The Twenty-One Balloons is a curious mixture of fantasy and fact.

“The best way of travel…, if you aren’t going in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you want to see everything quite clearly, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon…you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop.  The rest is left entirely to nature.  How fast you will go and where is left to the winds.”

“A balloon is a wonderful way to travel, particularly if you want to travel from home to school.  On your way, many delightful things can happen, such as:

  1. the wind will be calm and you’ll never get to school.
  2. The wind will blow you in the wrong direction and take you fifty miles out into the country away from school, and
  3. You might decide to play hookey, just once, and nobody can bother you in a balloon.

So Professor William Waterman Sherman constructs a balloon, suspends a basket cabin from it, and takes off—

Part of the fun of this book  is solving the riddle of what’s true, what’s fiction.  The happy colonists using diamonds as foundations for their homes and children racing around the living room on electrified chairs are, as you would guess, fiction.  The French balloonist Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as “Nadar,” was a real person.  In 1858 he took the first aerial photograph.  He did fly an enormous balloon named Le Géant.

With history (and added fantasy), the plot of The Twenty-One Balloons blows up on an island named Krakatoa.  Google that!

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