verne's time. [-ecl]

To order In Search of the Castaways from amazon.com, click here.


JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/28/2006]

I read Spanish (somewhat), but not French (except minimally). So if the most readily available English translation of Jules Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (the 1872 one that turns "Lidenbrook" into "Hardwigg") is horrendous and completely unfaithful to the original, would I be better off reading a Spanish translation? In other words, how important is a faithful translation?

But luckily, my library had a decent English translation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (translated by Robert Baldick, ISBN 0-7838-0319-2), so I read that instead. Every once in a while I would compare the Baldick version, the 1872 version, and the Spanish version (uncredited, published by Editorial Universo, Lima, Peru), which each time re-enforced my feeling that Baldick is fairly accurate, and the 1872 is completely off.

For example, here are several versions of the section describing Lidenbrook's stammer:

Verne's French: "Mon oncle, malheureusement, ne jouissait pas d'une extrême facilité de prononciation, sinon dans l'intimité, au moins quand il parlait en public, et c'est un défaut regrettable chez un orateur. En effet, dans ses démonstrations au Johannaeum, souvent le professeur s'arrêtait court; il luttait contre un mot récalcitrant qui ne voulait pas glisser entre ses lèvres, un de ces mots qui résistent, se gonflent et finissent par sortir sous la forme peu scientifique d'un juron. De là, grande colère. Il y a en minéralogie bien des dénominations semi-grecques, semi-latines, difficiles à prononcer, de ces rudes appellations qui écorcheraient les lèvres d'un poète. Je ne veux pas dire du mal de cette science. Loin de moi. Mais lorsqu'on se trouve en présence des cristallisations rhomboédriques, des résines rétinasphaltes, des ghélénites, des tangasites, des molybdates de plomb, des tungstates de manganèse et des titaniates de zircone, il est permis à la langue la plus adroite de fourcher. Or, dans la ville, on connaissait cette pardonnable infirmité de mon oncle, et on, en abusait, et on l'attendait aux passages dangereux, et il se mettait en fureur, et l'on riait, ce qui n'est pas de bon goût, même pour des Allemands. S'il y avait donc toujours grande affluence d'auditeurs aux cours de Lidenbrock, combien les suivaient assidûment qui venaient surtout pour se dérider aux belles colères du professeur!"

Baldick: "Unfortunately for him, my uncle had difficulty in speaking fluently, not so much at home as in public, and this is a regrettable defect in an orator. Indeed, in his lectures at the Johannaeum the professor would often stop short, struggling with a recalcitrant word which refused to slip between his lips, one of those words which resist, swell up, and finally come out n the rather unscientific form of a swear-word. This was what always sent him into a rage. / Now in mineralogy there are a great many barbarous terms, half Greek and half Latin, which are difficult to pronounce and which would take the skin off any poet's lips. I don't want to say a word against that science--far from it--but when ones finds oneself in the presence of rhomohedral crystals, retinasphaltic resins, gehlenites, fangasites, molybdenites, tungstates of manganese, and titanite of zirconium, the nimblest tongue may be forgiven for slipping."

Ward, Lock, & Co. 1877: "To his misfortune, my uncle was not gifted with a sufficiently rapid utterance; not, to be sure, when he was talking at home, but certainly in his public delivery; this is a want much to be deplored in a speaker. The fact is, that during the course of his lectures at the Johannæum, the Professor often came to a complete standstill; he fought with wilful words that refused to pass his struggling lips, such words as resist and distend the cheeks, and at last break out into the unasked-for shape of a round and most unscientific oath: then his fury would gradually abate. / Now in mineralogy there are many half-Greek and half-Latin terms, very hard to articulate, and which would be most trying to a poet's measures. I don't wish to say a word against so respectable a science, far be that from me. True, in the august presence of rhombohedral crystals, retinasphaltic resins, gehlenites, Fassaites, molybdenites, tungstates of manganese, and titanite of zirconium, why, the most facile of tongues may make a slip now and then."

1872: "There was a reason, and it may be regarded as a good one, why my uncle objected to display his learning more than was absolutely necessary: he stammered; and when intent upon explaining the phenomena of the heavens, was apt to find himself at fault, and allude in such a vague way to sun, moon, and stars that few were able to comprehend his meaning. To tell the honest truth, when the right word would not come, it was generally replaced by a very powerful adjective. / In connection with the sciences there are many almost unpronounceable names- names very much resembling those of Welsh villages; and my uncle being very fond of using them, his habit of stammering was not thereby improved. In fact, there were periods in his discourse when he would finally give up and swallow his discomfiture--in a glass of water."

Spanish: "Mi tio no gozaba por desgracia, de una gran facilidad de palabra, por los menos cuando se expresaba en publico, lo cual, para un orador, constituye un defecto lamentable. Efectivamente, durante sus clases se detenia en lo mejor, luchando con una recalcitrante palabra que no queria salir de sus labios; con una de esas palabras que se resisten, se hinchan y acaban por ser expedidas bajo la forma de un taco[*], siendo este el origen de su colera. / Hay en minerologia muchas denominaciones semigriegas, semilatinas muy dificiles de pronunciar; nombres rudos que desollarian los labios de un poeta. No quiero hablar mal de este ciencia, esta lejos de mi semejante profanacion. Pero cuando se trata de la cristalizaciones romboedricas, de las resinas retinasfalticas, de los tungstatos de magnesio y los titaniatos de circonio, bien se puede perdonar a la lengua mas expedita que tropiece y se haga un lio."

[*] No, not the food--"taco" here means "oath or swearword".

It is, by the way, not true that in Iceland in June and July the sun does not rise or set (Chapter 13 [Chapter 10 in the 1872 translation]). It sets about 1AM and rises about 4AM. I suspect what is meant is that it never gets dark. And leprosy is not hereditary. (These are both incorrect in the original Verne, so one cannot blame the translators.)

[Apropos of all this, Reuters reports: "Brendan Fraser has boarded "Journey to the Center of the Earth," a contemporary, 3-D update of the Jules Verne classic. The story revolves around a scientist who is stuck with his nephew as they embark on a trip to Iceland to check on a volcanic sensor. During a storm, they get trapped in a cave and the only way out is through the center of Earth." This sounds even less faithful than the 1972 translation.]

To order Journey to the Center of the Earth from amazon.com, click here.


THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/08/2003]

Mark recently gave me the new translation of Jules Verne's THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND. Now, this was one of my favorite books when I was young--at age thirteen I read my family's Scribner's edition over and over until it fell apart. But would I still like it, years later, in a different translation, with all the cuts restored?

[Spoilers follow. Page numbers are from the Wesleyan University Press edition.]

Yes, it turns out, I would. I enjoyed even though as an adult I could see that it was not a very realistic novel. The island seems to be populated with a much bigger variety of animals than one would expect for an island that small and isolated. How did they (or rather, their ancestors) all get there? And how would they have a large enough breeding population (particularly the larger predators who would need more territory per animal)? It has all the necessary minerals, as well as an assortment of useful plants. All on a island described as the size of Malta (122 square miles, though Smith's perimeter of a hundred miles would seem to contradict this.)

And all the characters would make Heinlein proud--they know everything and can do everything. Smith knows what the longitude of Washington, D.C. is, and very conveniently Spillett's watch never stopped running, nor did he forget to wind it.

I also had forgotten just how much "infodump" was present in this novel. Had I retained it all, I would make a capital botanist, zoologist, or metallurgist today! (Although the repeated use of the word "amphibian" to describe seals, and other similar errors, must be considered errors.)

And of course, as an adult I also see a lot of "goofs" that I don't remember noticing or being aware of then. The best-known one, of course, is that Nemo manages to predecease himself by dying in 1869 here and showing up quite alive years later in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Actually, even in this one book the dates are clearly off: On page 592, Nemo talks about having picked up the castaways (in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) in November 1866 and their escaping on June 22, 1867. Nemo then "lived for many years" cruising beneath the sea, eventually coming to Lincoln Island and living there for six years before the castaways in THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND show up--in 1865! And though I'm unfamiliar with CAPTAIN GRANT'S CHILDREN, that also ties in with this story and the dates don't match up either.

(Note: Verne has the arrival and departure dates of the castaways be the same, March 24. Verne died thirty years after writing THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND--on March 24, 1905. Add that coincidence to Shakespeare's birth and death, and the death of Cervantes, all on April 23, and the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4, 1826.)

But even internally there are problems. On pages 4 and 5, the castaways slash the ropes to cut the basket away from the balloon. But they had previously thrown everything out to lighten the load, "even the most useful objects," and later "the last objects that still weighed them down, several provisions they had kept, everything, even the knick-knacks in their pockets." And later they have no knife until they break Top's collar. So what did they cut the ropes with? (And how did Smith snap a tempered steel collar into two pieces?)

On pages 9-11, we find out that Cyrus Smith from Massachusetts got Neb as a slave in his estate, but emancipated him. This is not just unlikely, but impossible, since Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, thirty-seven years before Smith was born. Clearly Verne, as a Frenchman, didn't bother to find out what the various laws in the United States were.

And even the editor notes that Union prisoners of war in Richmond were not given the freedom of the city (page 12).

By page 121, they have pottery wheels, with no clue as to how they managed that. (Which is doubly interesting when you consider that quite a while later, on page 298, there is mention that they built a potter's wheel!)

Still, this is being picky. I would recommend this edition, not only because it is complete, but also because it includes all the original illustrations. And it's shorter than the latest "Harry Potter".

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/10/2012]

THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne (ISBN 978-0-451-52941-1) is full of problems, even before you look at the bad translations. As everyone has noted, for example, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1869) and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1874) both have Captain Nemo, but THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND takes place during the American Civil War, and Nemo dies at the end, while 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1869) takes place many years later but Nemo is definitely alive.

But there is also a meteorological problem. During a storm, the castaways take off in a balloon from Richmond, Virginia. They are unable to steer the balloon, so the wind carries them. When they finally land, they are at 36 degrees south, 150 degrees west. Just what winds are there that would carry them to that spot? The prevailing winds over most of the United States are from the west, and along the Atlantic coast storms tend to travel up the coast in a northeasterly direction. They seem more likely to have made landfall in Iceland or Ireland rather than the South Seas. An American author is unlikely to have made such an error, but Verne probably was not familiar with North American wind patterns.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/01/2017]

After seeing some of the paintings of N. C. Wyeth at the Brandywine River Art Museum, I decided to re-read my childhood favorite, THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne (no ISBN for the Scribner's edition) in the Scribner's edition. I still love the book, but as an adult I see a lot more flaws than I did as a child.

For example, there was no storm as is described in the first chapters of the book. Indeed, to have a storm blowing so strongly northeast to southwest for several days from east of Virginia to the Pacific Ocean is probably meteorologically impossible. (Andy Weir maintains the tradition of starting a book with an impossible storm in THE MARTIAN.)

Cyrus Harding comes from Massachusetts, and Neb is described as a slave from his estate that Harding freed. Since no slaves appeared on any census in Massachusetts after 1790, this would make Neb at least 65 years old. All I can say is that he is mighty spry for a man that age.

The escapees throw away all their personal effects, even their pocket knives, in an effort to keep the balloon aloft. After they do this, and the balloon continues to fall, they climb into the rigging and cut the basket loose. With what?

Similarly, later they clean a capybara before roasting it. I am not sure what is involved in cleaning an animal to cook it, but I suspect knives or other cutting tools are required.

While they are throwing out all their possessions, even matches and pocket knives, *two* of the castaways (conveniently) keep their pocket watches.

A big deal is made of the necessity for tinder, and how its loss is a disaster, yet in Chapter XIV, Pencroft "struck a light and set fire to a twig," apparently without any tinder. (Okay, maybe Verne just did not mention it.

In Book I, Chapter XII, Neb and Pencroft "naturally" become the cooks, "to the one in his quality of negro, to the other in that of sailor." The implication is that it is Pencroft's training, but Neb's innate genetic make-up, that determines this.

In this old (bad) English translation of Book II, Chapter II, Neb dances like a "n*****". In French, the word is "negre"--the same neutral word used everywhere else in the book.

Jup is way too human-like. I agree that orangutans are very intelligent, but they are intelligent in their own way. The idea that the castaways could dress them up and have them wait at table is not believable. Then again, knowledge of orangutan abilities was fairly minimal in Verne's time, and their close similarity to humans probably led many to assume they were as trainable as other "savages."

How did they get back into Granite House after they all went to search the island for the escaped pirates? When they all left they let themselves down by a double rope and then pulled the rope down by pulling on one end. When they returned, they "re-entered Granite House, and with the help of a double rope, shot with an arrow through the window frame, they re-established communication between their domain and that of the sun." You can't just shoot an arrow into a window and then climb it. Even if it was shot *into" a wooden window frame, it would not be strong enough to support the weight of a person climbing it. (There is no indication that they had a grappling hook, and even if they did, they could not shoot it high enough or far enough.)

To order The Mysterious Island from amazon.com, click here.


PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Jules Verne (translated by Richard Howard) (Random House, ISBN 0-679-44434-3, 1996, 222pp, hardback):

This is not Verne's best book. But it has a certain charm that is lacking from Verne's other works, a certain sparseness of prose that gives the appearance of an intentional style. Of course, it may be just the translator's doing, or it may be unintentional awkwardness, but for me, at least, it worked.

The story takes place in 1960. Much has been made of the predictions Verne made, many fairly accurate, others amusingly off. I suppose one could consider this a sort of alternate history of the steampunk ilk, but that is technically inaccurate. It's more like all those stories from the pulp era that wrote about the marvels of the 1960s which somehow never came to pass, and it's only the fact that it's newly published that gives one pause. is seeing more literature inspired by, or responding to, science, but Victor Hugo and Balzac are still being read. However, I haven't heard of either Musset and Lamartine, whom Verne equates with them. But it has always been true that no one in a given time can predict which authors of the time will last and which will fade. (I note that both Musset and Lamartine are in print, in reasonably priced editions, and Musset is also available at my library.) And Verne certainly didn't predict that Hugo's greatest work would become a Broadway musical (an opera, technically), and another one would become an animated children's film.

As I said, this is not a great novel, but it will be on my Hugo nomination ballot. I will admit that a part of that is that the idea of seeing Jules Verne win a Hugo (or even just be nominated for one) has a certain appeal that is hard to resist. And somehow this year I haven't read a whole lot of novels which are really that much better.

To order Paris in the Twentieth Century from amazon.com, click here.


THE SECRET OF WILHELM STORITZ by Jules Verne (translated by Peter Schulman):

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/06/2011]

I took a break from my reading for the Sidewise Award (and before starting on the Hugo Award nominees) to read a new Jules Verne novel. No, not PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY--that is now an old Jules Verne novel. The new one is THE SECRET OF WILHELM STORITZ (translated by Peter Schulman) (ISBN 978-0-8032-3484-0). I know what you're thinking: wasn't that published in 1963 in the I. O. Evans translation? Well, sort of. First of all, the French text Evans used was one edited--one might almost say re-written--by Verne's son, Michel Verne. The introduction to this edition provides details, but the major changes include changing Jules Verne's original setting of the late nineteenth century to the eighteenth century, and changing the ending. This in turn entailed changing any anachronistic references, so out went the steamship, the railway, the references to Napoleon, and so on. And the introduction implies that Evans's translation may also not have been the best, though it seems to tread lightly here.

Now, early translations of Verne have been notoriously bad. Possibly the worst example is the line from 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA: "And, provided with a lentil, he lighted a fire of dead wood that crackled joyously." "Lentil" in French, means "lens"; the legume takes its name from its similarity of shape, but no one tries to light a fire with a legume. More recent translations have usually avoided such gaffes, so I was distressed to read in this translation of THE SECRET OF WILHELM STORITZ, "Most of the dishes were spiced with paprika, as they are throughout Hungary ... the Hungarian pallet is particularly fond of that spice!" (In case your proofreading skills have become rusty, that should be "the Hungarian palate".)

Verne is often considered prescient in scientific matters, but he seems to have predicted the start of World War I, when he wrote well before 1914, "The Serb is born a soldier, lives the life of a soldier, dies a soldier. Isn't it to Belgrade, its capital, that all the aspirations of the Slavic race turn? And if, one day, this race rises against the Germanic one, if revolution erupts, the flag of freedom will surely be carried by a Serbian hand!" The only thing he didn't forecast was Gavrilo Princip's name.

And regarding invisibility, Verne was fairly cavalier about it, since not only did the potion make the person invisible, and also their clothing, but apparently also whatever clothing they put on. (One wonders if the clothing they took off became visible.) But over time, all the molecules in our bodies are replaced. (I seem to remember that they all change every seven years.) So if an invisible person waits seven years, will all the invisible molecules be replaced with visible ones? And will the person be a ghostly image after three and a half years? I find it ironic that Verne complained about H. G. Wells's scientific laxity, yet Wells seemed more concerned about accuracy than Verne in his portrayal of invisibility.

In any case, I will say in passing that I would consider this 2011 translation to be sufficiently different from the earlier translations to be eligible for nomination for the Hugo Award. How to compare it to works first written this year is another matter entirely. I do confess that the idea of having Jules Verne get a Hugo nomination is appealing.

To order The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz from amazon.com, click here.


TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/01/2006]

TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Jules Verne (ISBN 0-870-21678-3) has a reputation as a children's adventure book. This is mostly because a lot of the characterization and detail that Verne put in was removed by Mercier Lewis, the translator whose English translation has been the most widespread (in the United States at least). For this occasion I re-read the book in Walter James Miller's annotated version (for which the ISBN is given), and Miller includes his translations of the parts that Lewis had omitted, as well as noting the many places where Lewis mis-translated Verne. If Lewis was not writing that the density of steel was "from .7 to .8 that of water" where Verne had said that it was "7.8 that of water," then he was having Nemo talk about "jumping over" an island where Verne says "blowing up" (the same word in French, but Lewis completely misses the meaning). In fact, Lewis consistently gets the numbers and calculations wrong. He frequently confuses the French "six" (6) with "dix" (10), and substitutes English measures for metric. The latter would be almost close if he substituted "yards" for "metres," but he sometimes substitutes "feet" instead! When you read this book, use either Miller's annotated version or a newer translation. (If the fourth paragraph mentions Cuvier and other naturalists, it is undoubtedly a newer translation.) Verne has both a lot more technical detail and a lot more politics and philosophy than Lewis included.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/18/2009]

The Middletown science fiction group recently discussed the book and 1954 movie TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. I've commented on it before (in the 09/01/06 issue of the MT VOID), but will add that every time I see the breathing apparatus I think about how the basic item the prop people used was a rural mailbox. I also noticed what a poor design the brig was--all the door latches were within reach of the door's window. (Apparently they were not expecting prisoners to break the window, reach through, and unlock the door from the outside.) And the underwater tunnel had no currents (unlike that in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, and probably in just about any real-life oceanic underwater tunnel).

The Nautilus also made me think of some of the iconic film designs:

Can anyone come up with more?

To order Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea from amazon.com, click here.


Go to Evelyn Leeper's home page.