Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
This IS your great-great-great-grandfather’s adventure story, so reader beware. There’s a lot of walking, a lot of exposition, and quite frankly, not a lot of action. But keep in mind… this is an original. Our modern day sensibilities expect high action out of our adventure stories: monsters, critters, thrill-a-minute. But in a much different time when society was in a much different state, Journey to the Center of the Earth set the table for the adventure/sci-fi stories of the future.
Jules Verne’s classic 1864 story revolves around German Professor and “savant” Otto Lidenbrock, though it is narrated by his nephew, Axel. The two come across a manuscript that references an Icelandic explorer’s expedition to the center of the earth. Upon deciphering the document, Lidenbrock exclaims: “Let no one take it into his head before us to try and discover the center of the earth.” And off they go.
While much of the middle third of Journey to the Center of the Earth reads like a travelogue of northern Europe and an anthropological tour of Iceland, the driving force of the story is the eccentric genius of Professor Lidenbrock. The professor is characterized by a certain “madness,” as described by Axel. This obsessiveness is a driving characteristic that one can see across the literary spectrum of those who break new ground. In fact, one can see it across the spectrum of real life explorers as well. For without a little “crazy,” who might have the strength and fortitude to forge ahead almost heedless of life and limb? Without the single-minded obsession and force of will, how would humans be driven to the hearts of darkness that lie at the root of all discovery?
Like modern science fiction writers, Verne delves into the 19th century equivalent of cutting-edge science with much speculation on portable artificial light and various natural sciences related to deep earth biology and geology. Whereas Michael Crichton turned the real science of the possibilities of cloning extinct dinosaurs, Verne speculates on evolution and deep earth temperatures.
I couldn’t help but compare the early chapters of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. They share a certain vibe in their respective late 19th/early 20th century writing style and tone. They’re reminiscent, but different… Journey to the Center of the Earth has much more of a sense of humor, and is particularly light-hearted during the early stage-setting scenes in Germany.
I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I’m glad I read it.