Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflections: Around the World in 80 Days

Adam C. Zern shares some thoughts on Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days:

“As I’ve said before, I really enjoy reading the ‘classics’ simply to see what all the fuss is about.  There has to be some reason for a book to endure decades and sometimes centuries of publishing while so many other books simply fade away into obscurity.  Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days is a book that is usually read by a younger crowd (middle school aged usually), but I enjoyed it all the same.

Having not read the book, I was a little surprised to realize that the impetus for the 80-day journey was simply a bet made by associates of Phileas Fogg—the book’s protagonist.  It seems like a pretty basic excuse to send a character on a journey, but Mr. Verne does it all the same.  The book is heavy on geography and fairly light on character.  Fogg’s somewhat hapless assistant—the appropriately named Passepartout—provides much of the humor and color for the book.  Phileas Fogg is strangely likable even though he is almost totally emotionless through almost the entire book.

I especially enjoyed the surprisingly lengthy commentary on Mormons that Verne gives us as his characters pass through Salt Lake City.  It shows many of the misconceptions that have been somewhat corrected in the public mind but still seem to linger on in many ways.  Verne’s commentary on America and Americans is also very humorous (complete with an Indian ambush of an eastward bound locomotive).  It really was moments like those aforementioned that made the book more than a travelogue; otherwise, it would have been a chore to finish.

Why is Around the World in 80 Days a classic?  I couldn’t point to any one particular fact or reason.  It’s a quick and enjoyable read.  I’m sure it broke some new ground or captured enough imaginations to cement its place in the literary world to be as well known as it is today.  It’s worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.”

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