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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Twenty, in which Fiction is mistaken for Fact

Recently Your Bibliothecary happened upon the following report from a newspaper out of Saknussemm, Iceland, concerning the popularity of the new translation to mark the 142nd anniversary of the publication of Jules Verne's classic Voyage au centre de la Terre.
Experts agree: Jules Verne got most of his facts wrong. Using the ancient Heimskringla (the Chonicle of the Kings of Norway) as his basis of fact, Verne claims his character discovers a Runic manuscript inside. Written in code, it tells how to journey to the center of the earth.

Critics say Verne's book reeks of truthiness and smartiness, the appearance of being truthful and smart without necessarily being either. But the pages are full of factual errors large and small: temperature anamolies within the earth's crust; an interior Central Sea with an atmosphere dotted by clouds; forty-foot mushrooms; a human body perfectly preserved; a herd of mastodons grazing inside the earth being watched over by a twelve-foot shepherd; an epic battle between a fourteen-foot gorilla and a shark-crocodile; and the riding of a raft like a surfboard atop a volcanic upheaval of magma that expells the characters unscathed from the bowels of the earth.

Leading his fellow critics, Professor Jurgen Reschke of the University of Angstadt has been adamant about the importance of tearing down the credibility of the book because he worries many people, mostly ignorant of what is known of the earth's core, accept Verne's fictions as scientific truth.

"This is why
Journey to the Center of the Earth is so dangerous. Many readers assume that all of the... geologic detail is true when it is not. Rather, the few factual references are heavily interlaced with fiction or outright falsehood."
Interesting stuff. The story later quotes Frida Adalbjorg, an historian at the Vilhjalmur Institue at Sneffels, who asserts that Verne is muddling people's thinking in ways that could shake the scientific disciplines and affect the reputation of real institutions.

Unfortunately, these experts seem to overlook the most important fact: Journey to the Center of the Earth is fiction. A novel. It says so right on the cover. That means the writer made stuff up.

We can't help but shake our head at such serious people taking the book so seriously.


  1. Great find. I agree with the serious people, though. Just because a book says fiction on the cover doeesn't mean readers can tell the difference between fact and fiction between the covers.

    Christian and Catholic communities are persecuted in various parts of the world and books like The Da Vinci Code provide ammo for anti-Christian prejudice, fear, and hatred. It may be fiction but if people believe it it can have factual consequences.

  2. I don't think readers should be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction within the covers. But if readers take a book they read as gospel truth, as ammunition for a cause, it is the people themselves who can produce factual consequences, not the book. Hitler used Darwin's Origin of Species as a foundation for his beliefs--who blames Darwin for that? And it seems anti-christian prejudice, fear, and hatred are little different from un-christian prejudice, fear, and hatred based on belief in the Bible as all fact. There is no doubt that both are wrong. Let us allow writers to write, and people to take responsibility for their own actions.

  3. I agree that anti-Christian prejudice is no different than any other kind... except that it has become acceptable (if not a mark of superior intellect) whereas the other is politically incorrect. There is a double standard at work that Brown has taken advantage of. You wouldn't see him writing a similar "extensively researched" book on Islam because number one he'd get his head cut off and number two he'd be called racist etc.

    So is it only the readers who must take responsibility and authors get off scot free? Seems to me that those with influence have a *greater* resonsibility than the ones they influence. Just look at how we (rightly) demonize Hitler and not the millions of Germans who elected him and followed him and did his dirty work. We don't blame them, we blame the one who stirred them up, told them lies, implanted prejudice in their minds.

    People are easily manipulated, and we all have to take responsibility for our influence on others. Christ himself had something to say on the subject, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of those who cause others to sin.

  4. I don't exactly side with Sylvia on this, but I do think we should not underestimate the power of pop culture to influence public opinion. It's easy for us to say "it's only fiction," but what about the 7yo kid in catechism class who innocently said, "Mary Magdalen? Oh she was Jesus' wife." (Heard that on a talk show.) If this book is causing people to reexamine and discuss the foundations of Christianity, well, I think that's kind of cool, provided that everyone remembers their manners. I just wish they'd also talk about the literary merits of the book, of which there are very few.

  5. Oh! And the other thing I meant to say was that there was an article about Jules Verne in, I believe, the Smithsonian magazine some months ago. The article said he's one of the most underrated authors of all time, mainly because of the terribly bowdlerized translations. Apparently there's been a new translation recently that's supposed to be very good.

  6. We will all be better off if more seven-year-olds think that Mary was the wife of Jesus. What reason wouldn't she be? What about the seven-year-old who believes in Santa Claus? Should Moore be held accountable? Or seven-year-olds who believe in the Warthog school, or wherever Harry Potter goes to learn how to ride a broom? Should Rowling be blamed for making them believe something that others believe is false?

    The interesting thing about these posts and comments is that I feel myself persuaded to many differing views. I understand Sylvia's point, and agree to an extent. Still, I can't help but wonder how those who followed Hitler's commands are blameless.