Why Jules Verne is the father of global pop culture



PAssociate professor of modern literature in preparatory classes, Nicolas Allard is a specialist in pop culture. We owe him in particular literary and philosophical essays devoted to Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Dune. His new book, The Extraordinary Worlds of Jules Verne * (éditions Armand Colin), analyzes the rich artistic heritage of the French writer.

Around the world in 80 days is one of the major television events of the end of the year 2021. The result of an international co-production in which France Television has taken an active part, this 8-episode mini-series deliberately takes great liberties with regard to the famous novel by Jules Verne. The producers of this ambitious fiction admit that 80% of the original text has been rewritten. While this bias may surprise and perhaps even annoy certain fans of the French writer, this phenomenon is neither new nor isolated.

As I have the opportunity to show in my essay The Extraordinary Worlds of Jules Verne (Armand Colin, 2021), the French writer is not only one of the founding fathers of science fiction: he is even more that of pop culture. Second most translated author in the world after the British novelist Agatha Christie, Jules Verne inspired from the beginning of the 20th centurye century artists from around the world. His works have given rise to a considerable number of adaptations, on very different media.

Jules Verne first exercised a major influence on Georges Méliès, often considered the first great director in the history of cinema. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese are among his direct heirs and fully assume their filiation with the one who was nicknamed the Jules Verne of cinema. The love story between Extraordinary trips and the seventh art is such that there are to date more than 300 film and television adaptations of these novels.

Grand master of adventure, a theme common to most of the works of pop culture, Jules Verne was the first artist to have known how to impose on an international scale an entertainment that is at the same time intelligent, popular and transgenerational. An unprecedented tour de force in the world of the arts and which will subsequently become one of the main characteristics of works of pop culture.

Even if he has not adapted any Jules Verne novel, George Lucas is undoubtedly one of his most famous heirs. At the time of writing the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, he took from the French writer a process that we now know under the name of « retroactive continuity » (or even  » retcon »), Which consists of providing additional information to the past of a story that is already well underway. At the end of the novel L’Îthe mysterious, we discovered that the mysterious Captain Nemo was actually an Indian prince, named Dakkar. The surprise provided by this information was not, however, inconsistent with what the novel Twenty thousand leagues under sea had taught us about the character. Retroactive continuity presupposes ensuring that the additions made to the story do not involve any major improbability. The moment Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker that he is his father, this information surprises the viewer, but he ends up accepting it because the original trilogy makes it plausible. Without Jules Verne, the greatest twist in movie history might never have happened, and Darth Vader certainly wouldn’t have become such a fascinating and complex villain.

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Jules Verne’s influence on pop culture is such that it goes far beyond the worlds of cinema and television. She even exceeds her novels and writing practices. Jules Verne is, in fact, the guardian of steampunk. Created in the 1980s, this artistic movement is inspired by the aesthetics present in the works of the French writer, without seeking to adapt them. In their artistic productions, steampunk artists approach the end of the XIXe and the beginning of the XXe century as if the inventions of Jules Verne had then been concrete realities.

Extremely creative, this movement has enjoyed growing success for several years. He inspires in particular many Japanese artists, starting with Hayao Miyazaki, admiring reader of Jules Verne and to whom we owe great steampunk works like The castle in the Sky. Miyazaki was also at the origin of one of the most beautiful free adaptations of Extraordinary trips : the animated series Nadia, the secret of blue water, finally performed by Hideaki Anno, the father ofEvangelion. Disney Christmas 2001 (Atlantis, the lost empire) is also inspired by great novels by Jules Verne such as Twenty thousand leagues under sea Where Journey to the Center of the Earth, in a retro-futuristic perspective. Passionate reader of Extraordinary trips, Walt Disney placed the French writer at the heart of his company’s film productions and amusement parks. Even after his death, this tradition was not broken, to the point that we should soon find on Disney + a prequel series dedicated to Captain Nemo and entitled Nautilus.

The world of comics is also very much inspired by the works of Jules Verne. The Adventures of Tintin, Blake et Mortimer, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec owe a lot to Extraordinary trips by Jules Verne.

Finally, some major pop culture franchises might not have looked the same without the writings of the French author. Master of the adventure novel, Jules Verne exerted a major influence on the writing of the saga Indiana Jones. An avid reader of his novels, Ian Fleming, the father of James Bond, has always considered Jules Verne as one of the main precursors of spy novels. We can thus observe many points in common between Michel Strogoff and Agent 007. With his Journey to the Center of the Earth, of which a new television adaptation should be launched soon, Jules Verne was the first to consider the confrontation between man and creatures from another time. His text also inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to The lost World that Michael Crichton for Jurassic Park, novel at the origin of one of the most famous franchises of pop culture.

Through his stories and his writing practices, Jules Verne was thus one of the pioneers of pop culture and continues to exercise, more than 100 years after his death, a major influence on current artistic productions. If he was long denigrated by his compatriots, this major writer deserves to be fully rehabilitated, so much we owe him the possibility of escaping into extraordinary worlds, whether he is the creator or the main source of inspiration.

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