Saturday, February 20, 2016

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne


Determined to knock off a few books from my own TBR shelves, I picked up Journey to the Centre of the Earth the other day. I'd just finished Armadale, after a month-long read, and just couldn't bear committing to another dense Victorian. Specifically, I picked this one up because it had an introduction by the late Diana Wynne Jones -- which is why I probably purchased it in the first place. It's one of the charming Puffin Classics editions packaged for children. (Ithink it was a buy one, get one special at Barnes & Noble.)


So, if you were wondering about the plot, it is exactly as the title states. After finding an ancient code tucked in an old book, Young Axel and his eccentric scientist uncle, Otto Liedenbrock, leave their comfortable home in Hamburg and attempt to explore the center of the world, via a volcano in Iceland. Axel nervously agrees to the crazy scheme, believing there's no way they will actually get that far.


But clearly, they do, and make astonishing discoveries along the way, with the help of an Icelandic guide named Hans. The first quarter of the book are pretty standard let's-go-on-a-trip with all the preparations, sea voyage, and encounters with a different culture. But eventually, they make their descent through an dormant volcano, Sneffels, (better known in Iceland as Snaeffelsjokull).



The actual Snaeffelsjokull in Iceland.

Things get pretty interesting after they descend into the a series of underground caverns, with dangers and discoveries and miraculous escapes (of course). Suffice to say it's all slightly ridiculous to the modern reader, but for its time, it must have been pretty fantastic. I'm not sure how this version compares to others (this one was translated in 1965 by Robert Baldick) but it was a quick, easy read. I do know that a lot of the translations in English made a lot of abridgments -- one audio version actually changes the names of the characters completely! But I mostly liked it, though in retrospect, the characters weren't very practical about planning and packing for the journey, and there's one part that's sort of racist which I found a little annoying. There's also a lot of geology and such that I will admit I mostly skimmed.

A couple of years ago I tried listening to an audiobook of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I eventually gave up on it -- after awhile I got bored and I remember it just seemed like a lot of lists of undersea flora and fauna. I did get a bit of that in Journey to the Centre of the Earth as well -- I know Verne did a lot of research and I can only guess that he wanted to pack everything in.  I'm afraid I did tend to skim over a lot of the scientific details of this book, especially the parts about calculating depth and suchlike. However, it has inspired me to consider visiting the Natural Bridge Caverns, which are just a short drive away.



Underground lake in Natural Bridge Caverns.
I had originally intended to count this as my Classic Science Fiction choice for the Back to the Classics Challenge, but I don't know that I'd necessarily call it sci-fi -- though one could call it that because of the speculative nature of their discoveries, I'm really more inclined to count it as my Adventure Classic -- really, most of the book is taken up with exploration and discoveries (though if someone else wants to count this as their Science Fiction Classic, that's fine with me).

15 comments:

  1. Verne certainly knew how to capture his audience's imagination, didn't he? I don't know how many movie versions there are of this book, but I think I've seen most of them...the good and the bad. Such an intriguing idea: journeying to the center of the earth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never seen any of the movies -- which do you recommend? The only one I know of is the Brendan Fraser version which I don't think follows the book at all.

      Delete
    2. It doesn't, but then none of them really do. The one I love best is this one I saw as a child that stars Pat Boone and James Mason. I love the old-timey special effects in it.

      Delete
  2. Interesting choice of writer for the introduction -- I would not normally connect Verne with Diana Wynne Jones! Did she say anything about her connection to the book?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was one of her favorite childhood books. I'd read pretty much anything DWJ recommends!

      Delete
    2. Oh, so would I -- I just didn't remember her mentioning this one anywhere else. I was thrilled when I finally got my hands on a copy of Henrietta's House last year (mentioned in Fire and Hemlock, and excerpted by her in Fantasy Stories). She seems to be intrigued by caves...

      Delete
  3. This sounds pretty good. I never would have considered reading this, but I read Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost Word recently, and Tarzan of the Apes right before, and it turns out I love these adventure stories. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love adventure stories too, fiction and non-fiction. I still haven't read Tarzan or any of Doyle's non-Sherlock fiction.

      Delete
  4. How did I not know about the DWJ intro?!
    I've watched the old Disney movie version of Journey so many times that I couldn't even remember if I had read this book! I'm pretty sure I haven't yet though. And I had that same experience/issue with 20,000 Leagues and the detailed research so it's a good warning about this one.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think you're right--based on my recent read of 20,000 Leagues, Verne seemed determined to use every note of research he ever took! Honestly, if it hadn't been an audio version, I think I would ended up skimming the thing.

    I liked the pictures you added though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried an audio version of 20,000 Leagues a couple of years ago and got really bored. I tried switching to an illustrated print version and realized they were really different -- there has been a LOT of editing and abridging of Verne's works translated into English, which is so discouraging. I was so annoyed I just gave up.

      Delete
  6. I actually really like that cover. Are there any illustrations inside? Or any indication who did the cover illustration/where it came from? Something about it is just very appealing!

    Anyway, you should totally go visit Natural Bridge! Pictures just can't do a cave justice... the whole experience of the lighting, the sounds, and just the feel of the air is lovely. (If you're not claustrophobic, anyway.) We also used to visit the Caverns of Sonora, which is a bit farther west.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the Puffin covers too! I read another Puffin classic for my Fantasy Classic (an older edition) but there's an updated cover which is just beautiful so I included it in that post as well. I don't know who designed the covers, unfortunately. I checked my copy and it doesn't say, just who did the translation. It might be on their website.

      Delete
  7. I can't remember if I did it on purpose or if it was just a happy accident, but I read this book on a trip where we visited Minnetonka Cave in Idaho. It's so great when reading and travel combine! I hope you get to visit the caverns-they look pretty cool.

    ReplyDelete
  8. After 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I became a little wary of Verne's work. But this novel seems interesting enough!
    If you're interested in classics, you may like to check out my review of Paradise Lost!
    http://arewethereyetblog.us/2016/08/27/review-paradise-lost/

    ReplyDelete