“What do you reckon, my intrepid pal, fancy traveling around the world in eighty days?” I wrote, completely out of the blue.
“What’s that, say you?” replied Jimmy, “that’s a dashing smart idea.”
“We could re-create Mr. Phileas Fogg’s journey. London to Suez by rail and steamboat, Suez to Bombay by steamer, Bombay to Calcutta by rail, Calcutta to Hong Kong then Yokohama by steamer, and again to San Francisco. On to New York by rail, and finally to London by steamer and rail.”
“I’d best book some time off from work, old chap.”
“Eighty days should do it.”
That conversation really happened, but not in those words. You see, I’d been walking along Terezde street past Hotel Moskova and happened to look over a small book stall set up on the street. It was full of the usual local language nonsense but one book stood out – an old 1957 young reader’s edition of Jules Verne’s famous story. Importantly, it had pictures in it.
After having been bored out of my mind reading his 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, I asked myself, what’s the skinny on Verne? He invented the science fiction genre and undoubtedly possessed a fantastic imagination but… based on that book, at least, he was a terrible writer and unable to tell a story. Wouldn’t it be great if someone took a Jules Verne classic, shortened it, kept all the best bits, and trimmed down all of his interminable prose.
Even better, what if they put lots of pictures in it?
Thus I found myself sitting in Plato cafe eating chicken breast and hummus, while smashing through the Simon And Schuster Golden Picture Classics edition of Around The World In Eighty Days. It came in at 96 pages so a bit slim for a novel, but it certainly whipped through the tale and covered all the key points. It didn’t feel limited.
I’m sure you’re all aware of the basic plot beats. Mr Phileas Fogg is sitting on his arse in the exclusive Reform Club in 1872 when he is drawn into debate with fellow members. At dispute is an article in the morning’s Daily Telegraph  laying out a route, with stage times, suggesting one can circumnavigate the globe in just eighty days. I imagine that sounded rather far-fetched in 1872. Fogg is adamant it can be done – his fellows disagree – and soon stakes are raised. He bets £20,000 he can do it, leaving that very night.
I really enjoyed Fogg’s characterisation. He’s an obtuse, OCD man of leisure who sticks resolutely to his opinions and to his word. That same morning he’d fired his manservant for bringing his shaving water two degrees below established precedent. He immediately engages a new French manservant who has quit the circus (as a gymnast) to seek a sedantry predictable life. Oh ho ho, what a surprise Monsieur Passepartout is in for! Throughout the upcoming journey Fogg is always quiet, taciturn, and absolutely focused on the task in hand. He’s a proper Victorian gentleman and I’ll tell you this, he wouldn’t have any time for you modern people’s faggots, transsexuals or purple-haired feminists, I’ll tell you that for free, good sir!
Regular readers know that without intention-plus-obstacle there is no drama. So, while the former is clear, how is Jules Verne to provide ongoing obstacles in what is basically a holiday? Sure, the train can break down or bad weather at sea (both happen) but nature isn’t a very interesting antagonist. The solution is great: there’s been a bank robbery in London and the escaped perp has a description nominally similar to Fogg. When a reward is offered, a policeman in British-run Suez matches him to it, investigates, and finds out Fogg left London suddenly with a pile of cash (he withdrew £20k readies to grease the journey’s wheels). So the cop is the antagonist, trying to delay Fogg’s trip while in British-run territory until the arrest warrant arrives.
Being a Victorian England book, rule of law is everything. Can’t do anything without a warrant.
Around The World In Eighty Days has the usual fantastical local colour you’d expect, using the set-up as a way into displaying odd customs of other countries and finding plenty of dastardly characters. If there’s one thing I learned from this book, it’s that an Englishman had better not trust Mr Johnny Foreigner. You don’t know what they’ll try, you really don’t. The Indians try burning a rich man’s widow to death on the funeral pyre. It reminded me of a famous Charles Napier quote. Hindu priests had complained to him about the prohibition of this Sati religious funeral.
“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”
In the USA their train is attacked by Red Indians and Fogg engages in a shootout, until the cavalry arrive (literally). Sadly, not all national stereotypes are represented. The French manservant never surrenders to Germans, nor does he eat cheese. The Chinks in Hong Kong don’t try to knife him in a back-alley, nor do the Japs try to sell him a schoolgirl’s soiled underwear.
This Simon And Schuster edition was produced in 1957, which the sharp-eyed among you will recognise as being 8 years before the 1965 Immigration Act that began the end of America. This book just assumes you’re white, K-selected, and see foreigners as weird little half-humans who know not what they do.
Kind of like how I feel in 2018.
If you’d like to read a book about adventuring across the world, including many insulting things written about foreigners of literally every race, with the liberal use of racist slurs such as slants, wops, chinks, jocks, niggers, kikes, and goat-fuckers then you’ll absolutely love my memoir series. If you prefer your daygame within the Overton Window, consider my textbooks. Both available from this product summary page.
 Now a despicable cuckservative rag that many Brits cluelessly call ‘right wing’ and The Daily Torygraph.