I have just finished rereading "Le testament d'un excentrique". It was one
of my favourite JV novels (as those of you who participated in my Noble
Game of the Voyages Extraordinaires will remember), and it didn't
disappoint me on second sight. The descriptions may be a bit tedious in
places, and there are too many counterfactuals ("...if Réal or Kymbale had
visited this region... but commodore Urrican had no interest in all
that..."), but all in all it is a very original and well-planned novel.
Looking at it in some more detail has been a pleasure.
Below are some observations I want to share with you, in the hope that you
will join a discussion on this story.
- The action of the novel takes place in two separate spaces: the real
space of the United States of America on the one hand, and the gameboard
of the Noble Game on the other hand. States that are only a few squares
away from each other on the board can be at different ends of the
continent. Hermann and Kate Titbury travel from Chicago to Maine to Utah,
all in the space of only four squares. Lissy Wag and XKZ jump directly to
square 26, Wisconsin, just around the corner. It sometimes happens that
participants who are far apart on the gameboard encounter each other in
real life. The mixing of the two spaces creates a kind of confusion.
- In the Noble Game, 50 states of America are used, Illinois being used
for the 14 out of 63 squares where the number of points has to be doubled.
At the moment the testament was written, 3 July, 1895, some of these
states were not really states, but only territories. Utah obtained
statehood in 1896, that is after the testament was written, but before the
game was played (and before the novel was published). New Mexico and
Arizona became states in 1912, Oklahoma and the Indian Territories joined
to form the state of Oklahoma in 1907, and Columbia is still a district.
All of these figure as states in the Noble Game. On the other hand, Alaska
and Hawaii are absent from the game. They became states in 1959.
- What are the "Public Lands" shown in the map of the US that is featured
in the book?
- I have the feeling that this novel would do very well as a movie, or
even better, as a miniseries. The structure would have to be different in
this case: rather than focusing on each
participant during one chapter for each turn, and going back 12 days to
pick up where the next participant was left seven chapters back, a movie
would have to be chronological, switching between participants as they
move from state to state. Would such an approach also have worked for the
book? It would certainly have changed the pace, but would that be an
- The idea would also work well as a real life race across America, where
the contestants (solo or in couples) would go from state to state with a
camcorder or a camera team. But the Game of the Goose is too old-fashioned
to use as the basis for a successfull tv program, I guess.
- Shifting each letter one place back in the alphabet, XKZ becomes WJY:
William J. Ypperbone.
- Some inconsistencies:
1. The "Six" are dubbed "Six" before the testament is read. They are also
called the "Six" in the text of the will. Is this term an invention of the
newspapers, of William J. Hypperbone, or both?
2. Lissy Wag doesn't seem to get the $3000 paid by Urrican in the Nevada
pit as part of her winnings.
3. At first, Kymbale is said to go from South Carolina to North Dakota,
but later this becomes a trip to Nebraska and Washington.
- The bicycle used by Harris T. Kymbale is compared to "tonnerre graissé".
This must be a translation of "greased lightning", a phrase that is famous
from the musical Grease. When was it first used?
- The incident of the train collision may be inspired by a publicity stunt
organised in 1896, "The Crash at Crush". See
- Several officials are named explicitly: John Hamilton, governor of
Illinois, H.V. Exulton, mayor of Buffalo, and governor Evans of Colorado.
Illinois had a governor John Hamilton from 1883 to 1885, and Colorado had
a governor called Evans from 1862 to 1865. Buffalo never had a mayor
- How can Tornbrock be sure that a player arrived at his destination no
later than noon of the specified day?
Some more detailed points on the chronology:
- Verne makes several mistakes in the chronology. The testament is read on
15 April, and the game is to begin 15 days later. So Max Réal's dice are
first rolled on 30 April. But later we find out that Titbury left Chicago
on 5 May, which implies that Crabbe's dice were rolled on 3 May, and
Réal's turn was on 1 May. This is consistent with his second turn on 15
May. It looks like Verne shifted the entire schedule one day during the
writing, and forgot to update Max' first chapter. Also, when exactly did
Lissy Wag leave Saint Louis? The narrative has her spend some days with
Max, but she leaves before Tom Crabbe's turn releases Max from the prison.
- Other mistakes involve characters knowing things they can't know yet.
This is a consequence of the back-and-forth nature of the storyline.
- The testament stipulates that the dice are to be rolled every two days,
and that the participants have two weeks to reach their destination. This
works fine for seven players. But the seventh player is only introduced in
the codicil, so when Hypperbone wrote the testament, he thought there were
going to be six players. Did he intend to have four days between the turns
for players 6 and 1?
- The concept of time difference is completely absent from the story. Noon
in Maine is the same as noon in California.
- The dice are rolled at 8:00, and the result is telegraphed to the
player's destination, where the player must be present at 12:00 at the
latest. Dis it really take that long to send a telegram? And what if the
player reads his telegram as early as 8:30? Is he allowed to leave for the
next leg of his journey?
- I have taken notes of all dates and places mentioned in the novel, and
will prepare a chronology of events. It's amazing how ingeniously the
novel is constructed, and I can imagine Jules Verne sitting down and
fixing the timeline, writing, checking and cross-checking his text, until
he gets a headache...
Received on Fri 14 Apr 2006 - 16:37:10 IDT