Off on a Comet

Off on a Comet (French: Hector Servadac) is an 1877 science fiction novel by Jules Verne.

Off on a Comet
'Off on a Comet' by Paul Philippoteaux 001
AuthorJules Verne
Original titleHector Servadac
Translatorunknown (1877), Ellen Frewer (1877), Edward Roth (1877-78), I. O. Evans (1965)
IllustratorPaul Philippoteaux
SeriesThe Extraordinary Voyages #15
GenreScience fiction, adventure novel
PublisherPierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (Hardback)
Preceded byMichael Strogoff 
Followed byThe Child of the Cavern 


'Off on a Comet' by Paul Philippoteaux 065
John Herschel observes Comet Halley from his observatory in Cape Town in 1835 (illustration from the book).

The story starts with a comet called Gallia, that touches the Earth in its flight and collects a few small chunks of it. The disaster occurs on January 1 of the year 188x in the area around Gibraltar. On the territory that is carried away by the comet there remain a total of thirty-six people of French, English, Spanish and Russian nationality. These people do not realize at first what has happened, and consider the collision an earthquake.

They first notice weight loss: Captain Servadac's adjutant Ben Zoof, to his amazement, jumps twelve meters high. Zoof with Servadac also soon notice that the alternation of day and night is shortened to six hours, that east and west have changed sides, and that water begins to boil at 66 degrees Celsius, from which they rightly deduce that the atmosphere became thinner and pressure dropped. At the beginning of their stay in Gallia they notice the Earth with the Moon, but think it is an unknown planet. Other important information is obtained through their research expedition with a ship, which the comet also took.

During the voyage they discover a mountain chain blocking the sea, which they initially consider to be the Mediterranean Sea and then they find the island of Formentera (before the catastrophe a part of the Balearic Islands), where they find French astronomer Palmyrin Rosette, who helps them to solve all the mysterious phenomena. They are all on a comet which Rosette discovered by a year ago and predicted to be on a collision course with Earth, but no one believed the astronomer, because a layer of thick fog at the time prevented astronomical observations in other places.

A new research expedition determines the circumference of Gallia to be 2320 km. The mass of the comet is calculated by Rosette. He determines it at 209,346 billion tonnes. For the calculation he uses spring scales and forty 5-franc silver coins, the weight of which on earth equaled exactly one kilogram. However, the owner of the scales, Isaac Hakkabut, has rigged the instrument, so the results have to be cut by a quarter.

The involuntary travelers through the Solar system do not have any hope for long-term colonization of their new world, because it is lacking arable land. They feed themselves mainly with the animals that were left on the chunk carried away by Gallia. One strange phenomenon they meet is that the sea on the comet does not freeze, even though the temperature drops below the freezing point (believed to be due to the theory that a stagnant water surface resists freezing longer than when rippled by wind). Once a stone is thrown into the sea, the sea freezes in a few moments. The ice is completely smooth and allows skating and sleigh sailing.

Despite the dire situation in which the castaways find themselves, old power disputes from Earth continue on Gallia, because the French and English officers consider themselves the representatives of their respective governments. The object of their interest is for example previously Spanish Ceuta, which has become an island on the comet and which both parties start to consider an unclaimed territory. Captain Servadac therefore attempts to occupy Ceuta, without success. It turns out that the island has been occupied by Englishmen, who maintain a connection to their base at Gibraltar through an optical telegraph.

Gallia gets to an extreme point of its orbit and begins its return to Earth. In early November Rossete's refined calculations show that there will be a new collision with the Earth, exactly two years after the first, again on January 1. Therefore, the idea is conceived of leaving the comet at collision time in a balloon. The proposal is approved and the castaways make a balloon out of the sails of their ship. In mid-December there is an earthquake, in which Gallia partially falls apart and loses a fragment, which probably kills all Englishmen in Ceuta and Gibraltar. When on January 1 there is again a contact between the atmospheres of Gallia and Earth, the space castaways leave in the balloon and land safely two kilometers from Mostaganem in Algeria.

Main characters

The 36 inhabitants of Gallia include a German Jew, an Italian, three Frenchmen, eight Russians, 10 Spaniards, and 13 British soldiers. The main characters are:

  • Captain Hector Servadac of the French Algerian army
  • Laurent Ben Zoof, Servadac's aide
  • Count Wassili Timascheff of Russia
  • Lt. Procope, the commander of Timascheff's yacht, Dobrina
  • Isaac Hakkabut, a stereotyped Jewish trader
  • Nina, a cheerful young Italian goatherd (girl).
  • Pablo, a Spanish boy
  • Colonel Heneage Finch Murphy and Major Sir John Temple Oliphant of Britain's Gibraltar garrison. In the French original Murphy is actually a Brigadier (General), a rank too high to be the butt of Verne's joking description as playing an interminable game of chess without a pawn being taken. The translator accordingly demoted him to the rank of Colonel, a rank less likely to cause offense.
  • Palmyrin Rosette, a French astronomer and discoverer of the comet and previously Servadac's teacher.

Publication history

The book was first published in France (Hetzel Edition, 1877).

The English translation by Ellen E. Frewer, was published in England by Sampson Low (November 1877), and the U.S. by Scribner Armstrong[1] with the title Hector Servadac; Or the Career of a Comet. The Frewer translation alters the text considerably with additions and emendations, paraphrases dialogue, and rearranges material, although the general thread of the story is followed. The translation was made from the Magazin pre-publication version of the novel described below in Antisemitism.

At the same time George Munro[2] in New York published an anonymous translation in a newspaper format as #43 of his Seaside Library books. This is the only literal translation containing all the dialogue and scientific discussions. Unfortunately the translation stops after Part II Chapter 10, and continues with the Frewer translation.

The same year a still different translation by Edward Roth was published in Philadelphia by Claxton, Remsen, and Heffelfinger[3] in two parts. Part I (October, 1877) was entitled To the Sun and Part II (May, 1878) Off on a Comet. This was reprinted in 1895 by David McKay.

Occasional reprints of these books were published around 1900 by Norman L. Munro, F.M. Lupton, Street&Smith, Hurst and Co., and Federal Book Co.

In 1911, Vincent Parke and Company[4] published a shortened version of the Frewer translation, omitting Part II, Chapter 3. Parke used the title Off on a Comet, and since that time the book has usually been referred to with that title instead of the correct one, Hector Servadac.

In 1926 the first two issues of Amazing Stories carried Off on a Comet in two parts.[5]

In 1959, Classics Illustrated released Off on a Comet as a graphic novel (issue #149).

In 1960 Dover (New York) re-published the Roth translations, unabridged, as Space Novels by Jules Verne, including reproductions of the original engravings from the first French editions. In 1965 the I. O. Evans condensation of the Frewer translation was published in two volumes as Anomalous Phenomena and Homeward Bound by ARCO, UK and Associated Booksellers, US. University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, re-published the Frewer translation in 2000. In September, 2007, Solaris Books (U.K.) published Off on a Comet as an appendix to Splinter by Adam Roberts; a slightly edited version of the Parke edition.

In a September 11, 2007 blog post on The Guardian, Adam Roberts reviewed the 1877 translation. Roberts felt that the translation was inaccurate and incomplete.[6] However Roberts' criticism is somewhat vitiated by the fact that the version of Hector Servadac he was criticizing was the corrupt version of the original Frewer translation found on Project Gutenberg (based on the Parke edition, above) made from a different French original than the one he was using.

In October, 2007, Choptank Press published an on-line version of Munro's 1877 Hector Servadac, Travels and Adventures through the Solar System [7] edited by Norman Wolcott, followed (December, 2007) by Hector Servadac: The Missing Ten Chapters from the Munro Translation[8] newly translated by Norman Wolcott and Christian Sánchez. In 2008 the Choptank Press published a combined book version Hector Servadac: Travels and Adventures Through the Solar System containing (I) An enlarged replica of Seaside Library edition #43 as published by George Munro, New York, 1877; (II)A typeset version of the same in large readable type; (III) A new translation of the last 10 chapters from the original French by Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez in the literal style of the remainder of the book; and (IV) 100 illustrations from the original publications enlarged to 8½" × 11" format.[9]

Antisemitism controversy

From the beginning Verne had problems with this novel.[10] Originally he intended that Gallia would crash into the earth killing all on board. This may have been the motivation for naming the hero "Servadac" with the mirror of the French word cadavres ("corpses"), predicting all would die on the "return". His publisher Hetzel would not accept this however, given the large juvenile readership in his monthly magazine, and Verne was forced to graft a rather unsatisfying ending onto the story, allowing the inhabitants of Gallia to escape the crash in a balloon.

The first appearance in French was in the serial magazine Magazine d'Éducation et de Récréation, commencing on 1 January 1877 and ending on 15 December 1877. It was in June 1877 when chapter 18 appeared with the introduction and description of Isac Hakhabut:

He was a man of fifty years, who looked sixty. Small, weakly, with eyes bright and false, a busked nose, a yellowish beard and unkempt hair, large feet, hands long and hooked, he offered the well-known type of the German Jew, recognizable among all. This was the usurer with supple back-bone, flat-hearted, a clipper of coins and a skin-flint. Silver should attract such a being as the magnet attracts iron, and if this Shylock was allowed to pay himself from his debtor, he would certainly sell the flesh at retail. Besides, although a Jew originally, he made himself a Mahometan in Mahometan provinces, when his profit demanded it, and he would have been a pagan to gain more.

This prompted the chief rabbi of Paris, Zadoc Kahn, to write a letter to Hetzel, objecting that this material had no place in a magazine for young people. Hetzel and Verne co-signed a reply indicating they had no intention of offending anyone, and promising to make corrections in the next edition. However Verne left the salvage work to Hetzel, asking Hetzel at the end of the summer, "Have you arranged the affair of the Jews in Servadac?" The principal change was to replace "Jew" with "Isac" throughout, and to add "Christian countries" to those where Hakhabut plied his trade. The anti-semitic tone remained however, sales were lower than for other Verne books, and the American reprint houses saw little profit with only a single printing by George Munro in a newspaper format. Even the Hetzel revised version has never been translated into English, as both Victorian translations were made from the magazine version. This has caused some modern reviewers to unfairly criticize the early translators, assuming that they had inserted the anti-semitic material which Verne actually wrote.

Film adaptations

Valley of the Dragons on IMDb
Na Komete on IMDb
Off on a Comet on IMDb

A 1962 version of the novel was to have been filmed by American International Pictures but the film was never made. Various 1962 issues of Charlton Comics offered a contest where a winner would visit the set of the film.[11]


Off on a Comet was the inspiration for a 2007 novel by Adam Roberts, Splinter.


  1. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  2. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  3. ^ "Library of Congress catalog record". Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  4. ^ Charles F. Horne Ph.D., ed. (1911). "Works of Jules Verne 9". New York: Vincent Parke and Company. Retrieved 2008-10-04.
  5. ^ Hugo Gernsback, ed. (1926). "Off on a Comet, Book I. Amazing Stories (April 1926)". NY: Experimenter Publishing Co. and Hugo Gernsback, ed. (1926). "Off on a Comet, Book II. Amazing Stories (May 1926)". NY: Experimenter Publishing Co.
  6. ^ Roberts, Adam. "Jules Verne deserves a better translation service." The Guardian. September 11, 2007.
  7. ^ Norman Wolcott, ed. (October 2007). "Hector Servadac, Travels and Adventures through the Solar System". Choptank Press. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
  8. ^ "Hector Servadac: The Missing Ten Chapters from the Munro Translation". Translated by Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez. Choptank Press. December 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-01.
  9. ^ Hector Servadac: Travels and Adventures through the Solar System. Norman Wolcott and Christian Sanchez, editors/translators. St. Michaels, MD: Choptank Press. 2008. p. 554. [1]
  10. ^ Material in this section is described in the book by Herbert R. Lottman (1997). Jules Verne: an Exploratory Biography. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  11. ^ Charlton, Reptisaurus The Terrible, Vol. 2, No. 3, Charlton Comics Jan 1962

External links

An Ideal City

An Ideal City (French Une ville idéale) is an 1875 book by Jules Verne. The book is about music recitals being heard all over the world after being transmitted from the wires connected to an artists's piano.

Cyrus Smith

Cyrus Smith (named Cyrus Harding in some English translations) is one of the protagonists of Jules Verne's novel The Mysterious Island. He is an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is a very skilled man, a fine literary example of a 19th-century engineer.Cyrus Smith is also a man possessed of the kind of high moral qualities common in Verne's protagonists. He is selfless, noble, honest, courageous, and utterly devoted to his companions. His practical knowledge of physics, chemistry, botany, navigation, and many other fields enables the Mysterious Island's colonists to quickly establish a thriving mini-civilization in isolation from the rest of the world. Smith is, however, annoyed and secretive regarding the fact that the colony has been mysteriously saved many times by a benefactor who refuses to reveal himself, causing his own achievements to seem less significant.

In the 2002 novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius by Kevin J. Anderson, he is one of the officials captured by Robur (another Verne creation, from the novels Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World) during the Crimean War, along with Captain Nemo and Passepartout.

Facing the Flag

Facing the Flag or For the Flag (French: Face au drapeau) is an 1896 patriotic novel by Jules Verne. The book is part of the Voyages Extraordinaires (Extraordinary Voyages) series.

Like The Begum's Millions, which Verne published in 1879, it has the theme of France and the entire world threatened by a super-weapon (what would now be called a weapon of mass destruction) with the threat finally overcome through the force of French patriotism.

It can be considered one of the first books dealing with problems which were to become paramount half a century after its publication in World War II and the Cold War: brilliant scientists discovering new weapons of great destructive power, whose full utilization might literally destroy the world; the competition between superpowers to obtain overwhelming stockpiles of such weapons; and, efforts of other nations to join the nuclear club.

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.

Jules Verne bibliography

Jules Verne (1828–1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright. Most famous for his novel sequence, the Voyages Extraordinaires, Verne also wrote assorted short stories, plays, miscellaneous novels, essays, and poetry. His works are notable for their profound influence on science fiction and on surrealism, their innovative use of modernist literary techniques such as self-reflexivity, and their complex combination of positivist and romantic ideologies.Unless otherwise referenced, the information presented here is derived from the research of Volker Dehs, Jean-Michel Margot, Zvi Har’El, and William Butcher.

Martin Paz

"Martin Paz" is a long short story (novella) by Jules Verne, written in 1851. It appeared in the Musée des familles from July 10 through August 11, 1852. The text was later revised and enlarged for publication in book form.

Mistress Branican

Mistress Branican (French: Mistress Branican, 1891) is an adventure novel written by Jules Verne.

Paul Philippoteaux

Paul Dominique Philippoteaux (27 January 1846 – 28 June 1923) was a French artist. He is best known for a cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Phileas Fogg

Phileas Fogg () is the protagonist in the 1873 Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Splinter (novel)

Splinter, published in 2007, is a science fiction novel by the British writer Adam Roberts. It is based on an earlier story by the author, "Hector Servadac, fils", which was part of The Mammoth Book of Jules Verne Adventures. It is a reworking of Off on a Comet, an 1877 novel by Jules Verne. The hardcover edition of the novel is included in a slipcase with a hardcover edition of Off on a Comet.

The Archipelago on Fire

The Archipelago on Fire (French: L’Archipel en feu, 1884) is an adventure novel written by Jules Verne, taking place during the Greek War of Independence.

The Castaways of the Flag

The Castaways of the Flag (French: Seconde patrie, lit. Second Fatherland, 1900) is an adventure novel written by Jules Verne. The two volumes of the novel were initially published in English translation as two separate volumes: Their Island Home and The Castaways of the Flag. Later reprints were published as The Castaways of the Flag.

The story is a sequel to The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, picking up where that novel leaves off.

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 Green Ray

The Green Ray (French: Le Rayon vert) is a novel by the French writer Jules Verne published in 1882 and named after the optical phenomenon of the same name. It is referenced in a 1986 film of the same name by Eric Rohmer.

The Kip Brothers

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

The Survivors of the "Jonathan"

The Survivors of the "Jonathan", is a novel that was written (as Magellania) by Jules Verne in 1897. However, it was not published until 1909, after it had been rewritten by Verne's son Michel under the title Les naufragés du "Jonathan".

Valley of the Dragons (1961 film)

Valley of the Dragons (UK title: Prehistoric Valley) is a black and white 1961 American science fiction film loosely based on Jules Verne's Off on a Comet and heavily dependent on stock footage from the movies One Million B.C., King Dinosaur, Cat-Women of the Moon and Rodan. Director Edward Bernds says the film was built around stock footage from One Million B.C.

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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