Jules Verne – The Legacy


Hello, Jeff again.  While Barbara wrote about the life of Jules Verne, I was more interested in his works and the lasting impact they have had.  In Barbara’s post she mentioned the fact that Verne wrote a series titled “Voyages Extraordinaires” which were published between 1863 and 1905. The series of 65 books strove “to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format … the history of the universe.”  In addition, Verne was not interested in writing an encyclopedia.  He wanted to create works of literary merit.

So what was so special about Jules Verne?  First he was one of the first, if not THE first, author to incorporate the exciting scientific discoveries of the time into popular literature creating a new genre – Science Fiction!  Before we go into the details of his stories that eventually became reality, take a minute to think about the time he lived in.  The telephone had not been invented, no cars, no airplanes, no radio, limited knowledge of electricity, medicine was just learning about germs and astronomy was still in its infancy.  Against this background Verne’s imagination, intelligence, choice of friends and ability to research allowed him to envision things many of which weren’t created until long after his death!

So here are a couple of his visions:

  1. Submarine life – Verne’s description of the life aboard the Nautilus in his 1870 book “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, with the exception of the iconic organ played by Captain Nemo, is very close to life on modern-day submarine which have a double hull, use compressed air and are entirely run by electricity.    Many early submarine researchers-inventors such as Simon Lake, an early American industrialist and entrepreneur, credit Verne with inspiring them.  Walt Disney was so taken with the book that he made the 1954 “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” film. This was the only science fiction movie personally directed by Walt and it won two academy awards.(As Barbara mentioned in her post, Jules Verne’s Birthday, it is one of her favorite Jules Verne books and she also likes the Disney film)  Walt Disney - Nautilus
  2. Travel to the Moon –  In his 1865 book “From the Earth to the Moon” Verne predicted weightlessness in space, something that could hardly be imagined at that time.  He also predicted the approximate weight of “projectile” which turned out to be almost the same weight as Apollo 11 and cost of the “projectile” in 1865 dollars was only slightly off from the cost of the Apollo program.  In the book, the spaceship “launched” from Florida with a three man crew and also splashed down in the ocean upon its return to earth using parachutes to slow it’s descent.  All these things happened many years later in the 1960s.   On the way back from his mission to the moon Neil Armstrong said, “A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. His spaceship, Columbia, took off from Florida and landed in the Pacific Ocean after completing a trip to the Moon. It seems appropriate to us to share with you some of the reflections of the crew as the modern-day Columbia completes its rendezvous with the planet Earth and the same Pacific Ocean tomorrow.”
    Jules Verne Projectile      Apollo 11

With 65 works to choose from, there are many, many more predictions including fuel cells, world wars and people addicted to the internet.  This being said, the real legacy of Jules Verne is not his predictions, but how he inspired generation after generation to dream beyond what was considered possible.  Neil Armstrong credited Verne with inspiring the moon missions.  Simon Lake, an early American industrialist and entrepreneur, was inspired by him to create his submarines.  HG Wells was inspired to write several of his own science fiction books.

I really enjoyed reading the books by Jules Verne, my favorite is “Around the World in 80 Days” followed by “The Mysterious Island”.   Many of his works are available for free on the internet as a quick search of “Jules Verne” will reveal.  Try to find one of the later translations as some of the early ones left a large portion of the text out of print and frequently botched is calculations / scientific explanations.

Jules Verne’s vision was extraordinary.  How is yours?  What are your predictions for the next 100 years?

H. G. Wells’ Birthday


You may be noticing a theme here.  Barbara is letting me write another post about another science fiction author.  I think she will be surprised at some of the colorful aspects of H.G. Wells’ life I uncovered in my research on him!

Herbert George Wells (Born: September 21, 1866 – Died: August 13, 1946) was an English author known for his prophetic science fiction novels and in later life his comic portrayals of lower class society.  His parents were servants who had turned shopkeepers when they purchased a small store with an inheritance.   The shop was not particularly successful and his father supplemented their income as a professional cricket player.  When the shop failed and his father broke his thigh ending his career as a cricketer, his mother went back to work as a lady’s maid.  As part of the employment agreement the father and children were not allowed to live with her.  Herbert was placed as an apprentice to a draper.  Long days and poor working conditions made this one of the worst periods of his life, but provided experiences he later wrote about in The Wheels of Chance and Kipps.

Herbert’s education was erratic and broad.  He attended Thomas Morley’s Commercial Academy and then taught at the National School as a pupil-teacher (an advanced student who taught the younger children).  When his sponsor was dismissed he had a short, unsuccessful apprenticeship as a chemist and eventually wound up as a pupil-teacher at the Midhurst Grammar school where his Latin proficiency and science had been remembered from a short stay a few years earlier.  In 1884 he won a scholarship from the Normal School of Science (now part of the Imperial College London) where he studied biology and physics.  He studied teaching at the College of Preceptors (teachers) and eventually earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London External Programme.

In 1891 Herbert married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells.  The marriage only lasted three years  and they separated when he fell in love with one of his students Amy Catherine Robbins (Jane) who he married in 1895.  He had two children with Jane, but with the full consent of Jane he preached and practiced a version of free love and fathered several other children with other women.  H. G. Wells in Love: Postscript to An Experiment in Autobiography chronicles this portion of his life.  At his request it was published 50 years after his death to protect the women in his life.

Politically Herbert was a socialist and who envisioned a classless world where everyone was judged by their merits, not their lineage.  Many of his writings, especially later in life, were devoted to political themes.  He was a strong proponent of the League of Nations (later the United Nations).  His impact on politics was marginal but he did co-found Diabetes UK which is now the leading diabetes charity in the UK.

H. G. Wells was a prolific writer publishing both fiction and non-fiction.  Few people know he wrote a biology textbook and eventually abandoned science fiction later in life for comic novels with discussions of social or political themes.  What he is primarily know for are his science fiction works which have landed him firmly in contention as the “Father of Science Fiction”.  He wrote many of these is a burst of energy between 1895 and 1904.  These works include one of my all-time favorites “The Time Machine” along with “The Invisible Man”, “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, the “First Men on the Moon” and “The War of The Worlds”.

One of his short stories, “The Country of the Blind” is a tale of a man who is stranded in a valley where everyone is blind.  Being able to see, he remembers the old adage “in the land of the blind the one eyed man will be king” and figures he has it made.  Eventually he falls in love with one of the locals, but his petition to marry her is denied because of his obsession with “sight” that the residents of the valley cannot understand or grasp.  They recommend having his eyes removed so he can become “normal”, but on the day of the operation he flees thinking it will be easy to avoid blind searchers, but it is not as easy as he thought.  He sees that the valley is about to be destroyed by a rock slide, but they do not believe him.  In the final version of the story rewritten in 1939 he escapes with the rock slide with his love.  This is a short read and is really worth the time!

H. G. Wells’ works have been made into many blockbuster movies and other productions, but the most memorable of them was the October 30, 1938 radio production of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles.  This was written as a newscast interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcast.  It caused widespread panic among listeners and mass hysteria.  You can see Herbert’s biology training showing through in that the world is saved not by military might, but by germs the Martians bodies cannot cope with.

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  It barely scratches the surface of H. G. Wells’ life.  Please comment if you would like to know more about this great science fiction author!

Jeff Jones