Monday, December 29, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

My first encounter with Jules Verne was many years ago when my mother read aloud to my siblings and I the novel Around the World in Eighty Days. I remember enjoying the book, but for some reason have always steered clear from reading any of Verne’s works myself. But the recent adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth starring Brendan Fraser sparked interest. I wanted to see the movie, but felt I should first read the book. And it’s a good thing I did, I've since learned that the movie is a modern-day sequel of sorts and only loosely based off the novel.

The novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth, opens in 1863 Germany and is told through a first person narrative of Harry with the occasional journal entry and various conversations between Harry and his uncle, Professor Hardwigg, as well as other supporting characters. At the start of the book Harry and his uncle discover a secret manuscript hidden by the famous 13th century scientist, Arne Sknussemm. By a stroke of luck Harry solves the secret message in the manuscript which reveals directions for the journey of all journeys – an expedition to the center of the earth.

Professor Hardwigg, an impatient and very optimistic man, desires to set off on the journey immediately and begins packing his trunks, with or without Harry.

Harry, who tends toward the overly cautious and pessimistic view, is reluctant to join his uncle on what he considers an insane and impossible journey. In a way, Journey to the Center of the Earth is a "coming-of-age" story for Harry, albeit different than most because he is rather the reluctant hero. Harry does join his uncle, but spends the first half of the novel trying to convince his uncle that it is a fool’s journey and should be abandoned.

The two are joined by Hans, their Icelandic guide, who unlike both the Professor Hardwigg and Harry, is a quiet and steady character. In fact, he is described late in the novel as being both "patient and phlegmatic" –- a very accurate description as he speaks little more than a dozen words in the entire story and shows little to no emotion resulting in what I found to be a rather two-dimensional character.

Along the way the three men encounter many difficulties and dangers -- both mineral and animal -- and it is through these "adventures" that Harry grows and matures and transforms from a reluctant adventurer to a hero.

I was surprised to find the novel (written in the early 1860s) based heavily on evolution (the ice age, prehistoric animals and man, extinction through evolution, etc.) I've since learned that Jules Verne was inspired by Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, a book supporting the anti-Biblical worldview of evolution and natural selection. This was a bit of disappointment to me as I feel Jules Verne could have made an even better novel had he stuck to a Biblical world-view of Creationism, but apparently not everyone feels as I do -- Journey to the Center of the Earth is considered a classic and is still in print nearly 150 years later.

Overall I found Journey to the Center of the Earth to be an interesting read. I admit, some of the scientific dialog went over my head, but I enjoyed the story as a "sci-fi adventure". And evolution aside, the very concept of a journey to the center of the earth at a time when little was known or understood about the earth makes for an exciting and fascinating tale, one that combined with good writing is sure to become a classic. Jules Verne was considered the King of Science Fiction and it is clear he had an amazing imagination. The only "dull" part of the book for me was towards the middle when it seemed the characters would forever follow the labyrinth of tunnels, but I pressed on and was rewarded as the story picked up in the last chapters.

I may pick up another of Verne's works, but for now I've satisfied my curiosity. On a scale of one to five, 1 being horrible and five being excellent, I would rate Journey to the Center of the Earth a 3.5. I liked the book, it was "ok" -- but it wasn't a favorite. I enjoyed it more than I anticipated, but don't plan to add it to my personal collection (I borrowed my copy from the library).

With that said, I would recommend this book to readers who have seen or plan to see the recent film adaptation and to fans of sci-fi literature, particularly those with an interest in earth science. But for those sharing my worldview of Biblical Creationism, I caution them to be prepared to find a story that holds a different worldview. As for the reader who is just looking for a Jule Verne novel to read I would suggest they consider first reading Around the World in Eighty Days.


Rebecca Reid said...

Sounds very interesting. It seems lots of literature in the 1860s focused on the evolutionary ideas. I think it was such a revolutionary concept that everyone jumped at it in the literature they were writing.

Carrie said...

Huh. Interesting. I have yet to read anything by Verne. (I do have Around the World in 80 Days sitting on my bookshelf awaiting attention though!) The book sounds vastly superior to even the movie trailer with Fraser. (I was curious about the movie but my husband was absolutely NOT!) ha. SO I WILL read Around the World in 80 Days and if I like that I'll consider this title also.

Thanks for the review and your detailed thoughts, as usual!

Beth F said...

Another interesting point is that Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, so evolution was the hot topic of the day.

I read Verne when I was in high school and college (lo those many years ago!). I especially liked Around the World in 80 Days.