Some trailblazing artists may not live long enough to see their imaginations become reality, but their innovative ideas are immortalized in their work. Such is the case with Jules Verne, the 19th-century French writer, who to this day still fascinates readers throughout the globe with his adventure stories. Verne is considered by many literary critics as the forerunner of the science fiction genre. In his books he talks about machines and technology that were only invented long after his death—such as the videophone and journeying to the moon.
Verne was born in 1828, in the port city of Nantes, France. It was probably from living by the sea and watching ships come and go that Verne got his first inspirations to write about long ocean voyages to remote places. He spent his childhood and youth in Nantes then moved to Paris to go to law school. He finished his course in 1850 but when he got to the French capital he discovered the world of theater and realized that this is what he wanted to do—so his first literary works were plays, such as 1852's Blind Man’s Bluff.
It was not until Five Weeks in a Balloon, published in 1863, that the author started to approach the genre he would become famous for. In the book he tells a story about a balloon trip to Africa with such precise detail and vivid description, that it lead readers to think Verne had actually journeyed there himself. But he had never traveled by balloon and neither had he gone to the African continent, it was just an example of his inventive mind, his lucid writing, and his extensive research carried out at Parisian libraries.
Following that came the more popular A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872). In these three stories, the adventure—almost like a recurring character itself and featured in most of his works—is present and the narrative immerses the reader in fantastic scenarios, suggesting technological wonders that were still very far from becoming a reality. In this respect he could be looked at as a visionary, or at least someone who would’ve been uploading design fiction videos to Vimeo had he lived in our own age. As it was, most of his fictional inventions would only take shape in the 20th century, long after his death in 1905, in Amiens, France.
One of them is the Nautilus submarine, led by Capitan Nemo, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (and which would appear again in 1874's The Mysterious Island). Though in the 19th century submersible vessels were starting to loom, Verne's version was powered by electricity from sodium and mercury batteries extracted from seawater. The operation of this submarine model engendered by the author looks much more like Alvin, a US Marine submarine version built in 1964, almost a century later.
Another quite premonitory invention was the projectiles that could break gravity, described in 1865's From the Earth to the Moon, which would make it possible to transport passengers to the moon. The explanation he offers about how those projectiles work is not very different from the lunar module used in 1968, when that deed was finally accomplished.
1954's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Trailer.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth's 2008 version.
Besides being known around the world for his novels, many of the writer's books were adapted to film. In the 1950s, A Journey to the Center of the Earth became a movie and more recently, in 2008, it got a new version directed by Eric Brevig, starring Brendan Fraser and Seth Meyers. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea became famous in an adaptation produced by Disney studios in 1954 and Around the World in Eighty Days's feature film version was released in 2004, featuring Jackie Chan. And, if you’re a UK child of the 80s, you’ll have fond memories of the cartoon Around the World with Willy Fog, especially the intro, which featured anthropomorphic animals in the starring roles.
The books’ success helps us understand why the writer's works are among the most translated ones in the history of literature: they were adapted to 148 countries. Which makes him the world's second most translated author, behind Agatha Christie. For his relevance his work was paid tribute to last year by Google in the day he would’ve turned 103 years old. The site's logo (above) was replaced by a series of portholes where fish and sea creatures would pass by in allusion to Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. A privilege that only someone considered the father of science fiction could have.