By Jessica Bao (’18)
All of us are likely familiar with the works of French author Jules Verne (1828-1905), in one way or another. Not only did he pioneer the field of science fiction with novels that are meticulously researched and hugely imaginative, he has written over 60 of such novels. Maybe you read the simplified version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when you were younger. Or you watched the popular film series starring Josh Hutcherson– Journey to the Center of the Earth and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island- that are loosely based on Verne’s works.
Many today consider Jules Verne to be a children’s author. Although his novels can be complicated in their original French, English translations have made them a lot more accessible. But even though we are much older now, and sometimes less interested in fiction, there are still many good reasons to reexamine Verne’s works.
When I was younger, Jules Verne’s novels inspired my interests in reading. It wasn’t just one of his books that did the trick, but a combination of three: Twenty Thousand, In Search of the Castaways, and The Mysterious Island. These books did not influence me to read sci-fi adventure novels as you’d expect. Instead, they showed me something much more worthwhile that books can often do: connect. Not in the way a series of books do, but in the way that distinct stories can connect to each other while still standing on their own.
Although each story is great, this connection adds a sense of wonder. Without spoiling too much, the relationships between the three books left such a lasting impact on me that to this day, I’m still seeking out stories that bring people apart and together through fate.
That, therein lies the power of Jules Verne’s books: there’s something in them for everyone. If you love a good survivor’s story, read The Mysterious Island. If you are a slightly neurotic organizer with a bullet journal, read Around the World in Eighty Days. If you are only interested in the stories like me, read the popular English versions. If you want pages after pages of wild scientific descriptions, read the more faithful translations.
Nevertheless, these novels still have flaws. The other day, as I re-read my copy of Twenty Thousand, I was reminded of the endless possibilities behind these books, but also of how out-of-touch they can be. While the science inside them holds up surprisingly well, their social contexts have deteriorated. There are mentions of slavery, barbaric tribes, and areas framed as uncivilized, when in reality, they weren’t.
But these flaws do not condemn Verne’s works. As high schoolers at the IA, we are more qualified than ever to enjoy these novels while critiquing them for being products of their time- one of the focuses for IB Literature in junior year.
I know we are all busy, but one upside of young-adult books is that Vernes’ novels are often not too long. So pick one out of the many he offers, and see if you like them. Maybe they will surprise or inspire you, just as they did me.