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
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
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 comic books.
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
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
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. ©Alien Voices, Inc.