A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
Just finished reading A Journey to the Centre of the Earth which I have read as part of the Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci Fi (not a challenge). I don’t suppose this story needs much introduction really. In a nutshell this is a story of a professor and his nephew who, after discovering a mysterious parchment and uncovering the content embark upon a dangerous journey. A journey to the centre of the earth. Following in the footsteps of Arne Saknussemm – an explorer who made the same journey a few hundred years earlier.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time and so this none challenge gave me a little push in the right direction. I really enjoyed this story and the way it’s told. The story is told in the form of a memoir by the ever complaining nephew Harry. Harry does not want to undertake the journey, he is very aware of the dangers and the idea of climbing down into a volcano doesn’t appeal. To be honest Harry does come across as a little bit ‘cowardly’ at points but that being said I’m totally on his side in not wanting to climb into a volcano – extinct or/and definitely not otherwise!
This is a really imaginative story – the idea of coming up with the worlds beneath the crust of the earth – I’m not sure that anything has been done like that since this book? I must admit that upon reading, and already having seen the film and a tv adaptation some time ago I did have preconceived ideas of what to expect and I suppose the element of surprise was stripped away in certain areas. However, the book does still hold some surprises.
What I found really enjoyable was the different characters, the uncle, cool and stubborn who absolutely refuses to be thwarted in his goal to reach the centre of the earth and never doubts their ability to succeed. Harry, who for the most part of the book, spends his time worrying about every conceivable way in which they may die upon the adventure whether by earthquake, volcanic eruption, starvation, lack of water or any number of other things that I won’t go into. And Hans, the Eider Duck Hunter, who is their steady and reliable guide. Strangely enough, and despite all their education and knowledge neither the professor or his nephew would never have stood any chance at all with their adventure if not for Hans – he is the definite unsung hero! And, more to the point with these characters, is the way they interact with each other which at times is very amusing. We get to hear all Harry’s inner thoughts, and then we hear him voicing these to his uncle, couched in ways not to aggravate (because the professor can have a bit of a temper) and then we hear the professor shoot Harry’s theories down in his calm, collected way.
The other thing I really liked was the old fashioned style of story telling and writing which lends the story a strangely amusing appeal. One particular part of the story where the adventurers have uncovered a most fantastic cavern of huge proportions and with some strange inhabitants Harry, who is unable to believe what he is actually seeing but has no choice but to do so, says ‘I looked, shrugging my shoulders, decided to push incredulity to its very limits. But whatever might have been my wish, I was compelled to yield to the weight of ocular demonstration.’ ! who on earth says that – it made me laugh (in other words seeing is believing). That phrase is a definite keeper.
Now, in all this, one thing that you must be aware of is that although Jules Verne was considered to be something of an expert in this area of writing you clearly have to remember when this book was written. Advances in science are always moving forward and therefore some of the speculation and theories of the Professor and Harry have dated or become completely null and void. The other thing is you really do have to suspend some of your disbelief in certain areas – for example, the notion of building a raft out of bits and pieces of wood to set sail on a massive ocean – which can withstand the brunt of terrible weather – is a bit of a stretch, as is the method of expulsion of our travellers from their volcano. But, don’t we suspend our disbelief in many of the works of fiction we read? I suppose what makes you more critical of these stretches of imagination with this particular novel is that it comes across as very factual with all sorts of detail to try and lend it credulity so when you do read certain areas you can’t help thinking ‘no way’ – I suppose that shows the talent of Jules Verne really in that he carries you along on this tale and makes you feel it’s believable (but for a few parts).
All in all, a great read.
In conclusion, my particular book says on the jacket that Jules Verne is considered to be the father of science fiction. Not sure if that’s something that everybody will agree with or not. He certainly tells a good and imaginative story backed up with a lot of what was, then, considered to be believable science. Personally, if I had to make a choice, I would probably veer towards HG Wells, simply because I think some of his works, and The Time Machine in particular, are so brilliant. Maybe it’s down to the different writing styles and I suppose the fact that my copy of JttCoTE is a translation, and not possible the best one produced! But there it is.
A fun read.