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The genius of Jules Verne

Published January 19. 2013 09:03AM

Jules Verne was one of the greatest science fiction writers arguably in history. Some of his stories eerily predicted current technologies at a time when they were considered pipe dreams and fantasy. One such novel which we discussed last week was "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" which had a nuclear submarine at the center of its story of maritime retribution.

One of his novels featured the genius Robur who attempts to prove to scientific society the superiority of air ships over airplanes by kidnapping the officers of a flying club in an attempt to show them how powerful his creation the "Albatross" is. He eventually frees the officers who steal his ideas for his dirigible and its power, but not before the "Albatross" crashes. The officers basically forget Robur and continue their design debates eventually adopting the propellor design from Robur's ship. During its maiden voyage, the new and improved "Albatross" appears in the sky and attacks the ship eventually causing it to crash but not before forcibly removing the crew. At the conclusion, Robur frees the officers and crew but before he leaves he notifies them that society is not ready for the secrets of his flight.

This novel is followed up with a second one called "Master of the World" in which Robur returns with another flying machine that can also act as a submarine and a vehicle. In the 1960s both novels were combined into a film called "Master of the World" that used elements from both novels to create the science fiction thriller starring Vincent Price as Robur. The movie also featured Charles Bronson and Peter Lorre in its cast and gave Robur some redeeming qualities by converting his mission of showing his air superiority into a mission to eliminate war and tyranny with his dominating "Albatross" air ship. In the end, he supposedly loses his life on his ship after releasing his prisoners.

Airships were around since the late 1600s, but their golden age was considered to be the early 1900s until prior to World War II. One of the most famous disasters involving an airship was the Hindenburg near Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937 which killed 36 people. The novel's depiction of the loss of the first "Albatross" while not precognitive of the disaster still was quite an accurate description of that future disaster.

Another of Verne's novels that was a favorite of mine was "A Journey to the Center of the Earth". In this novel, a professor takes an expedition including his nephew and a guide into a volcano in the belief that tubes lead from the volcano into a world in the center of the planet. They go on a fantastic adventure featuring dinosaurs, a subterranean cave and an underground river. The amazing scenery and descriptions creates a fantasy that was adapted to the screen four times with two of them being mainstream American movies. The first in 1959 starred Pat Boone and James Mason who coincidentally played Captain Nemo in the "Twenty Thousand Leagues" movie. The second film released in 2008 starred Brendan Fraser and was actually portrayed as a sequel to the original novel. While I have not seen the original movie in years, I can remember watching it as a youngster whenever it was on television.

Of course, Verne's idea about the hollow earth has since been debunked by modern scientific research. Unlike his other novels this one really missed the mark with its theories as we have learned in the last century. The earth is neither hollow nor does it contain a prehistoric world. This has not stopped proponents of the idea from continuing to claim Verne's fiction to be true. There is a Hollow Earth movement with proponents that claim Verne's fictional idea is true. They claim the earth is hollow or at least a region of it below the polar ice cap is. In their theory, they claim this is the earthly home of the Garden of Eden, the lost tribes of Israel, God's kingdom or Heaven, lost VIking colonies, Nazi remnants and more. They claim flying saucers originate from this area, people live to be centuries old and it is a peaceful place, a utopia.

I find it humorous that Nazis would be co-existing with the Tribes of Israel in the Kingdom of God, but that is a whole other story. This fantasy world is allegedly accessed through caves near the top of the world and at various times, alleged explorers have appeared on George Noory's Coast to Coast claiming to be raising funds to organize an expedition to find this "El Dorado" type location. To my knowledge, no one has been able to substantiate these bizarre claims and for now, they remain a fantasy more than reality.

Verne in all wrote 55 novels and many of them predicted aspects of the world and science as it exists today. Other novels included describing space travel, floating cities, lost islands and more. Many of his themes and plots have become major influences on generations of authors and screenwriters ever since. If you have not read one of his books, find one of these or one of the fifty plus novels and give him a few hours of your time. You will find the escape into the mind of one of the "Fathers of Science Fiction" a worthwhile endeavor.

Til next time…

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