Thursday, September 11, 2008

Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

There is something to be said about the writing of Jules Verne… he is direct, concise and minimalist which seems so opposite of the stories he is writing, which are always huge fantastic tales. Though many of his novels are more Science Fiction, this is simply an Adventure novel. The problem with reading this novel now, is that it is very difficult to go into it without having seen one of the many movies that were made from the book. I believe that by the time I read this, I had seen almost every movie ever made on it (include the newest “Jackie Chan” version which my kids love). That being said… even though the movies and the book are very different, the ending is still the same, which detracts a bit from the reading of the book. I would have loved to have read this back in the time when it was written, I am sure that the little boys and girls laying in their beds reading this were exhilarated by the ending, and then spent many an hour planning their own trip around the world. Something in Verne’s writing does that… it opens up your belief that somewhere out there is a grand adventure waiting for you.

This tale is told mainly from the perspective of Passepartout, the manservant of Phileas Fogg. Fogg is and has always been a punctual man whose life is run like clockwork. Each second of the day is structured, pre-planned and no great adventure ever befalls Mr. Fogg. Passapartout, a Frenchman looking for a new start on life is very excited to find such a calm, respectable, and orderly man to work for. Unfortunately on his very first day on the job, Fogg makes a strange bet. Fogg bets his friends that it is indeed possible to round the world in 80 days. After much arguing, they take the bet, half of Fogg’s fortune is at stake. When he returns home, Fogg informs Passepartout of their mission and they begin to pack. Meanwhile, the Bank has been robbed of 50k pounds (a huge amount back then) and Inspector Fix is on the case… hearing about Fogg’s plan to circle the globe, he assumes that he is the thief and is using the bet to run from the law.

Heading Eastward, Fogg and Passepartout travel by train, ship and elephant, with Fix always on their trail. The descriptions of the places they travel through are very minimalist, and the reader learns very little about the different cities and countries they cross. Since the travelers spend most of the time on trains or ships there is very little description, and much more on the planning and tracking of their trip. The most descriptive and interesting part of the story for me was the part where they were forced to take an elephant to continue the journey. Because they were then outside and traveling more slowly there was some additional detail and the action increased.

On the whole this is a brilliantly thought out book, though I don’t consider it one of Verne’s best. I only say that because I found that people riding on a boat or a train are not particularly exciting. There was never the sense of danger that “Journey to the Center of the Earth” or some of his others contained. Still it was a very fun and quick read. I highly recommend it to the 13 and up crew. Much younger than that and I believe they would enjoy having it read to them, because due to the differences in the world back then versus now, I feel that it would require some discussion for true appreciation. On the whole I think everyone should sit down at some point and read this book, along with many of his others.

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