Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne

Eight stars

This novel by Jules Verne is not only deemed a classic, but also a jam-packed adventure set in the 19th century. Verne mixes the wonders of a story that would be considered fanciful in its day (and today, as well) with some scientific discussions to keep the reader on their toes. While I have steered away from classics for reasons all my own, I am pleased that I was nudged to read this book.

The story opens in May 1863, with Axel Lidenbrock living in Germany, alongside his uncle, Professor Otto Lidenbrock An academic in the field of geology, the elder Lindenbrock is quite focussed on his work and always open to new adventures. When Otto arrives home one day, he has quite the treat for his nephew, a manuscript by an Icelandic historian of some repute. Within the manuscript is a note that baffles them both, until it is properly translated and read, revealing a secret adventure made by another Icelandic fellow, Arne Saknussemm. It would seem that Saknussemm undertook a trip to the centre of the Earth, accessed through a crater in a dormant volcano. According to the document, one can only gain access for a short time each year and Otto determines that he must undertake this adventure, bringing Axel with him.

Upon their arrival in Iceland, Otto and Axel hire a local guide to take them to the volcano, where they will scale it and seek to access the passage at just the right moment. Beginning the adventure, the trio commence their descent, soon exhausting their water supply. Professor Otto begins expostulating about the various geological finds around them and making calculations to track their progress. The group comes across a subterranean body of water, solving one concern and helping to dash some of the scientific beliefs of the time. Temperature increases and means of travel are turned on their heads, while all three seek to understand what awaits them as the journey continues,

The adventure deepens when a larger body of water appears before them, forcing the trio to make some major decisions, which include building a raft and exploring some of the local terrain. Much of the area is filled with bones of long-extinct creatures that piques Axel’s interest, leaving him to wonder if the adventure might have been worthwhile after all. Much of the discoveries prove baffling to Axel, though he marvels at what he can see, as well as what might await him as they push onwards.

After constructing a raft, they set sail and encounter some truly harrowing creatures, as well as a few meteorological phenomena that baffle them all and leave them doubting their choice to take the voyage. However, determination wins out and they find themselves forging onwards, making new and exciting scientific calculations about their depth and what might be above them at the Earth’s surface.

Determined not to stop until they reach their destination, Axel and Otto convince their guide to keep moving, though the task gets more and more harrowing. It is only through grit and determination that they will be able to survive, especially when they discover a new set of remains that sends chills up all their spines. While the trip down has been anything but boring, how will they ever get back, without having to traverse the path already taken? Verne excites the reader with this and much more as the journey takes even more twists in the latter part of the novel.

While I am not well-versed in Jules Verne or his work, I did a little background reading and discovered that this was the second of his special voyages collection, which opens the minds of the reader to a world of adventure, scientific discovery, and analysis. It is said that Verne used novels like this to introduce the world to what is now science fiction, which is completely understandable. His penchant for showing that science is full of mistakes that are only corrected by hands-on attempts is echoed throughout the narrative.

Axel Lindenbrock is the narrator of the piece and becomes the presumptive protagonist of the story, though I would offer the dual role to include Professor Otto. Both learn a great deal from one another and help to foster an adventurous nature throughout the piece. While there is a great amount of hesitation at one point, the Linderbrocks grow closer throughout the story, their characters developing alongside the relationship they forge in this harrowing trip to places unknown.

While there are few secondary characters in the piece, Verne uses the history books and scientific tomes to inject species that serve as guideposts to a world long-ago extinct. This serves to educate and entertain the reader throughout, offering them a glimpse of how science presented things in the 1860s, as compared to the present. I did take much away from the descriptions, even though my background is not the sciences. Always nice to learn while enjoying a classic piece of literature.

The story itself proved to be highly alluring, even for one whose scientific mind sits somewhere in a glass jar. Verne is able to inject true adventure throughout, keeping the reader wondering what awaits them around the next corner. The characters complement one another well (going so far as to compliment each other, occasionally) and their banter propels the narrative forward. Using the Axel journal as the primary means of recounting the story offers a daily log of events, pulling the reader even deeper into the journey and hoping that they, too, will almost feel a part of events as they occur.

While there is a strong scientific flavour to the story, it does not engulf the text, keeping the reader reaching for reference texts or losing interest. There are terms peppered throughout, but they are explained well enough as to educate, rather than inundate. As mentioned above, Verne effectively combines the spark of adventure with the fuel of scientific discovery to create an explosive birth of the science fiction genre!

The book is not overly long, with its chapters propelling the reader forward with ease. Everything appears to flow effectively and the curious reader may even devour it in a day or two. I chose the Audible version because Tim Curry led me on the adventure, which added more to the story than simply guiding myself. I cannot say enough about how enjoyable this was and encourage those with a love of audiobooks to seek this version for themselves. Curry does a masterful job at every turn.

Kudos, Mr. Verne, for such a delightful story. While I may not rush to devour all your work immediately, I am curious to see if I might venture on another of your extraordinary adventures in the future.

This book fulfills a supplementary read for October 2020 in the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: