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Cannonball Read IV: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

By Robert | Book Reviews | June 14, 2012 | Comments ()


journeytothecenter.jpg

Journey to the Center of the Earth is a science fiction/fantasy novel from 19th Century author Jules Verne. Our protagonist is Axel, the nephew of the acclaimed Professor Liedenbrock, who unwillingly breaks a code detailing directions to the center of the Earth. The Professor immediately drags them on an expedition to a slumbering volcano in Iceland, where their guide, Hans, will lead them down into the vast series of caverns beneath the Earth's surface.

Filled with technical jargon and a love for debating the merits of translation, Journey to the Center of the Earth holds up better as a novel of defying expectations than a traditional work of science fiction. It's a given that the assertions of another world hidden within the core of our own are preposterous on face value. Verne even acknowledges this again and again throughout the novel. In spite of this impossibility, the book compels you to keep reading.

One thing I found absolutely fascinating is how easily this could have turned into one of the first non-Gothic horror novels. Take, for instance, the chapters where the trio of explorers wander for days without enough water down a dead-end path thousands of feet under the earth.

In fact, we had to ration ourselves. Our provision of water could not last more than three days. I found that out for certain when supper-time came. And, to our sorrow, we had little reason to expect to find a spring in these transition beds.

The whole of the next day the gallery opened before us its endless arcades. We moved on almost without a word. Hans' silence seemed to be infecting us.

A handful of times, the characters are driven to the brink of utter madness by the Professor's refusal to return to a safer area. From scalding hot water sources to monstrous creatures battling each other, Verne pushes the characters into literally and metaphorically darker territory. The further they descend into the Earth's crust, the further they remove themselves from reason. It becomes impossible for them to just turn around and leave their expedition because they no longer know a goal beyond finding the center of the Earth.

With the exception of the super-tidy ending, I liked Journey to the Center of the Earth quite a bit. It has this great sense of life and energy. Verne's prose, translated from French by Professor Von Hardwigg, is beautiful. Long passages of scientific discourse read like melodies and the repeated punctuation of measurements-temperature, angle of descent, depth, and direction-become the earmarks of the novel. It's a lovely piece of science fiction that transformed to pure fantasy once science conclusively proved Verne wrong.

(Header image by Wally Wood, for Bell Records audiobook LP.)

For more of Robert's reviews, check out his blog, Sketchy Details.

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Matty

    That T Rex looks like John Waters.

  • Guest

    Great book, and it inspired some great prog. Rick Wakeman for everyone!

  • Ender

    Fantastic review, it really peaked my interest in having another look at this book, I confess I let myself be influenced by pulp movie versions of his books and assumed it was less good than it really was.

    My only question is how intrusive are the repeated punctuations of measurements-temperature, angle of descent, depth, and direction? Because I once read a great Seafaring novel that was clearly written by an intelligent person with an in-depth knowledge of 19th Century ships, and the first 2-4 chapters managed to describe just about every single stored food supply on the ship and all the different knots for all the different riggings, and almost kill me with boredom.

  • Guest

    Sounds like Moby Dick, which I love, but I'm a nautical nut. If it's not MD, I'd be interested in the title so I can seek it out to read.

  • Ender

    Sorry, I knew it was Patrick O'Brien but I didn't realise it was the one everyone had already heard of - it's Master and Commander, and in my defense I was trapped in a hot airless hospital waiting room when I read those first chapters, so I apologise if it doesn't contain the requisite level of excruciating details that I lead you to believe. I hope it does though!

  • Guest

    Tx! I still haven't read those.

  • Ender

    It was a good book though

  • I enjoyed it well enough. It's fun.

  • It happens in every chapter. The exploration of language is handled really well at the beginning. It could be enough to settle you into the drier science talk.

  • phase10

    Nice review...did you perhaps mean expedition instead of "exposition"?

  • mswas

    Corrected above. Thanks for pointing it out phase10.

  • Well, that was an odd repeated error, wasn't it? I have to wonder if it was some autocorrect quirk on Google Chrome. It took me a minute to realize that Chrome's dictionary leaves a lot to be desired. I'll dig back into the January archives to fix that.

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