Saturday, September 01, 2018

Jules Verne, The Mighty Orinoco; Invasion of the Sea


Opening Passages: From The Mighty Orinoco:

"There is not the slightest reason to believe that this discussion can come to an end," said M. Miguel, who was seeking to intervene between the two fiery discussants.

"Well, it won't end," answered M. Felipe, "not if it means sacrificing my views to those of M. Varinas!"

"Nor by abandoning my ideas for those of M. Felipe!" replied M. Varinas. (p. 3)

From Invasion of the Sea:

"How much do you know?"

"I know what I heard in the port."

"Were people talking about the ship that's coming to get -- coming to take Hajdar away?"

"Yes, to Tunis, where he will go on trial."

"And be sentenced to death?"

"And be sentenced to death."

"Allah will not allow that to happen, Sohar! No! He won't allow it!" (p. 3)

Summary: The two works for this Fortnightly Book are very different in many ways. The Mighty Orinoco occurs in the Venezuelan rainforest, and in some sense the travel up the Orinoco is a quest into the past, an attempt to resolve the mysteries of the past. Invasion of the Sea occurs in the Algerian desert, and its expedition to create an inland sea is a quest into the future, an attempt to build something new and full of promise. But they both share in the primary danger to such quests, which is treachery from those in whom one has placed a trust, however small, and they both share in the idea that survival of the dangers is only possible through friendship with others.

In The Mighty Orinoco, young Jean de Kermor is traveling with his 'uncle', Sergeant Martial -- it quickly becomes clear that Sergeant Martial is posing as Jean's uncle -- and joins up with a set of expeditions attempting to discover, or at least get closer to, the sources of the Orinoco. Jean is trying to get closer to his sources as well: he is looking for what has become of his father, Colonel de Kermor, from whom he was separated in a terrible tragedy by a criminal act. It is a dangerous expedition, and both Jean and his protector are hiding more than a few secrets as a matter of security. But they will receive help from the friendly geographers and natural historians trying to trace the course of the Orinoco -- help they will need, because the criminals who were responsible for separating Jean and his father might have a chance to do it permanently, and because in the jungles of Venezuela, nothing is exactly what it might seem.

Invasion of the Sea, published in 1905 as the last Voyage Extraordinaire of Verne's life, takes place in the 1930s. The French want to link several below-sea-level areas of the Algerian desert to the Gulf of Gabès, thus creating a linked series of navigable seas extending well into the Saharan desert, based on a slightly modified version of Roudaire's 1878 proposal:

Carte chotts roudaire.jpg
[Dominio público, Enlace]

The engineers are optimistic, but there are a number of issues to worry about; the entire area is subject to earthquakes, and the project depends for its viability on the power of water to excavate its own course -- the human component is just to lay down the lines for it to do so in the right way, and thus there is an unpredictable aspect to the whole project. The chief obstacle, however, is the local Tuareg population, which understandably does not share the French government's view that the French are in rightful possession of the immense amount of Algerian land required to make the project possible. A local terrorist (as we would call him) who has escaped from prison is organizing the Tuaregs against the French expedition, so that supplies and men are going missing and the digging is being sabotaged. The expedition's military escort, under the resourceful Captain Hardigan, attempts to put an end to this, but the Tuareg are possessed of almost every advantage -- numbers, knowledge of the terrain, ability to move and strike swiftly. Their only limitation is that they, just like the French, are not able to predict the course of nature so well as they sometimes think.

There is a lot of dispute about whether Verne is primarily on the side of the Tuareg or the French. The narrative heroes are the French, of course, but this is distinct from the question of whether the Tuareg are justified or unjustified in their resistance, and whether their ultimate (and possibly inevitable) defeat is to be seen as triumphant or as tragic. But I think this may be beside the point. It is not the human beings who play the primary role in resolving the issues of the story -- the human beings, in fact, are the ones who create virtually all the problems. It is the natural world that resolves the matter -- it is the dog Ace-of-Hearts who ultimately deals with the criminal Hajdar, and it is the sea and land themselves that ultimately determine whether there is to be an inland sea. I think what we can say is that both sides are in fact not perfectly in control of the situation, but the French heroes of the tale come through entirely because they are better situated to take advantage of nature's unpredictable course -- the French engineers respect the power of nature in itself, unlike the Tuareg and many of the French for whom it is simply theirs to use, and because of that they are able to anticipate a possibility that the Tuareg simply never imagine. And our heroes likewise only survive because they are friends with a dog who turns out to be more resourceful than anyone could have anticipated -- and it is important that the dog is treated as a friend and not merely as a tool to use. Nature does as it does, whether we will it to do so or not; but recognizing its power and respecting it for what it is, is the only thing that makes it possible to survive nature at its most unpredictable.

Favorite Passages: From The Mighty Orinoco:

Those Indians were not fussy--that evening, one of them brought in several dozen of those big foot-long earthworms which they cut into pieces, boiled with herbs, and then swallowed with great gusto.

It goes without saying that Germain Paterne, faithful to the rule that he had imposed on himself to sample every dish of the region's local cuisine, wanted to taste this Venezuelan stew. But repugnance won out over scientific curiosity, and the experiment was carried out only with the tip of his tongue. (p. 251)

From Invasion of the Sea:

...Last of all, this was the direction in which Ace-of-Hearts had rushed off across the oasis, and, as the corporal thought, he had "his own reasons for doing that," and it surely made sense to rely on the dog's wisdom.

"Sir," he said to the captain, "all we have to do is follow him. He'll make no mistake. Besides, he can see as well by night as by day. I tell you, sir, this is a dog with the eyes of a cat." (p. 178)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Jules Verne, Invasion of the Sea, Baxter, tr., Wesleyan UP (Middletown, CN: 2001).

Jules Verne, The Mighty Orinoco, Luce, tr., Wesleyan UP (Middletown, CN: 2002).

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Miscellanea VII

South Queensferry and the Firth of Forth


I believe this is Dalmeny House:

North Queensferry:

Barnbougle Castle, where Lady Mary Shepherd was born (although in a much-reworked form from what it would have looked like in her day):

Seals and boats:

The skyline of Edinburgh:

A Stevenson lighthouse (Robert Louis Stevenson was from a family of lighthouse engineers, which is how he learned the geography and scenery of Scotland):


On approach:

"Inch Gnome", near the docks:

On the island:

On Leaving

More seals:

And this completes the series.