Off on a Comet: Wikis


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Off on a Comet  
Author Jules Verne
Original title Hector Servadac
Translator unknown (1877), Ellen Frewer (1877), Edward Roth (1877-78), I. O. Evans (1965)
Illustrator Paul Philippoteaux
Country France
Language French
Series The Extraordinary Voyages #15
Genre(s) Science fiction, adventure novel
Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date 1877
Published in
Media type Print (Hardback)
Preceded by Michael Strogoff
Followed by The Child of the Cavern

Off on a Comet (French: Hector Servadac) is an 1877 science fiction novel by Jules Verne.


Plot summary

John Herschel observes Comet Halley from his observatory in Cape Town in 1835 (illustration from the book).

The story starts with a comet that touches the Earth in its flight and collects a few small chunks of it. Some forty people of various nations and ages are condemned to a two-year-long journey on the comet. They form a mini-society and cope with the hostile environment of the comet (mostly the cold). The size of the 'comet' is about 2300 kilometers in diameter - far larger than any comet or asteroid that actually exists.

Main characters

The 36 inhabitants of Gallia include a German Jew, an Italian, three Frenchmen, eight Russians, 10 Spaniards, and 13 British soldiers. The main characters are:

  • Captain Hector Servadac of the French Algerian army
  • Laurent Ben Zoof, Servadac's aid
  • Count Wassili Timascheff of Russia
  • Lt. Procope, the commander of Timascheff's yacht, Dobrina
  • Isaac Hakkabut, a German trader
  • Nina
  • Pablo
  • Colonel Heneage Finch Murphy and Major Sir John Temple Oliphant of Britain's Gibraltar garrison. In the French original Murphy is actually a Brigadier (General), a rank too high to be the butt of Verne's joking description as playing an interminable game of chess without a pawn being taken. The translator accordingly demoted him to the rank of Colonel, a rank less likely to cause offense.
  • Palmyrin Rosette, the French discoverer of the comet and previously Servadac's teacher.

Publication history

The book was first published in France (Hetzel Edition, 1877).

The English translation by Ellen E. Frewer, was published in England by Sampson Low (November 1877), and the U.S. by Scribner Armstrong[1] with the title Hector Servadac; Or the Career of a Comet. The Frewer translation alters the text considerably with additions and emendations, paraphrases dialogue, and rearranges material, although the general thread of the story is followed. The translation was made from the Magazin pre-publication version of the novel described below in Antisemitism.

At the same time George Munro[2] in New York published an anonymous translation in a newspaper format as #43 of his Seaside Library books. This is the only literal translation containing all the dialogue and scientific discussions. Unfortunately the translation stops after Part II Chapter 10, and continues with the Frewer translation.

The same year a still different translation by Edward Roth was published in Philadelphia by Claxton, Remsen, and Heffelfinger[3] in two parts. Part I (October, 1877) was entitled To the Sun and Part II (May, 1878) Off on a Comet. This was reprinted in 1895 by David McKay.

Occasional reprints of these books were published around 1900 by Norman L. Munro, F.M. Lupton, Street&Smith, Hurst and Co., and Federal Book Co.

In 1911, Vincent Parke and Company[4] published a shortened version of the Frewer translation, omitting Part II, Chapter 3. Parke used the title Off on a Comet, and since that time the book has usually been referred to with that title instead of the correct one, Hector Servadac.

In 1926 the first two issues of Amazing Stories carried Off on a Comet in two parts. In 1959, Classics Illustrated released Off on a Comet as a graphic novel (issue #149).

In 1960 Dover (New York) re-published the Roth translations, unabridged, as Space Novels by Jules Verne, including reproductions of the original engravings from the first French editions. In 1965 the I. O. Evans condensation of the Frewer translation was published in two volumes as Anomalous Phenomena and Homeward Bound by ARCO, UK and Associated Booksellers, US. University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, re-published the Frewer translation in 2000. In September, 2007, Solaris Books (U.K.) published Off on a Comet as an appendix to Splinter by Adam Roberts; a slightly edited version of the Parke edition.

In a September 11, 2007 blog post on The Guardian, Adam Roberts reviewed the 1877 translation. Roberts felt that the translation was inaccurate and incomplete.[5] However Roberts' criticism is somewhat vitiated by the fact that the version of Hector Servadac he was criticizing was the corrupt version of the original Frewer translation found on Project Gutenberg (based on the Parke edition, above) made from a different French original than the one he was using.

In October, 2007, Choptank Press published an on-line version of Munro's 1877 Hector Servadac, Travels and Adventures through the Solar System [6] edited by Norman Wolcott, followed (December, 2007) by Hector Servadac: The Missing Ten Chapters from the Munro Translation[7] newly translated by Norman Wolcott and Christian Sánchez. In 2008 the Choptank Press published a combined book version Hector Servadac: Travels and Adventures Through the Solar System containing (I) An enlarged replica of Seaside Library edition #43 as published by George Munro, New York, 1877; (II)A typeset version of the same in large readable type; (III) A new translation of the last 10 chapters from the original French by Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez in the literal style of the remainder of the book; and (IV) 100 illustrations from the original publications enlarged to 8 1/2"x11" format.[8]

Antisemitism controversy

From the beginning Verne had problems with this novel.[9] Originally he intended that Gallia would crash into the earth killing all on board. This may have been the motivation for his ghoulish and rather unfunny joke naming the hero "Servadac" with the mirror of the French word cadavres (="corpses"), predicting all would die on the "return". His publisher Hetzel would not accept this however, given the large juvenile readership in his monthly magazine, and Verne was forced to graft a rather unsatisfying ending onto the story, allowing the inhabitants of Gallia to escape the crash in a balloon.

The first appearance in French was in the serial magazine Magazine d'Éducation et de Récréation, commencing on 1 January 1877 and ending on 15 December 1877. It was in June, 1877 when chapter 18 appeared with the introduction and description of Isac Hakhabut — "He was a man of fifty years, who looked sixty. Small, weakly, with eyes bright and false, a busked nose, a yellowish beard and unkempt hair, large feet, hands long and hooked, he offered the well-known type of the German Jew, recognizable among all. This was the usurer with supple back-bone, flat-hearted, a clipper of coins and a skin-flint. Silver should attract such a being as the magnet attracts iron, and if this Shylock was allowed to pay himself from his debtor, he would certainly sell the flesh at retail. Besides, although a Jew originally, he made himself a Mahometan in Mahometan provinces, when his profit demanded it, and he would have been a pagan to gain more."

This prompted the chief rabbi of Paris, Zadoc Kahn, to write a letter to Hetzel, objecting that this material had no place in a magazine for young people. Hetzel and Verne co-signed a reply indicating they had no intention of offending anyone, and promising to make corrections in the next edition. However Verne left the salvage work to Hetzel, asking Hetzel at the end of the summer, "Have you arranged the affair of the Jews in Servadac?" The principal change was to replace "Jew" with "Isac" throughout, and to add "christian countries" to those where Hakhabut plied his trade. The anti-semitic tone remained however, sales were lower than for other Verne books, and the American reprint houses saw little profit with only a single printing by George Munro in a newspaper format. Even the Hetzel revised version has never been translated into English, as both Victorian translations were made from the magazine version. This has caused some modern reviewers to unfairly criticize the early translators, assuming that they had inserted the anti-semitic material which Verne actually wrote.

Film Adaptations

Na kometě (Off on a comet), directed by Karel Zeman, Czechoslovakia, 1970. The English language release was titled On the Comet.

External links


  1. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.  
  2. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.  
  3. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.  
  4. ^ Charles F. Horne Ph.D., ed (1911). "Works of Jules Verne 9". New York: Vincent Parke and Company. Retrieved 2008-10-04.  
  5. ^ Roberts, Adam. "Jules Verne deserves a better translation service." The Guardian. September 11, 2007.
  6. ^ Norman Wolcott, editor (October 2007). "Hector Servadac, Travels and Adventures through the Solar System". Choptank Press. Retrieved 2008-12-01.  
  7. ^ Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez, translators (December, 2007). "Hector Servadac: The Missing Ten Chapters from the Munro Translation". Choptank Press. Retrieved 2008-12-01.  
  8. ^ Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez, editors/translators (2008). Hector Servadac: Travels and Adventures through the Solar System. St. Michaels, MD: Choptank Press. p. 554.   [1]
  9. ^ Material in this section is described in the book by Herbert R. Lottman (1997). Jules Verne: an Exploratory Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press.  


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