Five Weeks in a Balloon

Five Weeks in a Balloon, or, Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three Englishmen (French: Cinq semaines en ballon) is an adventure novel by Jules Verne, published in 1863. It is the first novel in which he perfected the "ingredients" of his later work, skillfully mixing a plot full of adventure and twists that hold the reader's interest with passages of technical, geographic, and historic description. The book gives readers a glimpse of the exploration of Africa, which was still not completely known to Europeans of the time, with explorers traveling all over the continent in search of its secrets.

Public interest in fanciful tales of African exploration was at its height, and the book was an instant hit; it made Verne financially independent and got him a contract with Jules Hetzel's publishing house, which put out several dozen more works of his for over forty years afterward.

Five Weeks in a Balloon
Cinq Semaines en ballon 001
Title page of a Hetzel edition
AuthorJules Verne
Original titleCinq semaines en ballon
TranslatorWilliam Lackland
IllustratorÉdouard Riou and
Henri de Montaut
SeriesThe Extraordinary Voyages #1
GenreAdventure novel
PublisherPierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Followed byThe Adventures of Captain Hatteras 

Plot summary

A scholar and explorer, Dr. Samuel Fergusson, accompanied by his manservant Joe and his friend professional hunter Richard "Dick" Kennedy, sets out to travel across the African continent — still not fully explored — with the help of a balloon filled with hydrogen. He has invented a mechanism that, by eliminating the need to release gas or throw ballast overboard to control his altitude, allows very long trips to be taken. This voyage is meant to link together the voyages of Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke in East Africa with those of Heinrich Barth in the regions of the Sahara and Chad. The trip begins in Zanzibar on the east coast, and passes across Lake Victoria, Lake Chad, Agadez, Timbuktu, Djenné and Ségou to St Louis in modern-day Senegal on the west coast. The book describes the unknown interior of Africa near modern-day Central African Republic as a desert, when it is actually savanna.

Five Weeks in a Balloon
Map of the trip described in the book from the east to the west coast of Africa.

A good deal of the initial exploration is to focus on the finding of the source of the Nile, an event that occurs in chapter 18 (out of 43). The second leg is to link up the other explorers. There are numerous scenes of adventure, composed of either a conflict with a native or a conflict with the environment. Some examples include:

  • Rescuing of a missionary from a tribe that was preparing to sacrifice him.
  • Running out of water while stranded, windless, over the Sahara.
  • An attack on the balloon by condors, leading to a dramatic action as Joe leaps out of the balloon.
  • The actions taken to rescue Joe later.
  • Narrowly escaping the remnants of a militant army as the balloon dwindles to nothingness with the loss of hydrogen.
  • An anachronistic killing of a bluebuck, a species which was already extinct.[A]*

In all these adventures, the protagonists overcome by continued perseverance more than anything else. The novel is filled with coincidental moments where trouble is avoided because wind catches up at just the right time, or the characters look in just the right direction. There are frequent references to a higher power watching out for them.

The balloon itself ultimately fails before the end, but makes it far enough across to get the protagonists to friendly lands, and eventually back to England, therefore succeeding in the expedition. The story abruptly ends after the African trip, with only a brief synopsis of what follows.

Similarities to later novels

Five Weeks has a handful of similarities to the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. There is the same sort of conjecture from current scientific ideas and what Verne puts forth as the actual truth (though Five Weeks is far more successful, assuming there is any attempt at accuracy with Journey). The party of three characters is similarly divided into the Doctor, the doubtful companion who initially balks at the journey, and the servant who is quite able. In both novels, Purdey rifles are referenced. In both novels, there is an episode of despair characterized by thirst.

Film adaptations



  1. ^ "'A splendid shot!' exclaimed the hunter. 'It's a very rare species of the antelope, and I hope to be able to prepare his skin in such a way as to keep it.'" They decided to butcher it.[1]


  1. ^ Verne 2015, p. 75.
  2. ^ p.234 Taves, Brian, Michaluk, Stephen & Baxter, Edward The Jules Verne Encyclopedia Scarecrow Press, 1996


  • Verne, Jules (2015) [1863]. Five Weeks in a Balloon. Paris, France: Pierre-Jules Hetzel. p. 75. ISBN 978-1-5168-5211-6. Retrieved June 13, 2016.

External links

1863 in France

Events from the year 1863 in France.

1863 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1863.

A Drama in the Air

"A Drama in the Air" (French: "'Un drame dans les airs'") is an adventure short story by Jules Verne. The story was first published in August 1851 under the title "Science for families. A Voyage in a Balloon" ("La science en famille. Un voyage en ballon") in Musée des familles with five illustrations by Alexandre de Bar. In 1874, with six illustrations by Émile-Antoine Bayard, it was included in Doctor Ox, the only collection of Jules Verne's short stories published during Verne's lifetime. An English translation by Anne T. Wilbur, published in May 1852 in Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature, marked the first time a work by Jules Verne was translated into the English language.

BarBara Luna

Barbara Ann Luna (born March 2, 1939), also stylized as BarBara Luna, is an American actress from film, television and musicals. Notable roles include Makia in Five Weeks in a Balloon and Lt. Marlena Moreau in the classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror". In 2004 and 2010 she appeared in the first and sixth episodes of Star Trek: New Voyages, a fan-created show distributed over the Internet (retitled Star Trek: Phase II in 2008).

Barbara Eden

Barbara Eden (born Barbara Jean Morehead, August 23, 1931) is an American film, stage, and television actress, and singer, best known for her starring role of "Jeannie" in the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie.

Five Weeks in a Balloon (film)

Five Weeks in a Balloon is a 1962 American adventure film loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jules Verne filmed in CinemaScope. It was produced and directed by Irwin Allen; his last feature film in the 1960s before moving to producing several science fiction television series. Although set in Africa, it was filmed in California. Balloonist Don Piccard acted as the film's technical advisor. For visual effects, a model of the balloon was used as well as a full-sized unicorn gondola hung from a crane. A novelisation of the screenplay was written by Gardner Fox.

Flight of the Lost Balloon

Flight of the Lost Balloon is a 1961 film produced, written and directed by Nathan Juran that was filmed in Puerto Rico.It stars Mala Powers and Marshall Thompson with the working title being Cleopatra and the Cyclops.The film was inspired by Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon and beat the major Irwin Allen film release of the book to the cinemas. However the name of Jules Verne was dropped and was nowhere to be found in the credits, though the name of Verne's balloon, the Victoria, remained.

As a promotional gimmick people who bought tickets for the film were given a "motion sickness pill".

In the Year 2889 (short story)

In the Year 2889 is an 1889 short story published under the name of Jules Verne, but now believed to be mainly the work of his son Michel Verne, based on his father's ideas.

Irwin Allen

Irwin Allen (June 12, 1916 – November 2, 1991) was an American television, documentary and film director and producer with a varied career who became known as the "Master of Disaster" for his work in the disaster film genre. His most successful productions were The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). He also created several popular 1960s science fiction television series, such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants.

Journey Through the Impossible

Journey Through the Impossible (French: Voyage à travers l'impossible) is an 1882 fantasy play written by Jules Verne, with the collaboration of Adolphe d'Ennery. A stage spectacular in the féerie tradition, the play follows the adventures of a young man who, with the help of a magic potion and a varied assortment of friends and advisers, makes impossible voyages to the center of the Earth, the bottom of the sea, and a distant planet. The play is deeply influenced by Verne's own Voyages Extraordinaires series and includes characters and themes from some of his most famous novels, including Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and From the Earth to the Moon.

The play opened in Paris at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin on 25 November 1882, and achieved a financially successful run of 97 performances. Contemporary critics gave the play mixed reviews; in general, the spectacular staging and the use of ideas from Verne's books were highly praised, while the symbolism and moral themes in the script were criticized and attributed to the collaboration of d'Ennery. The play was not published during Verne's lifetime and was presumed lost until 1978, when a single handwritten copy of the script was discovered; the text has since been published in both French and English. Recent scholars have discussed the play's exploration of the fantasy genre and of initiation myths, its use of characters and concepts from Verne's novels, and of the ambiguous treatment of scientific ambition in the play, marking a transition from optimism to pessimism in Verne's treatment of scientific themes.

Jules Verne

Jules Gabriel Verne (; French: [ʒyl vɛʁn]; 8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright.

Jules Verne was born in the seaport of Nantes, he was trained to follow in his father's footsteps as a lawyer, but quit the profession early in life to write for magazines and the stage. His collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a widely popular series of scrupulously researched adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

Verne is generally considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism. His reputation is markedly different in Anglophone regions, where he has often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children's books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels are often reprinted.Verne has been the second most-translated author in the world since 1979, ranking between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare. He has sometimes been called the "Father of Science Fiction", a title that has also been given to H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and Hugo Gernsback.

Paris in the Twentieth Century

Paris in the Twentieth Century (French: Paris au XXe siècle) is a science fiction novel by Jules Verne. The book presents Paris in August 1960, 97 years in Verne's future, where society places value only on business and technology.

Written in 1863 but first published 131 years later (1994), the novel follows a young man who struggles unsuccessfully to live in a technologically advanced, but culturally backwards world. Often referred to as Verne's "lost novel", the work paints a grim, dystopian view of a technological future civilization.

Many of Verne's predictions were remarkably on target. His publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, would not release the book because he thought it was too unbelievable, and its sales prospects would be inferior to Verne's previous work, Five Weeks in a Balloon.

Red Buttons

Red Buttons (born Aaron Chwatt; February 5, 1919 – July 13, 2006) was an American actor and comedian. He won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his supporting role in the 1957 film Sayonara.

The Adventures of Captain Hatteras

The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (French: Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras) is an adventure novel by Jules Verne in two parts: The English at the North Pole (French: Les Anglais au pôle nord) and The desert of ice (French: Le Désert de glace).

The novel was published for the first time in 1864. The definitive version from 1866 was included into Voyages Extraordinaires series (The Extraordinary Voyages). Although it was the first book of the series it was labeled as number two. Three of Verne's books from 1863-65 (Five Weeks in a Balloon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and From the Earth to the Moon) were added into the series retroactively. Captain Hatteras shows many similarities with British explorer John Franklin.

The Brothers Four

The Brothers Four is an American folk singing group, founded in 1957 in Seattle, Washington, known for their 1960 hit song "Greenfields".

The Count of Chanteleine

"The Count of Chanteleine" (French Le Comte de Chanteleine ) also known as The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution is a story by Jules Verne published in 1864. The story is about a nobleman whose wife is murdered during the French Revolution and his fight to save his daughter.

The Eternal Adam

The Eternal Adam (French: L'Éternel Adam) is a short novelette by Jules Verne recounting the progressive fall of a group of survivors into barbarism following an apocalypse. Although the story was drafted by Verne in the last years of his life, it was greatly expanded by his son, Michel Verne.

The Kip Brothers

The Kip Brothers (French: Les Frères Kip, 1902) is an adventure novel written by Jules Verne.

Voyages extraordinaires

The Voyages extraordinaires (literally Extraordinary Voyages or Extraordinary Journeys) is a sequence of fifty-four novels by the French writer Jules Verne, originally published between 1863 and 1905.According to Verne's editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel, the goal of the Voyages was "to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format ... the history of the universe."Verne's meticulous attention to detail and scientific trivia, coupled with his sense of wonder and exploration, form the backbone of the Voyages. Part of the reason for the broad appeal of his work was the sense that the reader could really learn knowledge of geology, biology, astronomy, paleontology, oceanography and the exotic locations and cultures of world through the adventures of Verne's protagonists. This great wealth of information distinguished his works as "encyclopedic novels".

The first of Verne's novels to carry the title Voyages Extraordinaires was The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, which was the third of all his novels.

The works in this series included both fiction and non-fiction, some with overt science fiction elements (e.g., Journey to the Center of the Earth) or elements of scientific romance (e.g., Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea).

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