French author Jules Verne is often (some would say wrongly) classified as a pulp science Fiction, fantasy or even children’s writer. The Hollywood Adaptations and abridged versions of his stories have perpetuated this view of him as a popular, commercial author, rather than a great literary figure. However, his novels predate both
of the former genre terms and his books in non-english speaking countries are actually regarded as sophisticated literary fiction. They are more properly ‘adventure stories’ and when they were written, were actually noted for their scrupulous research and adherence to scientific beliefs of the time.
Those who classify Verne as an early Sci-fi or Fantasy writer have strong evidence for doing so (and in fact, he is hailed as an inspiration for those who established both of these genres). Several of the stories in the bulk of his work, known as ‘Voyages extraordinaires’, do seem fantastical or to predict scientific advancements. In 20 thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the protagonists visit the legendary city of Atlantis in an electrical submarine. In Journey to the Centre of the Earth, explorers find a verdant green land (inhabited by Dinosaurs) somewhere beneath the earth’s crust. In ‘Off on a Comet’, the titular space rock carries off 37 humans with it into space where they experience many new phenomena and undertake scientific experiments (though do not die due to lack of oxygen). At the same time, many do not subscribe to this pattern: some, like ‘The Adventures of Captain Hatteras’, ‘Two Years Vacation’ and ‘The Mighty Orinoco’, are adventures that take place in exotic but very real
locales, based on cultural and geographical knowledge of the time.
Verne’s reason for writing the novels that make up ‘The Voyage’ was to capture, in literary form, his life-long study and exploration of the world we live in. He intended the novels to contain truths and possibility, rather than mere fancy. He reportedly saw writing as a way for him to explore those inaccessible corners of the earth with his mind, using biology, geography, geology, astronomy, anthropology and physics to supply the detail and suggest the means. In a way, his prolific quest to portray every aspect of the world as we knew it then
was rather like his most famous hero Phileas Fogg’s own undertaking. Rather than ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, Verne instead sought to tell us all about the world in 56 books.
Unfortunately the tendency to dismiss Vern’s work due to it’s imaginatively adventurous subject matter and popular appeal set in early. He himself lamented that ‘the great regret of my life is that I have never taken any place in French Literature’. It might have been some comfort for him to know he is now hailed as a national treasure, the source of many essays by noted academics, the second-most translated author in the world and an inspiration for writers, scientists and explorers alike.