Journey to the Centre of the Earth
by Jules Verne
A young man, Axel, and his German uncle, Professor Von Hardwigg, undertake an incredible journey based on some notes from an explorer. They attempt to travel to the center of the earth, a daunting and terrifying trip. Their guide Hans is a loyal man and agrees to travel with them.
I can’t imagine the power of reading this book when it was first published in 1864. It would have seemed truly mind-blowing to imagine the fantastical world they encountered, but reading it in the 21st century makes for a much dryer experience. It’s harder to be swept away in the adventure when we have a better idea of what is and isn’t possible in exploration.
I was surprised by how much of the book is just building up to their journey. The first half of the novel is about deciphering a code and then traveling to the starting point of the descent into the earth. We’re halfway through the novel before they actually reach their destination.
The characters are not easy to like. Hans is kind and saves the Professor and Axel during a storm, but the rest of the time he feels very two-dimensional. The Professor is cold and calculating. He’s more concerned with scientific discovery than with the safety of his traveling companions.
When they finally reach their destination they see some incredible things. They go fishing and catch creatures that they’ve only ever seen as fossils. They see Pterodactyl flying through the sky. In one scene they float through an ancient ocean on a raft and the see a sea battle between two gigantic monsters, an Ichthyosaurus and a Plesiosaurus. The terrifying fight takes place not far from their small vessel. They’ve stumbled upon a prehistoric world where dinosaurs still exists.
There’s one section that has particularly stayed with me since I finished the book. Our narrator, Axel, is separated from his uncle in the cave system. He is completely lost and the darkness is all encompassing. It’s terrifying to think of being lost and alone and knowing you will almost certainly die.
BOTTOM LINE: The story swings between exciting moments and dull descriptions. Worth a read if you’re interested, but not a must if you aren’t enthralled by Verne’s work.
“On earth during the most profound and comparatively complete darkness, light never allows a complete destruction and extinction of its power. Light is so diffuse, so subtle, that it permeates everywhere, and whatever little may remain, the retina of the eye will succeed in finding it. In this place nothing--the absolute obscurity made me blind in every sense.”