As I work my way through the lesser-known novels of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, I keep finding new material to blog about. I’ve speculated previously about the possible influence on Tolkien of Wells’ 1908 The War in the Air. I now suggest pushing the line of influence four years farther back, to Verne’s 1904 Master of the World – this in turn being a sequel to his 1886 Robur the Conqueror. (The usual complaint against these two books, Robur and Master, is that Robur himself is a less effective recycling of Captain Nemo, while the American balloon club is a less effective recycling of the Gun Club from the moon novels. These are fair complaints. They’re still worth a read, though.)
Why do I think Verne’s Master of the World might have influenced Wells’ War in the Air? Well, in both novels the nations of the world, alert to military possibilities, are frantically vying with each other either to bribe or to capture the elusive inventor of a mysterious flying machine and learn its secret – and in both novels the chase leads ultimately to Niagara Falls as the site of the novel’s central action.
Robur incidentally begins at Niagara. Verne himself had visited Niagara, and writes about it in his lightly fictionalised 1870 memoir Floating City. Wells had visited it too; his famous proto-Randian quote on the subject comes from his 1906 The Future in America.
So okay, it’s not a decisive connection – Wells didn’t need Verne to think of flying machines, aerial warfare, or Niagara Falls – but it’s something ….
Incidentally, Master of the World itself contains a minor character named Wells, who leads the narrator to the hidden location of the flying machine. Wells and Verne were certainly aware of each other (Verne once complained: “I sent my characters to the moon with gunpowder, a thing one may see every day. Where does M. Wells find his cavourite [the anti-gravity metal Wells used in his own lunar novel]? Let him show it to me!”), and it’s tempting to imagine that the character was intended as a nod to Wells – thus pushing the chain of influence back farther still!