An Antarctic Mystery or The Sphinx of the Ice Fields by Jules Verne


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A wonderful coming together of two writers who wrote their books more than half a century apart. Neither of them had ever visited the remote islands they were writing about yet they provided inspiration for a couple of exciting adventure tales. In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It was the only complete novel published by the American author. It was the story of a young boy who stows away on board a whaling ship and it goes on to relate the events that follow. The novel ends a trifle abruptly, with the hero and his friend Dirk Peters deciding to journey to the South Pole. In 1897, the French writer Jules Verne, who was compiling his Voyages Extraodinaires (a series of 54 books that combined science and literature) took up the threads of Arthur Gordon Pym's story and wrote a two volume novel called An Antarctic Mystery (Le Sphinx des Glaces in French). Set eleven years after Poe leaves Pym on his way to Antarctica, the book opens with a description of a wealthy American student Jeorling, who is looking for a crew and a ship to take him back to the US after a long sojourn in the Kerguelen Islands in the extreme south of the Indian Ocean. These islands, one of the most remote places on earth, are home to rare flora and fauna, the subject of Jeorling's study. The captain of the ship turns out to be the brother of William Guy, who had captained the Jane, the ship which carried Pym and Dirk Peters to Antarctica and was presumably lost there. A mysterious sailor joins the crew and he seems over-eager to be on board. Another sailor named Hunt is also on board and there is something strange about him too. The ship reaches the island of Tsalal which was destroyed by an earthquake recently. Here they find remains of people who seemed to have been murdered before the earthquake. They also find Pym's dog Tiger's collar, but there is no sign of either Pym or the dog. The rest of the tale races towards an exciting climax which explains the bizarre events. This relatively short novel was written at a time when practically nothing was known about Antarctica. It was translated into English by Frances (Cashel) Hoey an Irish novelist, journalist and translator who translated more than 27 novels from Italian and French into English. An Antarctic Mystery is an exciting and interesting read, especially when read in tandem with Poe's earlier novel.

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