Updating an Old Rocketry Novel with Modern Prose

Click here for a related STEM activity. After reading about the "Mickey Mouse" rocket, explain why it is unlikely to reach orbit.


From the Earth to the Moon

By Jules Verne



Author Jules Verne




French Author Jules Verne crafted an excellent science fiction work titled FROM THE EARTH TO THE  MOON more than a century ago.  The book and its sequel AROUND THE MOON were prophetic based on what came to pass in the 1950s and 60s regarding the space race.  A dozen events predicted in Verne’s work actually happened in the space era of the 20th century.  The popularity of the book resulted in its translation more than a hundred years in the past from French to English.  However, the style of English prose, written so long ago is much different from today.  As an exercise, the student is to read a passage from Verne’s novel and update it for enhanced readability by modern science fiction readers.


Often, the original vocabulary employs little used words whose meaning must be found in a dictionary.  The exercise requires substituting better known, more easily read words, than found in the original text.  The following passage is offered as an example adaptation.  (Several children’s publishers have done the same in rewriting the tale for youthful readers.)  The example which follows  is from Chapter 11, Florida and Texas.


Example for Study

Original Text

(Note: Difficult words are defined.)


(Background summary: The Gun Club, led by its president, Professor Barbicane, must select which state for the site of the Moon-Cannon.  This creates a problem of anger and jealousy toward members of the Club from the losing state. In the following account, Professor Barbicane comes up with a solution to keep the anger to a minimum.)


President Barbicane knew not which way to look. Notes, documents, letters full of menaces (“complaints, threats”) showered down upon his house. Which side ought he to take? As regarded the appropriation (something “set aside”)  of the soil, the facility (“ease”)  of communication, the rapidity (“speed”) of transport, the claims of both States were evenly balanced. As for political prepossessions, (“prejudices”)  they had nothing to do with the question.

This dead lock had existed for some little time, when Barbicane resolved to get rid of it all at once. He called a meeting of his colleagues, and laid before them a proposition (“concept or idea”)  which, it will be seen, was profoundly (“keenly”)  sagacious (“shrewd or wise”).

"On carefully considering," he said, "what is going on now between Florida and Texas, it is clear that the same difficulties will recur with all the towns of the favored State. The rivalry will descend from State to city, and so on downward. Now Texas possesses eleven towns within the prescribed (“required”) conditions, which will further dispute the honor (“disagree with the choice”) and create us new enemies, while Florida has only one. I go in, therefore, for Florida and Tampa Town."

This decision, on being made known, utterly crushed the Texan deputies. Seized with an indescribable fury, they addressed threatening letters to the different members of the Gun Club by name. The magistrates (“civil authorities”)  had but one course to take, and they took it. They chartered a special train, forced the Texans into it whether they would or no; and they quitted (“left”)  the city with (“at”) a speed of thirty miles an hour.

Rewritten Version

(Hint: The best approach is initially to look-up the difficult words prior to rewriting the passage.  Next, read the sentences  silently, trying to grasp the best choices for  synonyms  replacing the archaic words in the text. Additionally, the sense of the situation is needed for a translation into modern prose.  To do that, the student should review what has been written in the previous paragraphs.  The entire text of the novel is on-line as well as on the Developmental Educators’ and Space Educators’ Handbook  DVDs.)

President Barbicane was confused.  Many  threatening letters,   about whose side he should take, came to his home.  “Should he recommend Texas or Florida for the construction  of the launch cannon?”  Regarding the ease of buying  property for the launch site, being able to communicate with the construction team, and how fast materials could be transported to the construction site  were equal in each state’s proposal.  As far as considering politics in the selection, it would not be considered.

The inability to select either Texas or Florida had been a “dead-lock” existing  for awhile.  Suddenly, Barbicane came to a conclusion to move forward.  He called a meeting of his colleagues to present an approach which would be seen as very wise.

He began, “The competition between Florida and Texas for the site of our moon-cannon will cause much anger toward us from the losing state. Unfortunately, this won’t end with which state is selected.”  Barbicane continued, “The same kind of angry jealously toward us will affect cities  in the winning state .   Every city in the selected state will want the cannon for their community.  This rivalry will  create anger between all the cities in the selected state , able and wanting  the job.  Those who lose will be angry with us for their loss.  Now Texas has eleven towns who qualify for the job while Florida has but one, the city of Tampa.  So I say, let’s choose Florida with its one qualified city  rather than having ten Texas cities angry with us.” 

The adoption of Barbicane’s suggestion utterly angered the Texas delegation.  Their fury caused them to send angry letters to each member of the Gun Club.  The concerned civil authorities had no choice but to protect the Gun Club members.   They chartered a train,  rounded  up the Texans and required them to board the train.  Those disgruntled Texans  left town at the speed of thirty miles per hour.

The Assigned Text for Adaptation

A much briefer passage is selected from Chapter 11 of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON for an updated adaptation of the 19th century English prose.  By way of background, Barbicane and his Gun Club colleagues have arrived in Tampa, Florida to assess the situation with regard to cannon building issues:


Our four passengers disembarked at once. "Gentlemen," said Barbicane, "we have no time to lose; tomorrow we must obtain horses, and proceed to reconnoiter the country."

Barbicane had scarcely set his foot on shore when three thousand of the inhabitants of Tampa Town came forth to meet him, an honor due to the president who had signalized their country by his choice.

Declining, however, every kind of ovation, Barbicane ensconced himself in a room of the Franklin Hotel.

On the morrow some of the small horses of the Spanish breed, full of vigor and of fire, stood snorting under his windows; but instead of four steeds, here were fifty, together with their riders. Barbicane descended with his three fellow- travelers; and much astonished were they all to find themselves in the midst of such a cavalcade. He remarked that every horseman carried a carbine slung across his shoulders and pistols in his holsters.

Grading Criteria:

The above non-abridged version should be revised during a single one hour class period.  The grading criteria should include 1) adaptation choices of updated words for archaic terms, words, and phrases 2) maintaining the sense of the story, i.e., the revised prose should present the same facts, thoughts, and mood as the original, and 3) grammar and punctuation should be consistent with modern rules 


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