Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How Volcanoes Work, according to Verne

So, I was bemused by the following passage in Verne's THE GOLDEN VOLCANO, written circa  1899. In what I suppose we might call a misinformation dump, he has a character explain how volcanoes work and get it gloriously wrong:

"Volcanoes, as you know, are all -- and this can be definitely 
asserted -- located at the edge of the sea or near it -- Vesuvius, 
Etna, Hecla, Chimborazo -- in the New World as well as the Old. 
The natural conclusion to be drawn from this is that they must 
be in underground communication with the oceans. Water filters 
into them, quickly or slowly, depending on the composition of 
the soil. It reaches the interior fire, where it's heated and turns 
to steam. When this steam, trapped in the bowels of the earth, 
attains a high pressure, it creates an internal upheaval and tries 
to escape to the outside, dragging ashes, slag, and rocks out 
through the chimney, surrounded by swirling clouds of smoke 
and flame. That, without any doubt, it the cause of eruptions 
and probably of earthquakes, too . . ."

All eyes were on the engineer at that moment. The explanation
 he had just given of volcanic phenomena was certainly 
an accurate one.


I don't know if this faux-science was something that's been put forth as a legitimate theory of vulcanology or if it's just an idea Verne had come up with and was throwing out there. I suspect the latter.  I'm pretty sure the realization that Yellowstone is a caldera of a supervolcano came after Verne's time, so we can't fault him there, but there are many volcanos that are a long way from the sea. Maybe it depends on how generously we define "near" the sea to be.

Also, I have to say that after all the build-up I was a little disappointed to find that the mountain of the title was 800 to 1,000 feet tall.

--John R.


Holly Oats said...

Kinda sounds like what happened with Krakatoa, which was around that time

John D. Rateliff said...

Yes: Verne's description of what happened to 'The Mysterious Island' predates the explosion at Krakatoa (which is WEST of Java, despite what old film titles may say) by a decade.* So there's a case where his extrapolation was pretty spot-on (except for his letting most of his heroes be right on the spot and yet survive the explosion, which I think we can all agree was a good decision, narratively speaking).

--John R.

*1872book, 1883 real-world

John D. Rateliff said...

BY the way, Dunsany once attributed his becoming a writer to Kratatoa, saying that the beautiful sunsets of his early memories, which had been caused by the far-away eruption, were glorious and helped inspired him to become a poet. It's an interesting example of the unexpected interconnections between things. --John R.