There is no hot air balloon in Around the World in Eighty Days

At the concert the other night, the conductor was talking about how sci-fi stories have been around for over a hundred years; one of the early pioneers was Jules Verne, whose books describe many things that seemed fantastical in his day, but are now part of modern technology, like a submarines.  Or traveling around the world in a hot air balloon for 80 days.

My first exposure to Jules Verne; I fell in love. Don’t worry, I’ve read the “real” versions, too.

Thinking about this comment, I polled my husband, figuring that he, like the average American, hadn’t read Jules Verne.

Me: Have you read Around the World in Eighty Days?

B: Nope.

Me: Can you tell me what it’s about?

B: People traveling in a balloon….and they only make it in time because they cross the International Date Line, or something.  And I think there’s a bet, too.

Ok, guys.  For all you people who have not read this book, I’m going to to blow your mind.  There is no hot air balloon in Around the World in Eighty Days.  The characters do not circumvent the globe in one.  They do not so much as set foot in one.  No balloon. No balloon of any kind.

(FWIW, B was right about the rest of the story.)

Around the World in Eighty Days (or AW80D, as I’m going to refer to it from here on out) is not really a science fiction story like some of Verne’s other novels.  It is an adventure story, based not on fictional technology, but real technology that was changing Verne’s world.  Phileas Fogg and his traveling companions mainly use trains and steamer ships to complete their journey; the only exception being an elephant ride in India, and a wind sledge ride across the Great Plains, both to get from train to train.

Phileas Fogg’s journey. Map by wikipedia user Roke, available under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Around_the_World_in_80_Days_(1956_film)_posterThis misconception comes about because of (what else?) the movie version.  The 1956 film adaptation starring David Niven, Cantinflas, and Shirley MacLaine added a bit where Fogg and his valet Passepartout travel from Paris to Spain in a hydrogen balloon (not even hot air).

There were of course also other changes and additions, including a bullfight in Spain, partly to enhance the role of Passepartout, played by the famous Mexican comedic actor Cantinflas in his Hollywood debut.

This film won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, so these changes must have worked!

The idea for the balloon may have come from another of Verne’s works, Five Weeks in a Balloon, published in 1863.  It tells the story of an adventuring party crossing the continent of Africa in a hydrogen balloon; it was very successful and laid the groundwork for his later novels.  AW80D was published only 10 years later in 1873.

It has always baffled me how ingrained in popular culture the idea of a balloon as part of AW80D is.  It is so ingrained that even some book covers have a balloon pictured on them.  Talk about false advertising!

Book covers: you're doing it wrong.
Book covers: you’re doing it wrong.
Shame on you, Bantam.
Shame on you, Bantam.


37 thoughts on “There is no hot air balloon in Around the World in Eighty Days

  1. NovEllaandBanannabelle July 22, 2014 / 8:34 pm

    I like Jules Verne, too! And I had those same illustrated classics 🙂 .

    I’m always surprised when a book’s cover doesn’t match the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei July 22, 2014 / 9:43 pm

      I have a whole little collection of those old Illustrated Classics; they are wonderful! I read The Last of the Mohicans all the time, because I’m not brave enough to slog through the real version.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kar October 6, 2015 / 11:12 pm

    Verne is one of my favorites, I had no idea that so many hit the story wrong!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei October 6, 2015 / 11:21 pm

      One of my favorites, too! Isn’t it funny how those kinds of things happen?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Melissa Lins November 19, 2015 / 7:39 am

    Just finished the book and I was left shocked about all the wrong book covers around the world! Thank you for answering that!
    And I mistakenly used to think that disinformation about authorship was a recent invention…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei November 19, 2015 / 9:06 am

      Haha, glad I could clarify 🙂 Isn’t it funny how these things get started?


  4. Dirt Road Wife February 3, 2016 / 10:20 am

    I read Around the World in 80 Days as a kid, but obviously don’t remember much from it, other than the bet. I too would have said there was a hot air balloon involved. Talk about subliminal messaging – I’ve seen the hot air balloons associated with it so much, I’ve substituted it for reality. Yikes!

    I’ll have to add Around the World in 80 Days to my reading list. Or re-reading list. Either way, it’s worth revisiting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei February 4, 2016 / 9:48 pm

      Definitely, it’s a great story, even without balloons 🙂


  5. Purplepumpernickelblog February 19, 2016 / 2:15 am

    It’s amazing how movie version of books can change our memory of a book. The Jackie Chan version of the movie also had a hot air balloon …. So, is artistic license a good thing, or not? I reckon if I were Jules Verne, I’d be glad that folks are still talking about me.


    • Mei-Mei February 20, 2016 / 5:31 pm

      Yeah, I often remember more about the movie than the book, especially if it’s a good adaptation. Because they’re 2 different kinds of media, different things work well in each, so I think that artistic license is critical. Sometimes it can go terribly wrong, but in this case it clearly created something that stuck with everyone!


  6. Brad July 28, 2016 / 10:06 am

    there is a brief mention of the possibility of using a hot air balloon towards the end but they go by sea instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei July 28, 2016 / 10:05 pm

      Oh you are right! I just had to look it up:
      “Still, some means must be found to cross the Atlantic on a boat, unless by balloon–which would have been venturesome, besides not being capable of being put in practice.”
      That may not be the best translation, but it doesn’t seem like a serious option haha

      Thanks for the stopping by and commenting!


  7. Kirilla Mihai September 24, 2016 / 10:34 am

    Hy, Thank you for this information, I’m doing a 2 by 6 meter sized mural in Maastricht, Holland, with AW80D theme and reading the summary of the novel I haven’t read anything in Fogg’s travels featuring a hot air balloon all though most of the novels illustrations on google emphasize on a god damn balloon. Its flashy and more adventurous means of transportation than a steamer or a train but miss leading none the less. Either way I appreciate the information and keep up the positive waves! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei September 25, 2016 / 4:01 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, I’m glad the info was helpful! A balloon would indeed be a “flashy and more adventurous” means of transportation; I’m sure that’s why it captured so many people’s imaginations after it was introduced in the movie version.

      Best of luck with your mural!


  8. The Otaku Judge October 19, 2016 / 5:00 am

    People who insist the story features a balloon are “full of hot air”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. thepetalpusher November 19, 2016 / 11:39 am

    I have never read it (and I’m a LITT major), so now my interest is piqued. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei November 19, 2016 / 11:46 am

      It’s a wonderful book, even without hot air balloons! My favorite Jules Verne is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; I’d recommend that one, too. 🙂


      • thepetalpusher November 19, 2016 / 6:35 pm

        Thanks. When I was young, certain books were given to boys and and other books to girls. 20,000 was given to my brother. I am 64 and read Robinhood for the first time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mei-Mei November 19, 2016 / 11:28 pm

        I’m glad you’re making up for lost time then. It’s never too late for good literature!


  10. Zenarte June 13, 2017 / 11:26 am

    I’ve just finished reading the book and I actually looked on the web to see if the version I read wasn’t the right one, since there were no balloons on it. Movies… =P

    Liked by 1 person

  11. firehorse January 16, 2019 / 9:14 am

    Great blog! You are right, the first thing that came to mind was a hot air baloon. I feel inspired to read this now. I’ve read 20,000 leagues and Journey to the centre of the Earth (may fav!) so I will try ATW.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei January 16, 2019 / 7:48 pm

      20,000 Leagues is my favorite. I’m not sure I have read the whole of Journey (just the illustrated kids version) so maybe I will try that one! Enjoy ATW (even minus a balloon)!

      Liked by 1 person

      • firehorse January 17, 2019 / 1:54 am

        Thanks, I tried digging a tunnel to the center of the Earth once when I was a kid. My Dad wasn’t impressed with the hole in our back garden!


  12. JDH May 29, 2019 / 10:15 am

    My children and I just finished reading this book. It was wonderful!! As we got closer to the end with no air balloon in site, we thought maybe Mr. fogg and Auida would go on their honeymoon in a hot air balloon? We were kind of disappointed. Oh well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei May 29, 2019 / 1:31 pm

      Ha ha! Now I will forever imagine them honeymooning in a balloon! I love it.

      So glad you enjoyed it with your children 😊


    • Valencia Cantu May 10, 2021 / 12:30 am

      I thought that, too. Sounds romantic


  13. Valencia Cantu May 10, 2021 / 12:27 am

    “talk about false advertisement!” Was exactly what I thought when I finished read the book today. I so anticipated the characters having to travel by hot air balloon til I read the last page. I have to look into Jules Verne’s “Five weeks in a balloon” for that adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nosrat Amini August 8, 2021 / 3:48 pm

    Hi there !
    There is also a hot air balloon in Verne’s The mysterious island !!!
    Nosrat Amini


    • Mei-Mei August 8, 2021 / 6:57 pm

      Oh, I didn’t know that! I haven’t gotten a chance to read that one. Thank you for commenting and letting us know more about Verne and balloons 🙂


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