Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Essay: “Where is Jules Verne's Mars?” by Terry Harpold

I’m still reading my way through Visions of Mars: Essays on the Red Planet in Fiction and Science (McFarland 2011), an academic volume which examines the way Mars has been depicted in literature, film and popular culture that I purchased last Spring for my Kindle e-reader.

One of the more interesting essays is “Where is Verne’s Mars?” by Terry Harpold. Establishing that the Red Planet is seldom discussed in the sixty-two novels and two collections of short stories that make up Jules Verne's Extraordinary Voyages (1863-1919) and that there is only one mention of Mars in Verne's published nonfiction, Harpold argues that Verne wasn’t much interested in the fourth planet. Why? “Should we be surprised that the most influential author of the scientific romance mostly ignored spaces that have become exemplary terrains of modern science fiction?”

In short, Harpold concludes that Verne’s lack of interest in Mars is attributed to the “fundamental patterns” of Verne's fiction, which describe “paths, not places. Narrative action in the novels is tightly, we might say obsessively, bound to systems of motion. These may be halting, digressive, or recursive -- but things in Verne's fictional universe are always moving.”

“If Verne rarely included Mars in his fictional systems, it may be that he didn't need to go beyond terrestrial circuits in order to demonstrate the effects of his literary mechanisms. The artistic economy of staying closer to home in this way is easy to see once you accept the principle that in Verne the North and South Poles, equatorial Africa, Magellania -- or for that matter, the streets of Paris, London, and Chicago -- are no less literary constructs than are the dry sea beds, canals, and abandoned cities of Barsoom.”

Terry Harpold is Associate Professor of English, Film, and Media Studies at the University of Florida.

1 comment:

  1. I like Terry's argument and the essay. (And I heard it presented at the original conference back in 2008.)

    However, he's arguing about a negative, and therefore his guess is as good as mine. Or yours. We might just as well ask why Verne never wrote a book about Venus or Alpha Centauri. Or sausages. Or spaghetti. Perhaps he just never got round to it!