Q & A with Rev. Matthew Hardesty On His Jules Verne Anthology


Bear Manor: Why did you produce this anthology?

Rev. Matthew Hardesty: Because we love Jules Verne! By “we” I mean the North American Jules Verne Society. We thought an anthology would be a fun way to keep Verne and his works on people’s minds and also inspire new members to join us.

Fans love anthologies, just look at the show “What If…?” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the From a Certain Point of View series of books in the Star Wars saga. These explore what would happen if major events in those stories had unfolded differently or how a story would be told differently through the eyes of a minor character. We thought it would be fun to do the same with the Verne-iverse.

Verne-iverse. I haven’t heard that one before. What do you mean by it?

Yeah, I think I just coined that. There truly is a vast universe in Jules Verne’s writing and it’s our own. He wrote many adventures that span entire seas, climb the greatest heights, explore the farthest reaches, and even traverse the solar system. His characters explore every corner of the globe and we love coming at those stories from new perspectives with this anthology.

Tell me a little bit more about Jules Verne.                   

When I meet people who aren’t familiar with Jules Verne, I quickly discover that they have heard of his works. His most popular novels, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Mysterious Island typically ring a bell. And most people have heard of Captain Nemo or the Nautilus. Verne is part of the pop-culture ethos. Historically, he was a Frenchman who lived in the mid to late 1800s, wrote over 50 adventure novels, and is considered one of the founders of Science Fiction along with H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and others.

What is the worldwide appeal of Jules Verne over a century after his death?

Whether you first read him as child or as an adult, his imagination is so vivid and creative that it immediately captures your attention. He was also a champion of the beauty and wonder of this world we live in and of mankind’s ingenuity and ability to explore and thrive in it. Much modern science fiction is bleak and dystopian. His fiction is encouraging and awe-inspiring. I think his novels are a breath of fresh air. And they’re so interesting. I could spend hours plotting his courses on maps or looking up the lives of the adventurers and inventors that he references.

You have included many illustrations in the anthology. Can you tell me more about those?

Yes, we were really excited about these. In classical literature, illustrations were never seen as juvenile. They were a collaborative part of serious storytelling. Our team went through a database of the original line drawings from the first French editions of Verne’s works and selected the ones that we thought would work in our anthology. We then carved out the characters that would be featured on the title page of each story and included the original illustrations in an appendix so that readers can learn which Verne novel they came from. We loved the idea of exposing today’s readers to the original illustrations which are masterpieces in themselves. We feature Verne’s key illustrators, Édouard Riou, Léon Benett, George Roux, and others.

The subtitle of your anthology is “Stories Inspired by Jules Verne.” What makes a story Vernian? Is it just a matter of steampunk?

Verne’s works influenced what later came to be known as steampunk due to the cutting-edge technology that they employ, but steampunk culture isn’t the only or primary defining characteristic of a Vernian story. For us, a story is Vernian if it is obvious that the author has read one or more of Verne’s novels and is truly inspired by it. The story is what it is because of Verne. If Verne never existed, could this story still be told?

A Vernian story is adventurous, imaginative, awe-inspiring, wonder-full, and accurate to the finest detail. It approaches the world, science, technology, and mankind as Verne approached them. If the story has characters or locations from Verne’s novels, then these behave and function consistent with how Verne portrayed them.

I would also add that you don’t need to have read a Verne novel to enjoy these stories. If you have, it will increase your enjoyment, especially of the various “easter eggs” sprinkled throughout.

Verne’s more popular novels provide obvious sources for a modern story.  Does the anthology have any “deep cuts,” or stories inspired by lesser-known novels that readers may be inspired to explore?

Definitely. Our story, “Old Soldiers” is inspired by Verne’s, The Steam House, about a mechanical, steam-powered elephant. The story, “Trumpets of Freedom,” has echoes of Verne’s The Lighthouse at the End of the World—a novel about pirates who attack the last man standing in a remote lighthouse—and Robur the Conqueror, about a mad inventor and his unprecedented flying machine. And our story, “Drama in Durango,” gives a Wild West slant on Verne’s, A Drama in Livonia, a romantic adventure through the Siberian frontier. We hope our readers will use all of the anthology’s stories as launching points to Verne’s well-known and lesser-known works.

How do you think the anthology fits BearManor’s catalog?

We think it’s a perfect fit. BearManor has developed an extensive catalog of works that treat diverse pop-culture phenomena. We first partnered with BearManor in the publication of the Society’s Palik Series, which published many of Verne’s plays and poems for the first time in English. That series really highlighted Verne’s “showmanship.” He was first a poet and a playwright before he became a novelist, and you can tell how this background affected his style.

Verne has a very cinematic style. He describes, especially natural phenomena, as a screenwriter or production designer would for the big screen. He describes the “special effects” of his adventures in a way that allows them to unfold before the mind’s eye as if you were watching them in the theater.

Popular culture is the gateway to Verne’s works for most modern readers. The 2008 film adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser was a huge Hollywood production, as well as its 2012 sequel, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The same novel also inspired this year’s Disney animated adventure, Strange World.

And classic movie buffs recall the big-budget films from the 50s and 60s: Disney’s 1954 adaptation of 20,000 Leagues starring Kirk Douglas; the 1956 adaptation of Around the World starring David Niven; 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth starring James Mason; and the 1961 adaptation of The Mysterious Island featuring Ray Harryhausen’s groundbreaking stop-motion animation. The Disney adaptations are now accessible to the young and old alike through Disney +

We celebrate Verne’s pop-culture connection and we’re proud to be partnered with BearManor on that theme.

Lastly, please tell us a little bit about the North American Jules Verne Society

We are a group of Jules Verne fans, enthusiasts, and scholars that was founded in 1993. We have over 80 members who are dedicated to promoting interest in the life of Jules Verne and his works through publications, a yearly conference, and a social media forum for Vernian discussion. Our members are involved in a wide range of interests. We are scholars, translators, and authors as well as cosplayers, movie buffs, rare book collectors, and students.

There has been a recent renaissance in Vernian scholarship and we are seeing (and producing) much better translations of his original French. These are allowing his works to be taken more seriously and seen as not only children’s adventure tales but worthy of adult interest as well. Jules Verne is a top-5 most translated author in the world, of all time. We revel in that, and we hope this anthology will inspire others to join us.

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