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Reblogged:Ayn Rand on Sci-Fi and Fantasy

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On learning that the four thousand illustrations from Jules Verne's "54-volume masterpiece" are now hosted online, I became curious. Why hadn't I ever heard of this huge "masterpiece?" Also, since I sometimes enjoy science fiction and fantasy, I was curious about reading at least some of Verne. I had also recently reviewed some of Ayn Rand's work on writing, and knew she might have said something about Verne, so I looked, and found a couple of passages. The first, from The Art of Fiction, considers science fiction as fantasy, and really just uses Verne to make a point:

Most of Jules Verne's science fiction presented extensions of the discoveries of his time; for instance, he wrote stories about dirigibles and submarines before these were actually invented. This was merely a literary exaggeration of an existing fact. Since inventions exist, it is legitimate for a writer to project new and greater ones. (p. 169)
The second doesn't offer particulars, but I take it as a hint at possible reason(s) (apart from the need for translation) that Verne's work is not widely-known as a whole, despite that whole containing several renowned works. This comes from "What Is Romanticism?" the sixth chapter of The Romantic Manifesto:
With its emphasis on sheer physical action and neglect of human psychology, this class of novels stands on the borderline between serious and popular literature. No top-rank novelists belong to this category; the better-known ones are writers of science fiction, such as H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. (Occasionally, a good writer of the Naturalistic school, with a repressed element of Romanticism, attempts a novel on an abstract theme that requires a Romantic approach; the result falls into this category. For example, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.) It is obvious why the novels of this category are enormously unconvincing. And, no matter how skillfully or suspensefully their action is presented, they always have an unsatisfying, uninspiring quality.(p. 109)
I haven't read any of Verne, so I can't offer thoughts one way or the other, but this is highly suggestive of a couple of possible answers to my first, broad question: lack of integration or a failure to move beyond suspense or rich description seem plausible enough to me. It's an interesting question.

That said, I looked a bit more into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I suspect I'll eventually read it. It sounds interesting enough on its own, and now I'm curious to see what Rand might have had in mind when she mentioned Verne in that second passage.

Coincidentally, in The Art of Fiction, Rand soon after mentions a book I did read recently, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, of which she has a higher opinion:
Jekyll-mansfield.jpg
Image by Henry Van der Weyde, via Wikipedia, public domain.
The best example of this kind of fantasy is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The literal subject of the story -- a man who changes himself physically into a monster -- is impossible, but this is only a symbolic device to convey a psychological truth. The story is a study of a man with contradictory premises. By drinking a special medicine, Dr. Jekyll indulges in the fun of turning himself into a monster. At first he is able to control the process, but then he reaches a stage where he cannot control it anymore, where he turns into the monster whether he wants to or not. This is what in fact happens to bad premises: at first they might be hidden or controlled, but if unchecked, they take control of a personality. (pp. 169-170)
To that I would add that, despite the fact that the general idea behind the story is very well known, I still found suspense in the way Robert Louis Stevenson tells the story, and highly recommend it. That the general idea of the story is so commonplace caused me to hesitate about reading it, and I am glad I got past that.

-- CAV

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