“From the Earth to the Moon” is a novel written by Jules Verne in 1865. The novel is the story of an inventor named Barbicane, living after the end of the American Civil War who devises an enormous canon to shoot a bullet from to the moon from a small town in Florida.
Many difficulties arrest the creation of the canon, as it’s gargantuan size requires an astronomical amount of money and time to build. Eventually, however, the canon is completed. Shortly before it’s completion, a French adventurer named Ardan arrives to say that he wishes to travel inside of the bullet to the moon. A hollow capsule is made in which the Frenchman can travel and Barbicane and his long time rival, Captain Nicholl decide to go with him on the journey in order to settle their rivalry.
Unfortunately, the Barbicane’s astronomic calculations are slightly off and the capsule ends up orbiting the moon instead of landing on it. In the end, the three would-be astronauts are left orbiting the moon with no sign if they will ever manage to land.
The novel is one of Verne’s most well known works and is notable specifically for it’s early calculations for the requirements to the canon and their surprising realism, despite limited research on the moon at the time.
An organization called the “Gun Club” was formed during the American Civil War to study the science of gun making and perfect “the science of gunnery”. The club has seen much success in inventing new canon technology but suffered an incident where people were killed during a demonstration by a club member. When the war ends, the club is at a loss for what to do with themselves. At a meeting, the group receive a letter from the founder and president of the club, Impey Barbicane who announces that he has a proposal that will be of great interest to them on the next day.
That day, at an assembly, Barbicane speaks about performing an experiment. He intends to design a canon that can reach the moon. When the news of the experiment hits the news, the public are ecstatic. That night, a procession is held with Barbicane at it’s head. The people of Baltimore hold him up and shout “Bravo!” The rest of the country celebrates as well.
After the festivities end, Barbicane begins planning his canon. He writes a letter to the scholars at Cambridge asking if the task is possible. They answer that it is possible as long as he fires the canon from near the equator and only on the 1st of December the following year, as this is when the moon will be closest to Earth.
All over the country, even the most illiterate of people are trying to learn as much as they can about the moon. Unfortunately, a lot of false information gets disseminated such as a rumor about a race of aliens living on the moon. The higher ups of the Gun Club meet in order to discuss Barbicane’s findings. They decide that the three things that need to be worked out before the gun can be made are the cannon, the projectile and the powder. First, they discover that the projectile needs to be about nine feet wide and that they will need to build a large telescope on top of a mountain in order to watch it’s progress to the moon.
However, realize that a projectile that heavy will not be able to reach outer space before falling back to Earth. Barbicane suggests that the projectile be made of aluminum as it is more lightweight. The man who gave the deadly demonstration, Maston suggests that the canon be half a mile long. Barbicane argues that it need only be nine hundred feet or so and that he should forge it directly to the ground. Despite the groups concern that the experiment will be very expensive, Barbicane carries forth with his plans.
A member of the club named Major Elphiston says that they will need 1,600,000 pounds of gunpowder to make the canon work. Not to be dissuaded, Barbicane suggests that they use gun cotton, a substance that he thinks works better than gun powder and of which they will have to use only four hundred thousand pounds.
Outside the meeting, a man named Captain Nicholl is seemingly the only person in the country against the idea of creating the canon. Nicholl is a long-time rival of Barbicane who is also an inventor. Nicholl is a iron plate manufacturer who once lost a duel with Barbicane after the latter invented a bullet that would go straight through his armor.
Nicholl went on to invent a new type of plating that would stop the shot but the Civil War ended before he could implement it. After hearing about Barbicane’s new idea, Nicholl begins writing op-ed pieces for newspapers stating that the plan will not work. He places bets on the project falling through before it even begins. The only thing that the Gun Club has left to choose is a spot to fire the canon from. As it needs to be fired close to the equator, only the US states of Texas and Florida are eligible.
Representatives come to Baltimore from both states, eager to sway the club to their side but Barbicane eventually chooses Florida and intends to launch the bullet from Tampa. In order to provide the financing for the canon, the Gun Club begins to offer subscriptions to support the project to people all over the world. Money begins rolling in and they eventually end up with five and a half million dollars to build the gun.
When the club arrives in Tampa, they find all 3,000 residents waiting for them in anticipation at the train station. Barbicane, Maston and Major Elphiston explore the town in order to find a suitable place to install the canon. They find a place called Stone Hill that seems to be appropriate.
Barbicane begins rounding up workers to build the canon, offering liberal pay and bonuses and people being streaming into Tampa in order to work for him. Over the course of the next eight months, they dig a nine-hundred foot deep hole in the hill to place the canon inside.
Maston suggests holding a public festival when it comes time to cast the canon but Barbicane refuses this idea as he does not want to run the risk of anything getting destroyed by the public. Furnaces that are so large that they block out the sunlight are required for the casting process. The smoke is so acrid that it looks like clouds.
In September, the canon is finished with only a few months before the launch date. The town of Tampa has changed greatly since the arrival of the Club, as the influx of new people has made it necessary to create new roads and railways. The project has also stimulated the economy a great deal.
When the canon is finished, Barbicane opens up Stone Hill to the public, and a party is finally held where the group spends a night celebrating and drinking.
With two months to go until the launch date, Barbicane suddenly receives a strange message from a Frenchman named Michel Ardan who says that he is traveling to Tampa in a few days and that he wishes to ride inside the canon ball that is being fired to the moon. Ardan arrives in October and Barbicane meets him immediately. He enjoys the Frenchman, who is an adventurous fellow and is well known in Europe for his dare devil activities. Ardan suggests that they hold a meeting for the Gun Club so he can officially give them his proposal.
The next day, a meeting is held in a tent outside of town. Ardan delivers a speech that moves the crowd about his reason for attempting the trip and the science behind why he thinks it will work. Suddenly, a man in the crowd begins arguing with him. He argues that “men of science” would disagree with Ardan and the two argue for a while before the man calls Barbicane and “ignoramus”. After the meeting, Barbicane confronts the man who turns out to be Captain Nicholl. The men decide that the disagreement can only be settled by another duel and set it for the following day at five AM.
That morning, Maston rushes to find Ardan and tell him about the duel in the hopes that he will do something to prevent it. Ardan and Maston rush to find Barbicane. The two men were set to duel in a forest, but when Ardan and Maston arrive, Nicholl is busy saving a pigeon from a spiders web and Barbicane is sitting under a tree doing calculations for the canon. Ardan proposes that the two men should join him on the journey as a way to settle their disagreement and they agree.
The Gun Club runs a preliminary launch to test the canon. They load a hollow projectile with a cat and a squirrel and fire it. The projectile lands in the ocean nearby where the cat escapes quickly, having eaten the squirrel mid-flight. Ardan receives a telegram from the President of the United States giving him honorary citizenship as his celebrity status grows.
At another meeting, Ardan wonders if the shape of the projectile for the canon should be changed from a sphere to a more bullet-like shape. The idea is agreed upon and a new capsule is devised. The inside of the capsule is hollow and well decked out with lighting, heating and some food for the journey. Ardan discovers a way to produce oxygen inside the capsule by evaporating “chlorate of potash” or potassium chlorate. As a test of the capsule, Maston volunteers to be locked inside for a week to see if he is comfortable. After the week is up, Maston exits to reveal that he has only put on weight.
Before the launch date arrives, the last item on the schedule is the building of a large telescope to track the progress of the capsule across the sky. The summit of Long’s Peak in Missouri territory is chosen because of it’s height and vantage point. When it is finished, the telescope costs about four hundred thousand dollars to make and is the most advanced telescope ever built. With ten days to go till the launch, the gun cotton is loaded into the canon. There is only room in the capsule for a limited amount of food. Maston is asked to shoot capsules of food toward the moon when it is close enough to Earth.
Finally, launch day arrives, December 1st. A huge crowd gathers around Stone Hill filled with people from all over the world. The song ‘Yankee Doodle’ is played for the three, moon-bound men as they head for the capsule. The three men climb inside the capsule and prepare for launch. When the canon is finally fired, it release a sound that is called “superhuman” and an “immense column of flame”.
The launch causes an earthquake in Florida that knocks everyone in the gathered crowd to the ground “like ears of corn before a storm.” The sky becomes covered with clouds and the capsule disappears behind them, making it impossible to track the capsules progress. When the sky finally clears, the Gun Club gather to track the capsule. That night, they receive a message from Maston who is at the Cambridge Observatory. He finally managed to catch sight of the capsule but unfortunately, it did not hit the moon and is, instead orbiting it. This means that either the capsule will eventually get pulled into the moon or will continue to orbit it forever.
The Gun Club gives the capsule up for lost cause except Maston who ends the book by saying that he believes that the three would-be astronauts will “get out of their difficulties”.
Impey Barbicane – Barbicane is the president of the Gun Club and and adventurous inventor. He spent the entirety of the American Civil War developing new gun technologies to sell and is now a wealthy man. However, wealth does not seem to matter much to Barbicane who only cares about the excitement of a new invention. It is Barbicane who comes up with the idea for the canon that can shoot to the moon and he who solves most of the dilemmas in the planning process. The canon is his dream and eventually, most likely becomes his tomb.
Barbicane is dauntless in pursuit of his dream, spending millions of dollars and a year of his life devoted to getting the canon and the capsule just right. In the end, he is rewarded for his work by becoming trapped in a capsule orbiting the moon with no sign that he will ever break free from it.
Michel Ardan – a Frenchman who first comes into the story when announces—rather than asks—that he is going to be coming to Florida to ride in the capsule to the moon. Ardan is a dare devil and is known all over Europe for his death-defying feats but not known in America. His dream of becoming an world renown adventurer intersects with Barbicane’s dream of the canon.
Ardan seems to be a good speaker, as he manages to convince the Gun Club to let him ride in the capsule by giving a powerful speech and later convinces Barbicane and Nicholl to set aside their lifelong rivalry and join him in the capsule.
Captain Nicholl – Barbicane’s lifelong rival. Nicholl got rich by selling armor to counteract every new gun that Barbicane invented during the war. This created a rivalry between the two men that still continued after the war ended. When Nicholl first hears about the canon experiment, he begins expressing his discontent by writing scathing op-eds for newspapers on the subject. Eventually he travels to Florida and interrupts Ardan’s speech
with criticisms. He and Barbicane set up a duel but by the time Ardan reaches them to stop them from killing each other, Nicholl is freeing a helpless pigeon from a spiders web. At the end of the novel, Nicholl and Barbicane are trapped together in the capsule orbiting the moon, perhaps never to escape.
Jules Verne Biography
Jules Gabriel Verne was born in Nantes, France on February 8th, 1828. The son of an attorney and a woman from a family of shipowners and navigators, Verne was the eldest of five children. Verne attended boarding school where he was an excellent student, especially interested in geography.
After leaving school at the age of 19, Verne began writing long works, inspired by the works of the famous French author Victor Hugo. But Verne’s father insisted that he go into law so that he could inherit the family’s law practice. In 1847, Verne was enrolled in law school in Paris which also served to distance him from his cousin Caroline, which whom he was in love. She later married another man.
Verne attended law school during the time of the French Revolution of 1848, a tense time in French history. Verne was in school during the election of Napoleon Bonaparte. During this time, Verne used his father’s connections to make a place for himself in the upper-crust of Paris society, enjoying literary salons.
In 1851, Verne began suffering health problems related to his inner ear which spared him being drafted into the French military. That same year, he graduated from law school. Through his friendship with the notable author, Alexandre Dumas, Verne began writing again and began being published in Parisian magazines.
Verne’s father continued to pressure him to start his law practice and in 1852, offered him his own practice in Nantes. Fortunately, Verne turned down the job, deciding to begin his life as a professional writer instead.
In 1857, Verne married a woman named Honorine de Vaine Morel, a widow with two young children. The next year he was invited on two sea voyages that he enjoyed immensely. The voyages became fodder for his first novel, a semi-autobiographical work called “Backwards to Britain”, which was, unfortunately not published until long after his death.
Verne’s first published work came with “Five Weeks in a Balloon” in 1863. The book was a story about his time traveling across Africa. At this time, Verne struck up a deal with a publisher by the name of Pierre-Jules Hetzel who would go on to publish all of Verne’s future works in his magazine Magasin d’Education et de Recreation.
Verne went on to publish some of the most well know science fiction and adventure stories of all time, including “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864), “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1869) and “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1872).
With these novels came success and Verne was finally able to live off his writing alone. In 1867, Verne bought a ship named the Saint-Michel II and sailed it around Europe. Unfortunately, on March 9th 1886, Verne’s nephew Gaston shot him twice with a pistol, giving Verne a permanent limp. The incident was not reported in the media and Gaston was quietly put in a mental asylum.
After his mother’s death, Verne began writing darker novels. In 1888, he ran for town councilor of Amiens, France and was elected, serving for 15 years. Verne died on March 24th, 1905 from complications from diabetes at his home in Amiens. Several more of his novels were published after his death by his son, Michel.