• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #22: Phileas Fogg


Ballooning through the ages.

Along with H.G. Wells, Jules Verne is rightfully considered one of the founding fathers of science fiction. My favorite work of his, however, isn't in that genre but is instead the classic adventure story, Around the World in Eighty Days. Verne's protagonist is the quintessential British gentleman Phileas Fogg, a man extremely comfortable and confirmed in his precise habits, a privileged citizen of the world's largest empire at its apex. When the opportunity comes to break away from his fussy card games and scheduled tea times, he tears off around the world to win a wager. In this respect he's always reminded me of Bilbo Baggins, though Fogg is a far shrewder, more calculating figure.

His icy veneer begins to melt during his circumnavigation, with romance in India and the rescue of his faithful and unfortunate manservant Passepartout in the American midwest. Every time I read the book I enjoy Fogg's calm competence and resourcefulness in the face of frustration. Fogg wins his bet due to the happy accident of the international date line, but Verne's underlying theme resembles Tolkien's in The Hobbit - we win by looking over the horizon, and daring to see what lies beyond. Around the World in Eighty Days is a paean to British power, to broadening travel, and to the wondrous technology of its time. And it's a fun read.

Of the various filmed adaptations, I prefer the 1989 television miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle. Brosnan brings the perfect combination of reserve and panache to the role of Fogg, and since then his depiction is how I've imagined the character.

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