Thursday, February 08, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #28: Un billet de loterie

"What time is it?" inquired Dame Hansen, shaking the ashes from her pipe, the last curling rings from which were slowly disappearing between the stained rafters overhead.

"Eight o'clock, mother," replied Hulda.

"It isn't likely that any travelers will come to-night. The weather is too stormy."

"I agree with you. At all events, the rooms are in readiness, and if any one comes, I shall be sure to hear them."

"Has your brother returned?"

"Not yet."

"Didn't he say he would be back to-night?"

Dame Hansen owns a little inn, which she and her chidren, Hulda and Joel, run. Hulda is waiting for her betrothed, Ole Kamp, to return from his last big sailing trip, on which he hoped to earn enough money to marry and start their life together. But the days stretch out; no word of Ole or his ship comes, even after the day they were supposed to come into port. The only clue that anyone has been able to discover is a lottery ticket in a bottle, on which Ole Kamp wrote a last, brief note for Hulda in the midst of a storm. But Sylvius Hogg, professor of law, parliamentarian, and friend of the family still searches in hope of finding him, although as days pass his chances of being alive become slimmer than the chances of winning the capital prize in a lottery.

The Lottery Ticket, also translated under the title, Ticket No. "9672", of all the tales by Verne that I have read, is one of my favorites, but every time I read it it strikes me that a great many people, picking it up as one of Verne's voyages extraordinaires, are bound to be a little disappointed with it. The story itself has no scientific or exploratory expedition, no robinsonade, no cutting-edge invention, no massive feat of adventure. It occurs entirely in Norway, and, indeed, almost entirely in and around the tiny hamlet of Dal; the most consequential trip is to Christiania (modern-day Oslo). But it fits. First, we forget that on all of these voyages extraordinaires that it is not only the people whose lives are in danger who are at risk of losing something; there are often people living quieter lives back home who will feel the loss. But more importantly, an extraordinary voyage is not made by traveling a long way or by doing a difficult thing at improbable odds. We all know the hope with a one-in-a-million chance. We have no more ability to guarantee success on our long shots than to guarantee that a ticket wins the lottery. But, win or lose, what makes it an extraordinary voyage is that we face the outcome with hope, decency, and the fellow-feeling that binds us together to do what is worth doing.

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