Saturday, January 13, 2018

Voyages extraordinaires #1: Cinq semaines en ballon

There was a large audience assembled on the 14th of January, 1862, at the session of the Royal Geographical Society, No. 3 Waterloo Place, London. The president, Sir Francis M——, made an important communication to his colleagues, in an address that was frequently interrupted by applause.

This rare specimen of eloquence terminated with the following sonorous phrases bubbling over with patriotism:

“England has always marched at the head of nations” (for, the reader will observe, the nations always march at the head of each other), “by the intrepidity of her explorers in the line of geographical discovery.” (General assent). “Dr. Samuel Ferguson, one of her most glorious sons, will not reflect discredit on his origin.” (“No, indeed!” from all parts of the hall.)

Five Weeks in a Balloon actually predates Verne's Voyages extraordinaires; it was the success of the book that gave Verne the leverage to make the deal for a series of books like it. It would, I imagine, have been a very distinctive work at the time. It is a Dark Continent tale, which were very popular at the time, but one with a twist: the explorers are crossing the African continent in a balloon. They don't quite make it, although they come close; but on the way they deal with hostile natives, wild animals, and unfavorable terrain and climate, surviving because of their friendship, a little good fortune, and some handy use of cutting-edge technology in hydrogen balloons.

The story, which I'd read before, doesn't quite have the spark of some of the later classics, but it still stands on its own fairly well.

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