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An Antarctic Mystery

Jules Verne (translated by Mrs. Cashel Hoey)

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    The more works I read by Jules Verne, the more he becomes one of my favorite writers. One just never knows quite what to expect. He is so creative and unique. His books are mostly adventures, traveling to strange places by strange means. Some are science fiction and others are just on the edge, and this one really isn't at all. What is so fascinating is that the way he tells his stories, you really believe they're true, mingling facts and fiction in a way that, if one really is interested, one must do research to separate the two. (I am interested.) He often includes a great deal of math and numbers to back up his story, although this one really does less than some others. But this one had another twist that compelled me do some research. It uses a novel by Edgar Allan Poe, in fact his only novel, called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, written in1838, which can be found in The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 3, part of a five volume collection available for free from Project Gutenberg. I was not even aware that Poe had written a novel. In addition to the research I did on this, I also learned a lot about Antarctica, the Falklands, the Kerguelen Islands, and magnetic lodestones. Tsalal, however, where the natives are completely black including their teeth, is purely fictional. I think..
    I also, once again, want to express my gratitude to Project Gutenberg for making all these books available. I do not believe this is one of Verne's better known works, as opposed to, for instance, Around the World in Eighty Days, or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately, publishers are in it for the money and publish what they think will sell, so many awesome works from the past get pushed to the wayside. Project Gutenberg and their affiliates are NOT in this for profit. They are doing what they are doing strictly to make the world's classic and cultural literature available to everyone for free.
    The story begins as the wealthy American, Mr. Jeorling from Connecticut has been studying the flora and fauna of the Kerguelen Islands, which lie in the Indian Ocean, far south of India, southwest of Australia, and north of Antarctica. He has been staying at the Green Cormorant, owned by the very prosperous Mr. Atkins, (also an American), but is now ready to leave. Mr. Atkins assures him that the Halbrane, whose captain is Len Guy, will be arriving soon, and also assures Mr. Jeorling that he will certainly be able to hitch a ride.
    But Captain Guy turns out to be somewhat of a recluse, and though Atkins speaks as if they are on warmest terms, in fact, the captains does not even pay him a friendly visit. Jeorling does, however, meet the boatswain, Mr. Hurliguerly, who assures him that he will put a word in the captain's ear about taking him as a passenger. But the answer is a definitive "no." The captain does not take passengers and has no intention of starting now. His reason is, so he says, that he wishes to be free to change his course without having to be concerned about delivering another person to a specific place. Jeorling assures him that he really cares not about the destination of the Halbrane, whether it be the Falklands, Tristan d'Acunha, or elsewhere, he just wants to get off the Kerguelen Islands, even saying he would not even care if he went to the Antarctic seas. At this, Captain Guy begins to question him more, and they speak about venturing to the South Pole.. Captain Guy knows Jeorling is from Connecticut, and asks him if he knows Nantucket Island, the birthplace of Arthur Gordon Pym, the hero of Edgar Poe. Jeorling, of course, assumes the story is a fictional "romance." Their conversation ends abruptly.
    For the next three days, August 10, 11, and 12, the crew of the Halbrane is busy preparing her to sail; (remember, this is the end of winter in the southern hemisphere). They are to leave on the 15th. On the 14th, Captain Guy suddenly approaches Jeorling and invites him to be a passenger.
    But after they set sail, Jeorling begins to wonder if Captain Guy isn't mad. He begins by asking Jeorling if he has any idea why he changed his mind about allowing him a as a passenger. Jeorling does not, and it is then that the captain asks if he possibly was familiar with the family of Arthur Gordon Pym. Jeorling is stunned and knows not what to say, while he cannot believe this man has taken a novel by Poe as a true story. However, little by little, the captain produces enough evidence as to the factual reality of what was sold to the public as fiction, that Jeorling can no longer hold his former opinion. Finally, Jeorling learns that the captain of the Grampus, who rescued Pym and his shipmate Dirk Peters, and who was named William Guy was none other than Len's brother. And it is Captain Len Guy's intention to search the islands of Antarctica to find his long lost brother and his crew. The Halbrane sails to the Falklands, where they take in enough supplies to last two years, plus hire on some local sailors, then they are off on their Antarctic adventure. And what an adventure it is.
    I want to mention that one very long chapter is spent relating the events from Poe's novel, so that the readers may meld the two together as one continuous story. (It's all fiction, of course.) I found this quite clever on the part of Verne, and I don't believe I have ever read a book whose story was built around another author's story. I'm not talking about a sequel, but an adventure built around events created by another author. Very interesting stuff. If you like strange and daring travel stories, and especially if you're a fan of Verne, this one is a must read.

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