Saturday, December 8, 2018

An Antarctic Mystery (The Sphinx of the Ice Fields) by Jules Verne (novel #118)

Pym, poor Pym! he must not be foresaken ~ Dirk Peters

An Antarctic Mystery is Jules Verne’s sequel to Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Although it is not unheard of for one author to sequel another, it is rare that both are such renowned authors, each in their own right. What’s more, I think such sequels are often disappointing, but in this instance, I think it was rather brilliant.

I was excited to learn of Verne’s sequel (thanks Mudpuddle), because although I found Poe’s novel riveting – it ended quite abruptly, and left me wanting more.

Jules Verne obligingly provided more.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a bit of complicated metafiction. In the beginning, Poe has the fictional Pym relate his tale to Poe, asserting that no one would believe the tale if recounted as a true narrative, so he employs Poe to record it as a “pretended fiction”.

In other words, it’s a fiction, pretending to be fact, pretending to be fiction. I said it was complicated.

And then Verne picks it up and complicates it more. An Antarctic Adventure begins in the Kerguelen Islands, 11 years later with Mr. Jeorling, who does not appear in Pym’s narrative, but who is familiar with Poe’s novel. Jeorling encounters a ship’s captain, Mr. Len Guy, who believes the entire account to be true.
I thought I must be dreaming when I heard Captain Len Guy’s words. Edgar Poe’s romance was nothing but a fiction, a work of imagination by the most brilliant of our American writers. And here was a sane man treating that fiction as reality.

Jeorling concludes Captain Guy is not entirely sane, though an able seaman. Jeorling recalls another Captain Guy – Captain William Guy of the doomed ship Jane, from Pym’s narrative. 

Of course, events prove Captain Len Guy correct and it is evident he is obsessed with discovering the fate of his brother Captain William Guy who was lost with the Jane and her crew.

The original title: Le Sphinx des glaces should be rendered The Sphinx of the Ice Fields in English, but for some reason English versions of the novel are not given this title, but rather An Antarctic Mystery. This was my first time reading Jules Verne. I will definitely read more. I thought this tale quite clever in its treatment of the backstory, an exciting story on its own, and a perfect complement to Poe’s tale creating one complete, fantastic tale.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An Antarctic Mystery was published in 1897, nearly 60 years after The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and nearly 50 years after Poe’s death. So of course, we cannot know what Poe would have thought of it, but I thought it a magnificent tribute by one of the greatest authors of the fantastic to another.


Life on board was very regular, very simple, and its monotony was not without a certain charm. Sailing is repose in movement, a rocking in a dream, and I did not dislike my isolation. ~ Jeorling

Pym, poor Pym! he must not be forsaken. ~ Dirk Peters



  1. i'm glad you found a copy; i forgot to mention i got mine from Gutenberg (i think)... it's most likely been out of print for a long time...

  2. Oh my goodness, Jules Verne wrote fanfiction??? This sounds completely awesome!

    I've read Around the World in 80 Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I liked them pretty well.

  3. My daughter & I just finished listening to 'Master of the World' on audio on our driving trips. Some of his books feel like they were intended for a younger audience but he is very enjoyable. And I've never heard of this one before. Sounds great.

    1. Yeah, I'm inspired now to get to some of his well known stuff...but the can be these gems among the obscure and forgotten.


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