Of course Jules Verne is most famous for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a brilliant piece of speculative fiction that predicted, perhaps self-fulfillingly, numerous scientific advances of the 20th century. Of course he wrote other extraordinary novels that continues to fascinate and inspire readers to this day. From the Earth to the Moon is not one of them.
At his best, Verne wove fact and fiction into a thrilling and edifying mix that educators should have taken notes on. Any Victorian child as obsessed with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would have been as familiar with then-current marine biology as a modern child is with the classification of Pokemon characters.
Some commercial writers can churn out content of consistent quality, but it is always obvious when Verne was visited by the muse and when he was paying the bills. Like Charles Dickens, many of Verne’s books were first published serially, and he was paid by the word. This resulted in an excess of description, verbiage, and general emuneration of unnecessary detail that is tedious and painful to the modern reader.
The classic Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I have not read yet) was published as a proper book in 1864. Maybe it didn’t sell well right away, or maybe Verne squandered his advance. Maybe he was just worn out from the earlier, better book, but whatever the reason, From the Earth to the Moon was first published serially the following year, in 1865. It isn’t a very long book, and it is one of his famous series of Voyages Extraordinaires but reading it was a slog.
There is little in From the Earth to the Moon to attract the interest of any but the Verne completist. The book summarizes in gratuitous detail everything that was then known about the moon, including a history of lunar maps, and throws in a lot of American geography and simple physics as well. Where his better books complement science with adventure, From the Earth to the Moon lazily substitutes mockery of American culture. (To be fair, we make a pretty easy target – most of his jabs still strike their mark.) The jokes are funny, but no substitute for a good story.
Verne must have thought so himself. Four years later he wrote Around the Moon, which replaces the original premise of an American gun club, in the absence of war, determining to shoot the moon and replaces it with his more typical man-of-science adventure. He also abandons the abrupt and unsatisfying ending with a proper resolution.