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Don't spurn Verne
by Asa Butcher
Issue 8
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Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Jules Verne
Penguin Books Ltd, 1864
My own journey into the world of literature continues with this literary classic from the famous French author and pioneer of the science fiction genre, Jules Gabriel Verne. His novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la Terre) was the third of his 54 Voyages Extraordinaires that were published in his lifetime and it was the first Verne book I have ever read.

Verne is another of those authors who I knew a great deal about and had seen many film adaptations of his work, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in Eighty Days, but for no good reason he had escaped my attention for all these years. When I stop to think about why it took so long for me to read a Verne book, I am baffled. The films are always exciting and feature themes that are still topical today, so naturally the books should be the same.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the same and I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure detailed within. Jules Verne seems to have had the foresight of the birth of Hollywood because this novel is written as an action-packed blueprint for a movie. How this novel much have captured the imagination of the Victorians is something I envy after years of blockbuster movies and special effects pushing my expectations.

Despite the story of Journey to the Centre of the Earth being a little outdated scientifically, it is still science fiction and a chance to escape the humdrum reality of science. Prehistoric animals, subterranean oceans and gigantic mushroom forests all make an appearance during this attempted journey to the Earth’s centre.

The research that Verne has undertaken for this novel is amazing, especially when you take into consideration the period in which he wrote the book. The amount of geological, mineralogical, archaeological and scientific information that is packed within such a short space shows the attention to detail that made him the forefather of the science fiction genre. Not only is there copious amounts of facts but he blends them into the story in such a way that you understand everything.

The expedition is undertaken by Professor Otto Lidenbrock, an eminent German geologist and naturalist, and his nephew, Axel Lidenbrock, who narrates the story from a firsthand perspective. They are assisted by an Icelandic guide named Hans, who is the hero of the story and one of the best literary characters I have encountered this year – and he barely says a fifty words!

A great twist in the book is the headstrong, determined and impatient Professor, who will go to any lengths to achieve his goal, making his nephew look ever reluctant and poor Axel suffers the most. The relationship between Axel and his uncle and Axel and the Professor seems to bring a fourth character on the expedition. Otto Lidenbrock’s split personality is a delight to follow and you soon feel such sympathy for Axel that you feel as though you are there with him.

There have been a couple of film versions of this book over the years and Treat Williams’ four-part TV movie that was recently broadcast inspired me to read the book. In many of the films, a female character is added to the expedition, whereas the novel only has two women and they feature at the start; one is the Professor’s maid and the other is Axel’s beloved. Strangely, I enjoyed the interaction between the three men far more without a female changing the dynamic.

After completing Journey to the Centre of the Earth, it was not hard to believe why he is the most translated novelist in the world - 148 languages, according to the UNESCO statistics. My journey with Jules Verne was fantastic and I guess it my next step should be to patriotic and read the British Jules Verne, H. G. Wells.

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