One day I was sitting around and thinking of a new novel to crack open. I could read something Victorian, I said to myself, or I could turn to something a bit less English. I’ve been a bit bored with stuffy societal books (as I call books critiquing the every day life), but I’ve been quite enjoying adventure novels as of late. So what if they are ridiculously colonial, I was craving for some good old-fashioned adventure on high seas or deep inside dark jungles. Then I thought of Jules Verne, who no doubt is considered the greatest writer who’s ever lived back in France, and so I went through my library to find a decent title from his bibliography. I’ve read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a couple years back, and growing a bit bored with the biology lessons. I’ve also read Around the World in Eighty Days when I was a kid, and remembered liking it a lot despite the fact that I could not remember a moment of it aside from the final twist (oh the irony). I decided I wanted to experience the book once again and refresh my memory. Well, it was like reading it for the first time.
Around the World was incredibly funny and exciting! It was also pretty fast-paced, with our heroes travelling from Suez to India to Japan as if commercial airlines had been invented by then. There was not much sight-seeing, as Passepartout found out to his disappointment, as they were in a hurry to meet the deadline after all. The characters do encounter most of their adventures in India, when they ran into a sacrificial ceremony and decided to rescue the damsel in distress. They also get into trouble on their way through America thanks to Sioux Indians attacking their train. Did I already mention that old adventure stories are incredibly colonial? Of course Mr. Fogg and Passepartout had to witness a bloodthirsty tradition in the depths of India, otherwise it wouldn’t be exotic and foreign. And of course America had to be portrayed as being overrun by Apaches and crazy trigger-happy cowboys looking for a fight. Despite the obvious stereotypes that existed in Verne’s times, I am pretty sure the author doesn’t forget to poke fun of the English too. Just recall poor French Passepartout constantly admiring the cold and stoic demeanour of his very English master no matter how desperate the situation would become.
“She had received a thoroughly English education in that city, and, from her manners and intelligence, would be thought an European.” – That’s the damsel in distress. Damn, I guess she wouldn’t fit the standard leading lady profile if she were raised in real Hindu tradition! Sorry, too non-European and not enough fainting, can’t be in my book! It’s kind of hilarious that Verne humanizes her by turning her white, and the rest of Indian folk are left to be uncivilized. Reminds me of old black-and-white cartoons, where any aboriginals are drawn with a bone through their hair and a ring through their nose. “Milligaum, the fatal country so often stained with the blood by the secretaries of the goddess Kali.” See what I’m talking about? And how do you like a proposal to jump the train over a broken bridge at full speed being described a “a little too American”? Well, despite the stereotyping the fact that Americans are up for anything wild, the endeavour actually worked. I think reading all this colonial non-sense mixed with Verne’s own crazy sense of humour made me laugh harder and more often than if it was politically-correct. Besides the obvious outdated outlooks on the world, the novel is nothing short of awesome!