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.