Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

11:51 Cilla P 0 Comments

Title: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Source: My aunt's collection. She's had it for ages, so I have no idea where she got it from.
Synopsis:

Descend into the crater of Sneffells Yokul, over which the shadow of Scartaris falls... and you will reach the center of the earth. I have done this. Arne Saknussemm.

It was a secret message by an ancient alchemist, found on a crumbling scrap of parchment. And if Saknussemm was right, then every theory about the molten core of the earth is wrong. Prof. Otto Lidenbrock has to learn the truth. So Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and the Icelandic hunter Hans climb down the cone of an arctic volcano and into...

A realm of awesome mystery, weird beauty -- and deadly peril. Where vast caverns and endless mazes lead to an underground ocean, living fire, and prehistoric monsters. But where any wrong turn, any misstep, can leave the explorers trapped forever in the eternal darkness of a planet-sized tomb... Buried alive at the heart of the world.

Review: ⋆⋆

I was first introduced to Verne's writing through Around the World in 80 Days. I enjoyed 80 Days, and given Brendan Fraser's version of Journey to the Center of the Earth is a guilty pleasure of mine, I felt compelled to read this book. I did not think it would require so much effort.

I spent some time at the beginning of the book in a state of confusion over the names. There were no Professor Lidenbrock or Axel; instead, there were Professor Hardwigg and Harry (or Henry) Lawson. A bit of googling revealed that there is an 1871 abridged and altered English version where the publisher changed the names, omitted chapters and rewrote or added parts to others. My copy must be a reprint of this version, which irked me. If you're going to change the names inside the book, why not change the summary at the back too? I couldn't help feeling a little lied to, and though that's obviously not Verne's fault, my reading experience was off to a bad start.

There is a lot of scientific information in the story. A lot. The characters have a lot of conversation about geology and biology, and Harry/Axel's narrative is heavily peppered with his observations about the environment they are descending into. I enjoy learning, and most of the time I like science fiction, but it was too much for me. I kept losing interest and skimming through the descriptions in an attempt to find something more exciting. For a story that's meant to be a thrilling adventure, I found it to be rather dry for about 170 pages. That's a problem when the book is about 258 pages. I enjoyed the small burst of dry humour and sarcasm here and there, and when the creatures appeared, it was quite fun to read. I just wish the sense of danger was more present. Despite Harry's constant talk of eminent doom, I never truly believed they would not make it to the end.

Because the story is driven so much by the scientific aspects, there is hardly - if at all - any room for character development. All three of the characters felt flat for me, none of them developed in any way, and I couldn't muster any sympathy for Harry. In addition, I was really bothered by the generalisation of Icelanders. The majority of the Icelanders we encounter in the duration of the story are portrayed as robust, solemn, and quiet; I can think of only one exception to this, and it's not the Icelander we follow through the book.

Hans is the embodiment of the stereotypes: he speaks probably no more than twenty words throughout the book and doesn't contribute any opinion; he might as well be another one of the professor's instruments for the purpose he served in the story. Sure, Hans is an important character, that can't be denied, but I feel he's also very much set as a strange Other in comparison to the other two men. (80 Days contained a similar undercurrent of stereotyping which also annoyed me, i.e. most Indians were depicted as savages except for the one Phileas Fogg married, and she's a light-skinned Indian with a European education.) I am aware that this perception of foreigners was probably widespread when Verne was alive, just as marrying your first cousin was okay back then, but I can't get past it.

In short, this wasn't my cup of tea. The only thing I really love about it was when they discussed why the public library in Reykjavik was mostly empty:

"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read."

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