Today, in 1828, the writer and visionary of science Jules Verne was born in Nantes. He did so in a family dominated by law-abiding and military-abiding individuals.
This was the reason that led him to follow in his father’s footsteps, graduating in law, even though science and literature were his two great passions.
But he didn’t leave out either of them, quite the opposite. He knew how to unite them to the point of becoming one of the best science fiction writers in history.
Although his works had more science than fiction, many of them described great advances in science and engineering, even before they saw the light in real life.
In addition, he also stood out for his fondness for cryptography, which led him to include all kinds of secret codes in his novels, so that the reader could participate in their resolution, along with the protagonists of the story.
One of his favorite methods was encryption by transposition, a technique that appears in classics such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and in lesser-known but equally interesting titles such as La Jangada.
When the reader becomes a detective
Not all Jules Verne’s works contain a hidden message in their argument. However, it could be said that the vast majority of them hide some small detail, such as some anagram that goes unnoticed or some inscription with ingenious descriptions.
But, without a doubt, what he liked best was to hide messages in the names of his characters. So much so that some even accused him of belonging to Freemasonry.
Whether it was true or not, he loved to play with his readers, with names like the protagonist The Secret of Matson, Alcides Pierdeux.
Actually, the name is composed of the union of pi-r-deux (pi-r-dos), which would respond to the formula of the area of the circle: pi for erre squared.
Another of its most emblematic characters, Hector Servadac, also has a gruesome message in his name, because when you turn it around you can read: “cadavers”, which means corpses in French.
But beyond this are the encrypted messages that bring readers and protagonists headlong throughout the plot.
It usually involves transposition, a method already used in antiquity by Spartans, who used a parchment rolled on a stake to sort out the letters that had become disordered to give rise to the hidden message. But what exactly does this method consist of?
A practical example
To understand this, it is best to use a practical example. Let’s imagine that we want to encrypt this message: Happy birthday, Julio Verne.
To encrypt the message you need a key, either numeric or in the form of a word. Usually a word is used. In this case we are going to use the word JULY.
It is then necessary to write below each letter a number indicating the order it occupies in the alphabet.
If there are any repetitions, they are ordered from left to right. In this case it would be this way, because the first one that appears in the alphabet is the I, then the J, then the L, then the O and finally the U:
The next step is to write the entire message, each letter below one of the letters of the keyword.
Finally, the resulting columns are disordered by the order of the numbers we have written below the word. First write the column below 1, then the column below 2, and so on.
The resulting message, therefore, would be this: ipolr/Fce,oe/lmñue/zlsin/euaJV
In the opposite case, the person who receives the message, knowing the keyword, will only have to place the columns in the corresponding place, starting by putting the first word of the message under 1.
Finally, having placed all the columns, all that remains is to read the definitive message: Happy Birthday, Jules Verne.
One of these hidden messages appears at the beginning of the novel La Jangada, although in this case it is not such a simple phrase, but the narration that will solve a crime. That’s why it’s a novel to read without losing sight of a piece of paper and a pencil.