Feb 8 2014 11:00am

Jules Verne’s Love of Adventure Took Us From the Center of the Earth to the Surface of the Moon

Jules Verne, born today in 1828, is often called one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction.” But what was more impressive about him, as a person, was his inability to let anyone or anything stop him from writing.

Sent to Paris to study law, it wasn’t long before Verne began writing for the theater, but it was his flair for penning tales about travel that quickly came to the forefront. His father eventually found out about his son’s extracurriculars and withdrew all financial support from him. So Verne began to support himself, doing work he despised as a stockbroker, then marrying a woman who encouraged him to look for a publisher. He sent manuscripts to many who rejected his work, but eventually met Pierre-Jules Hetzel. The two became a stellar team, and Jules Verne was soon a name that few lovers of literature were likely to forget.

Verne’s zeal for adventure prompted him to set his stories any-and-everywhere. His characters explored islands and the ocean, traveled to the center of the planet and all the way around it, broke away and shot straight up to the moon. He had a knack for predicting the future, an ease with scientific detail that made his novels seem more credible than they might have in another wordsmith’s hands. The manner in which he tapped humanity’s most intrepid desires has made him one of the most translated authors of all time.

With the money he finally earned from his writing career, Verne bought a boat and sailed around the European continent. He was knighted in France, a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. Jules Verne was far more than man who wrote incredible tales that continue to thrill the world—he was Captain Nemo and Phileas Fogg and Professor Lidenbrock. His gift to us was permission to journey farther than we had ever imagined was possible. To this day, we are still living up to what he dreamed.


Originally published February 8, 2013 on

Michael Walsh
1. MichaelWalsh
It's important to know that pretty much all of his works were poorly translated and sadly remain in print. See:

Luckily there are newer translations that don't do violence to what he wrote.
Fred Learn
2. octobercountry
Has someone put out a list of all the preferred English translations of Verne? It would be helpful to have all that information in one place.
3. Freelancer
Verne, aside his genius for sharing tales, was a master of invention, standing atop a pinnacle only approached by Wells and Asimov for his conjuring of devices and materials which not only did not exist at the time of his writing, but were barely if at all concepts on a drawing board. And the number of those "fantasies" which have become, not only real, but nearly mundane, is astonishing. It is a reasonable question to ask, whether man would have achieved space or submerged travel as early as we did without his inspiration.
Michael Walsh
4. MichaelWalsh
A good starting point for good translations would be this page from the North American Jules Society:

From 2005 there's this:
Fred Learn
5. octobercountry
Many thanks for the Verne links---this information makes it MUCH easier to choose a particular edition over another.

I remember (many years ago) getting "From the Earth to the Moon" out of the library, and thinking after I had finished---wow, this really wasn't very good at all. But---it was one of those horrible translations, so I think I'll have to try it again one day.
6. between4walls
The Kingston translation of Verne's "The Mysterious Island" changed a lot of dialogue to make it less critical of British colonialism in India.

For example, in the original Prince Dakkar pursues his eduction "with the secret intention of being able to fight one day, with equal weapons, against those he considered the oppressors of his country.”

Kingston changes it to "that by his talents and knowledge he might one day take a leading part in raising his long degraded and heathen country to a level with the nations of Europe." Urgh.
(It's a bad translation and it makes Verne look like he thinks Indians are inferior, when that's the translator's bias.)

This article details some of the changes:
Alan Brown
7. AlanBrown
A friend of mine, John Teehan, has been involved in the publishing of some of Verne's lesser known works. You can check them out at BearManor Media.
8. Pat F.
The Palik series of translations from Bear Manor is the real deal--the world's leading Vernian scholars are in charge of both the translations and the ancillary materials. (Disclosure: They include a dear friend of mine, Jean-Michel Margot, immediate past president and current VP of the NAJVS.)
9. Ed Luna
Emily, I am pretty sure you mean "flair" rather than "flare" up there, haha. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that I recently learned I've been incorrectly saying "hone in" (to mean, zooming in on a target) instead of "home in." Woops...

But thank you for this loving tribute to Mssr. Verne. It hadn't occurred to me that he wasn't an English-speaking writer until now. Sometimes, I am stunned at my own ignorance.

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