A Journey to the Center of the Earth
© 1864 Jules Verne
“Is the Master out of his mind?” she asked me.
“And he’s taking you with him?”
I nodded again.
“Where?” she asked.
I pointed towards the center of the Earth.
“Into the cellar?” exclaimed the old servant.
“No,” I said. “Further down than that.”
I have dim memories of reading this as a child, and most of them involve the ‘lost world’ that the Lidenbrocks stumble upon, wonderfully illustrated in the children’s version I owned. Having been spoiled on the climax, I paid more attention to the journey. Verne published this in 1864, when geology was in its infancy. Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which introduced the 19th century to the idea that the Earth is far older than most humans suspected, was only thirty years old at this point — and the modern understanding of plate tectonics was a century away! As Axel and his uncle creep through the Earth’s interior, Axel’s fear and trepediation are often erased by the wonder of what he’s seeing buried in the rocks; eons pass with every footfall. Although the book is badly dated by this point — Lidenbrock’s understanding of the natural world seems to have one foot in mythology, and the theory of ‘central heat’ which he takes pleasure in refuting is no longer uncertain — for Verne’s original readers, this book would have an eye-opening voyage into natural history, and an introduction to the study of the Earth. The wonders of the subterranean world are just icing on the cake.
While I’d expected an intriguing lecture-adventure (and wasn’t disappointed), the characterazation of Axel and the professor took me by surprise. I don’t recall finding either so entertaining in my youth: Axel in particular has a tendency to be over dramatic when describing what will happen to them, going on for whole paragraphs in descriptive, scientifically-specific prose. He’s a 19th-century C-3PO.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn’t rival Around the World in 80 Days or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for entertainment value, but it’s still a fairly enjoyable look at what geology was like in its early days.