Many of us are fans of Jules Verne, but few of us realize how many books he really authored. During his life he penned 54 books in his Voyages Extraordinaires series, and again we are familiar with Around the World in 80 days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, and From the Earth to the Moon. But there are a lot more journeys that Verne is able to take us on.
The Adventures of Captain Hatteras is a rousing tale of exploration, as captain Hatteras sets forth to be the first man to discover the North Pole. By the time this book was written In 1866 there had been many attempts made by the English and others to reach the elusive North Pole. At the same time other people were also trying to find a Northwest Passage and, that too, becomes part of this book. Hatteras is a veteran explorer with mixed results and therefore decides to secretly hire a navigator who is in charge of hiring a crew and having a boat built to Hatteras specifications. The funds were secretly sent to the navigator and eventually the boat is built, the crew is outfitted and they leave without
Captain Hatteras on the boat. Even after the boat leaves on its journey there is no Captain Hatteras and yet they keep getting instructions from him. Many people suspect that the dog. Duke, that they were required to take along with them was actually Captain Hatteras which was a silly diversion in the book. Nonetheless once the boat got to a point where it could not return to England, Captain Hatteras reveals himself. He wanted no one to know that he was the person behind this exploration, his reputation being so poor that had they known it was him many of the crew would not have signed on.
This book takes us on a wonderful trip through northern Canada and all those bays, islands, coastlines and icebergs that made up this trip. In addition, we get a marvelous description of the prior explorations that failed to reach the North Pole, as well as an understanding the harshness of the conditions and the difficulties that the crew had trying to reach that elusive destination. As with most all polar explorations at the time, this one also got stuck in the ice and had to winter in the midst of icebergs and floating ice. But, unlike other explorations, this boat (called Forward) was not staffed with a crew that was really able to withstand the hardships of and Arctic winter. Eventually, while Captain Hatteras and a few of the crew are exploring for food and fuel, the remaining crew on the boat mutiny and leave to trek southward to try and find whalers who could help them return to England. This leaves captain Hatteras with little food and only three other people from that initial crew to follow him to the North Pole.
They stumble upon another person buried in the ice. His name is Altamont and he was there trying to find the northwest passage. After Altamont recovers he explained where his boat is located on the ice and the party of five now sets out to continue to search for his boat (The Porpoise) and find the North Pole. Altamont and Hatteras distrust each other for the longest of time, but finally due to the difficulties encountered each is responsible for saving the other one’s life and therefore a friendship develops.
As you can probably figure out, they make it to the North Pole and once there they are confronted by a huge surprise, and we also see the slow degeneration of Captain Hatteras into depression and madness. It is a tale that is quite understandable as I to wondered how those astronauts in the 1960s would feel after they returned to earth having spent time on the moon. What more could they ask for? How mundane the earth must seem after traveling to the moon and for Hatteras there were no other explorations for him since he had made his ultimate goal of the North Pole.
This book has an omniscient narrator who does a wonderful job of weaving this story, and actually giving us one of the best characters of this exploration which is Doctor Clawbonny. The doctor, a medical doctor, is also an expert in fields of history, geography, geology, botany and psychology, as well as being one of the nicest people, one who is able to forge the friendships that were required to make this trip a success.
Jules Verne has given us a wonderful look into polar exploration and even sets the stage for the third book of the series, Journey to the Center of the Earth. If you have never read Verne I would recommend beginning with the first book of the series, Five Weeks in a Balloon and then continuing on these amazing journeys. I love this book and found it easy to read, with no chapter being too long and the action always moving along rather briskly. What makes Jules Verne even more impressive is that he never left France. All of the multitude of details and research were done from his home, and so the voyages are all a creation of this man’s imagination.