xirdalium at wikipedia

No, not my humble blog here, rather the fictional element from which my humble blog here derives its name. It always bothered me, that Xirdalium—most likely an invention by Jules Verne’s son Michel—didn’t shine up in Wikipedia’s list of fictional elements, materials, isotopes and atomic particles. Today I thought ‘enough is enough,’ or ‘there’s only so much a man can take,’ and created the following entry in said list:

Xirdalium. An element ‘a hundred times more radio-active than radium.’ (Verne 1909 [1908]: 125) Most probably it was invented by Jules Verne‘s son Michel, who introduced it to the novel The Chase of the Golden Meteor,’ together with the character Zephyrin Xirdal, a ‘private genius’ who synthesized the new element. In the story Xirdal then uses Xirdalium in a contraption emitting a strong tractor beam able to alter the trajectory of the meteor mentioned in the novel’s title.

This was overdue. Just had to be done.

UPDATE 1 (13 January 2013):
Seems like I have to update the Wikipedia entry. Something just didn’t seem right—a glance on the sidebar to the right would immediately have told me what it was. Here is the paragraph in question from the 1909 first edition of the novel by Verne fils et père:

“This, gentlemen.” he said, “is Xirdalium, a body a hundred times more radio-actice than radium. I am willing to own you that, if I utilize this body, it is more for show. Not that it is deleterious; but the earth radiates enough energy for me to do without adding more. It is a grain of salt thrown into the sea. Still, a little display is not unbecoming, methinks, in an experiment of this nature.” (Verne [& Verne] 1909: 125; bold emphasis mine)

And here is the complete paragraph from the 1908 French original:

«Ceci, Messieurs, disait-il, c’est du Xirdalium, corps cent mille fois plus radioactif que le radium. J’avouerai, entre nous, que, si j’utilise ce corps, c’est un peu pour la galerie. Ce n’est pas qu’il soit nuisible, mais la terre rayonne assez d’énergie pour qu’il soit superflu de lui en ajouter. C’est un grain de sel dans la mer. Toutefois, une légère mise en scène ne messied pas, à mon sens, dans une expérience de cette nature.» (Verne [& Verne] 1908: chpt. 10; italics emphasis by Verne, bold emphasis mine)

As you can see the translator, Frederick Lawton, severely nerfed the radioactivity of Xirdalium—by the factor thousand!

UPDATE 2 (13 January 2013):
All right, I rewrote the entry in the list at Wikipedia and incorporated the two quotes above as footnotes. The entry now reads something like this:

Xirdalium. The Chase of the Golden Meteor. An element which is, in the French first edition of the novel (Verne [& Verne] 1908), about a hundred thousand times more radioactive than radium. In the English first edition (Verne [& Verne] 1909) this has been reduced to a hundred times. Xirdalium was invented by Jules Verne‘s son Michel, who introduced it to the novel, together with the character Zephyrin Xirdal, a ‘private genius’ who synthesized the new element. In the story Xirdal then uses Xirdalium in a contraption emitting a strong tractor beam able to alter the trajectory of the meteor mentioned in the novel’s title.

The first sentence of the following quote I added as a third reference:

To Verne’s seventeen chapters Michel added four more. He created a dominant new character, Zephyrin Xirdal, who in effect takes over the action and the outcome. To succeed in this, Xirdal invents a “neuter-helicoidal current” and “atomic howitzers.” Gregory A. Benford, science professor at the University of California, Irvine, flatly calls these inventions “wholly imaginary physics.” Verne’s original La Chasse extrapolates only from the known and accepted science of his day. Michel violated one of his father’s basic principles in his “hard science” works: scientific integrity. (Walter & Miller 2006: xi)

And for the sake of it, here’s Verne-scholar Brian Taves:

In rewriting La Chasse au météore, Michel expanded his father’s novel from 17 chapters to 21 chapters, and made it more complex from a literary standpoint as well as enhancing the science fiction aspect. Michel adds a technological element to the novel, inserting a major new character, Zéphyrin Xirdal, an erratic scientist who has invented a device that attracts the comet to Earth, and brings it down from its orbit under his direction. Xirdal has selected Greenland for the landing, but becomes so disgusted by the global hysteria and his avaricious uncle’s attempt to manipulate the event for profit that he finally causes the meteor to fall into the sea. The financial markets return to the status quo, and Xirdal retreats to continue his own scientific work. Xirdal is a typical character in the Verne oeuvre, but his invention subtly shifts a major tenet of Verne’s writings. While his father’s forecasts were usually limited to what could be extrapolated from the known science of the day, Michel went considerably beyond these confining bounds of probability. This was true not only of Michel’s version of La Chasse au météore, but also of other science fiction stories he wrote and published under his father’s name, such as “Au XXIXe siècle: Journée d’un journaliste américain en 2889″ (“In the 29th Century: The Diary of an American Journalist in 2889,” 1889), “Un Express de l’avenir” (“An Express of the Future,” 1893), “L’Eternel Adam” (“The Eternal Adam,” 1910), and The Astonishing Adventure of the Barsac Mission. (Taves 1999)

TAVES, BRIAN. 1999. Review of: Jules Verne. The Chase of the Golden Meteor. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Illustrated, x+292 pages. $13.00. Introduction to the Bison Books edition by Gregory A. Benford. Extrapolation 40(2): 181-184.
VERNE, JULES GABRIEL [AND MICHEL JEAN PIERRE VERNE]. 1909. The chase of the golden meteor. London: Grant Richards.
VERNE, JULES GABRIEL [AND MICHEL JEAN PIERRE VERNE]. 1908. La chasse au météore, illustrated by George Roux. Les Voyages extraordinaires. Paris: Collection Hetzel.
WALTER, FREDERICK PAUL AND WALTER JAMES MILLER. 2006. “Foreword,” in The meteor hunt by Jules Gabriel Verne. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
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