Friday, September 23, 2016

Classics Club 31: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

I found Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth  a quick and  relatively engaging read. It tells the story Professor Lindenbrock, a mad German, scientist, who discovers an old manuscript giving directions to the centre of the earth. Of course he must attempt the trip himself, and convinces his very reluctant nephew, the novel's narrator Axel, to accompany him.

As I was reading I couldn't help noticing many parallels to Moby Dick, which I read last month. The lead-up in both novels is slow with lengthy preparations for the actual journey. The narrator is not the instigator of the adventure. In both cases the leader is a very obsessive personality, and despite being adventure novels both feature an awful lot  of travel tedium. I enjoyed this one more though, at least partly because of the differences. Journey to the Centre of the Earth was shorter since Verne mostly stuck to telling his story. Also, the obsessive leader of this adventure actually featured  in most of its retelling which made for a more interesting narrative. Another key difference is that everyone survives this adventure - not that a happy ending is a prerequisite for literature to be enjoyable.

Some aspects of the novel have not aged well. It is hard to imagine the awe and wonder the original readers might have felt when they read this account of what could be at the centre of the earth. With our greater scientific knowledge  such accounts simply read as inaccurate impossibilities.  Thankfully other facets - the plight of Axel who becomes separated from his fellow travellers or the ongoing conflict between the gung-ho professor and his more risk averse nephew - have lost nothing  in the 150 years+ since the novel was first published.

This was my science fiction pick for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

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