The official motto of the beautiful town named Nantes, near Brittany, is Favet Neptunus eunti, meaning “Neptune favours the traveller.” It can’t be a coincidence.
Jules Verne, the prolific French writer who narrated all manner of extraordinary journeys to the most far-flung of places, practically never left France. In fact, he barely even left Nantes, on the banks of the Loire. This didn’t stop him “pre-inventing” a whole range of contraptions, which science would take its time to develop, based on his ideas, and fascinating countless generations with his tales of globetrotting adventures. However, as we shall see later, he did make notable travels, which enabled him to glimpse at the future, although these voyages didn’t involve boats, railways or any other means of transport from his era.
In Vern’s famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, if we translate the figures into layman’s terms the charismatic Captain Nemo travelled over 100,000 kilometres under water. Almost the distance between Earth and the Moon (150,000 kilometres). What’s more, there’s Five Weeks in a Balloon, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. It’s clear that Mr. Verne was fascinated by journeys. Those made by other people.
No-one but Agatha Christie has been translated into so many languages, which makes Verne the most universal of French writers. The lad was set to be a lawyer, like the rest of his family, and when he finished his first course of studies (excelling in Geography), his father gave Jules and his brother a little boat so that they could sail down the peaceful Loire River. But Jules Verne, never quite convinced of the plan, chickened out at the last minute; the whole thing made him pretty apprehensive. In short, he was the antithesis of an adventurer. Is is really possible that the man who penned Michael Strogoff had never set foot in Russia? Today, you can visit the museum that bears the writer’s name at 3, Rue de l’Hermitage.
There are many who support the theory that although Jules Verne never travelled much further than his own back yard, as we have mentioned, he was capable of travelling in time, to the future. And that’s where he caught sight of a submarine and a rocket. As to the creatures in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his The Lost World would find their present-day echo in Jurassic Park conceived by Michael Crichton. And so we arrive to the Gordian Knot of this tale: Crichton.
Very close to the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, one of the city’s most-visited sights, is the neighbourhood called Île Feydeau, where Verne grew up. The most famous of English landscape artists, Turner, who was immortalised in the biopic of the same name, depicted this area in one of his most outstanding and best-known watercolours. He captures the vitality of the urban landscape, the women on the banks of the Loire and the abundance of trading ships. All of this against the two towers of the cathedral in the background, shrouded in mist, and the spire of Basilique Saint Nicholas. Such is the environment in which the little yet audacious Jules grew up. He was the eldest of five siblings, son of the attorney Pierre Verne and Sophie Allote, who came from a military family. Not the most favourable atmosphere for imagination to take flight. Or perhaps the most conducive, judging by the huge amount of the work that Verne would manage to create, hardly venturing beyond his own neighbourhood.
What if those journeys in time were reversible, there and back? Verne travelled to the future, pondered what he saw, then portrayed it all in his novels. But someone from the future travelled to Nantes as well, to interview Verne, take good note of his observations and inventions, then implement them using the reverse engineering that was available in the twentieth century but not in the nineteenth.
That’s the theory held, among other scientists, by the quantum physics expert, Professor Kropotkin. He shared his name with the anarchist prince, although not his ideas, the university professor being a more conservative kind of chap. Professor Kropotkin wanted to prove the existence, in the vicinity of the home where Jules Verne grew up, of a wormhole, a space-time window or magnetic anomaly of cosmic proportions which would have enabled a real-time link between the early nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth. The hole was to close in 2008 with the death of Michael Crichton, who, aside from being a prolific writer (Rising Sun, Congo, The Andromeda Strain) and film director (Coma, Westworld), was also a scientist. Others would open in other locations, however, always connecting the most brilliant minds of each age, minds in which scientific knowledge and artistic creative spirit managed to coexist.
Crichton travelled to Nantes, on a regular flight first of all, to take a walk around the site where, according to his calculations and those of Professor Kropotkin, the wormhole was located. He enjoyed the pleasant climate there, the breeze from the Loire that blows gently through the streets, and the welcoming character of these parts.
To his complete surprise, the spot in question was near the house where Jules Verne had spent a great part of his life. From that point onward, Crichton made his journeys via CT3 (cyclotronic transmutator in three phases, one which was nano-sensitive). In turn, this device had been developed with the help of a scientist who was to live in the twenty-second century and would lay the foundations for time travel and the interchange of information between different eras. The hole connected Nantes directly with Los Angeles, close to Crichton’s mansion, which couldn’t be a coincidence. According to Professor Kropotkin, space-time curvatures didn’t appear at random coordinates but are conditioned by the presence of great and disruptive minds.
The CT3 allowed Crichton to travel to the nineteenth century, converse with the enthusiastic Jules Verne and share their creative hyperactivity; after all, both have been prolific writers. Both are known as great narrators who question our preconceived ideas about the world that surrounds us, as well as providing delicious entertainment. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are the same as those that appear in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, yet seen through the perspective of another age.
The Nantes wormhole is no longer open but others have appeared, which can be explored thanks to the CT3 and other more sophisticated inventions. Communication between different times and locations takes place through those privileged minds, figures who are able to travel back and forth, loaded with ideas, truths and fantasy. And that’s what pushes humanity to progress.
Time travel is possible and the very existence of this story proves it. If not, how could yours truly write about the workings of the CT3, which won’t be invented until the year 2142?
Illustrator: Amaia Arrazola