by Jules Verne
2005, Brilliance Audio or Penguin Random House
read by Jim Dale
7 hours and 51 minutes
When I first encountered a Jules Verne story as a kid, I was fascinated by it, mainly because I couldn't tell if it was truth or fiction - whether the accounts of attacks on ships at sea were from the newspaper or from Verne's own inventive mind. Verne is known for that realism, for the book that so confounded me - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - features descriptions of a submarine that influenced the later inventors of the real thing, including naming an early actual submarine after the submarine in the novel.
I was not so confused by Around the World in 80 Days, but I can imagine Verne sitting at his desk with a huge world map on the wall, multiple railway and shipping timetables, and numerous travel books. His intrepid 19th-century hero, Phileas Fogg, faces numerous obstacles that threaten to upset the connections between the many different forms of transportation he needs to complete his meticulously planned trip around the world.
Who is this Phileas Fogg? Not the dashing hero one might expect - though he is a proper English gentleman. Instead, he is a rich, eccentrically predictable man, so predictable that he fires his personal servant because he runs the bath two degrees hotter than usual. His new valet, Passepartout, is overjoyed to be working for such a blandly predictable man after a more madcap youth of his own, so when Fogg takes a wager at his gentleman's club that with the new methods of transportation, traveling around the world in 80 days is possible for anyone, and then has to prove it by undertaking the trip himself, Passepartout's reactions make the voyage both amusing and exciting.
One aspect of Verne's writing that is often forgotten is his capacity for lighthearted irony, when one or more of the characters (sometimes the narrator, as in Journey to the Center of the Earth) is not quite as adventurous as the others. There is plenty of genuine high adventure - deciding to rescue an Indian princess about to be burned on a funeral pyre, coping with a detective who is sure that Fogg has robbed the Bank of England, seeking to cross the ocean on a boat that is slowly being burnt down to the waterline - but the tension between the suspense of Fogg's journey and the mix of incredulity and frustration on the part of Fogg's servant is particularly funny when the book is read aloud by an able reader, like Jim Dale (in the audiobook version).
What also helps makes this book one of Jules Verne's most adapted stories - with multiple movies and an epic miniseries - is the combination of romance and one of the most suspenseful endings in fiction, as Phileas Fogg arrives in England prepared to lose his fortune as he calculates that he has arrived a day late.
While this is in no sense a Christian book, Fogg is an admirably honorable man (though obviously involved in gambling) who is willing, when the chips are down, to jeopardize his wager for the safety of others - and Passepartout is both courageous and loyal to his new and unexpectedly mobile master.
One qualification on Verne himself - Journey to the Center of the Earth deals with a trip not only inward but supposedly also backward in time, as the protagonists see the characteristics of various geological ages. Though the story never mentions evolution, and puts creatures of various so-called epochs together, Verne does seem to be accepting the commonly accepted idea of long ages of time with various creatures appearing first in specific eras. Not much room for a young earth there. That said, except for a certain lack of clarity about Sunday activities, Around the World in 80 Days is not so problematic.
To get a free e-book version, go here.
Otherwise the audiobook version I listened to can be had at Amazon.com here, and Amazon.ca here. Various inexpensive paper versions are also available.