Journey to the Center of the Earth: On the Edge

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules VerneJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsEt quacumque viam dederit fortuna sequamur
– And whatever route fortune gives, we shall follow

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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhile 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.

Published in 1864. Jules Verne’s third science fiction novel describes the discovery and exploration of a secret tunnel which leads through a volcano to the centre of the Earth. The leader of the expedition, together with his ward and joined by his nephew and an Icelandic guide commence the journey.

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JASON GOLOMB, on our staff from September 2015 to November 2018, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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2 comments

  1. While it’s not my favorite of his (that’s a toss up betweeen Around the World in 80 Days and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) it definitely is a classic.

  2. sandy ferber /

    Strange to see “The Father of Science Fiction” relegated into the Edge column….

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