Book of the Month: Something Classic

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Jules Verne, 1864

Recommended.

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I first encountered Jules Verne in a dusty, undisturbed bookshelf in my high school library. The book was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and though I cannot remember praising its literary style or ingenuity, the novel opened my eyes to the wonders of science fiction and pseudorealism, adventure tales and mythical worlds. 

The introduction of the Php10.00 book –a surprise from BOOKSALE, which I later figured out– clears up some questions on Verne’s technique as a writer. Many literary enthusiasts judge Verne –whom I love on principle– negatively as one with no literary merit. The introduction defends him and blames perception on previous mistranslations. For myself I find Verne’s style as a storyteller to be fairly clear and engaging; William Butcher’s translation, then, is probably near flawless. 

What I enjoy about this book is the ease with which it can be read. On an uninterrupted session it can be read in less than half a day. Journey is a book of action more so than ideas or character; to enjoy it one only has to follow the different twists and functions. The complexities and simultaneous simplicity of characters also delights me. There is the inexhaustible, unstoppable and eccentric Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel, whom I find harder to grasp; his mood is sometimes coolly logical, sometimes passionate, perhaps cowardly then adventurous –changeable, it seems, by the mood of his surroundings. Hans is my spirit animal. 

“All the theories say that?” replied the professor, putting on a good-natured appearance. “Oh the nasty theories. They’re going to get terribly in our way, the poor theories!”

The science of the story was never the focus. If you think about it, the whole premise of the book is simply hard to digest, even, perhaps, for its contemporary readers. But it perseveres not as a past-oriented science fiction, but as an adventure and fantasy. 

There are still some faults that could be attributed to Verne, and not to translation or deviation from science. The perspective shifts from Axel first person to third person/ limited omniscient, and so do the tenses, from present tense to past and even to future. Axel isn’t a very consistent narrator. 

Nevertheless Journey calls the blood to adventure, making it a persisting classic. The sheer idea of going underground, with millions of tons of ocean and land above you, and the prospect of seeing the past are overwhelming and provoking. Though less than half the book is set in the “centre” of the Earth, the journey there is just as tantalizing to read. 

The whole of the world’s life is summed up in my self, and mine is the only heart that beats in this depopulated world! There are no longer seasons, no longer climates…

Other notes
  • Some mentions of geological and botanical terms excited me, as I could relate because of previous units I’ve taken (though of course some of them were too much for me; I’m not even sure if Jules Verne knew what he was going on about).

Lycopodia, a hundred feet high…

  • I also loved the reference to Hamlet. On a side note, I’ve been meaning to read something else of the Bard, maybe Coriolanus, but I can’t seem to find the right feeling for it. 

My uncle was delighted; for myself, moody and dissatisfied, I appeared almost to expect a glimpse of the ghost of Hamlet.

“Sublime madman,” thought I, “you doubtless would approve our proceedings. You might perhaps even follow us to the centre of the earth, there to resolve your eternal doubts.”

  • Around the time I read about the discovery of a giant, I realized exactly why the book cost only Php10.00. Abruptly after the 186th page the book began narrating Treasure Island instead… the ending was lost. I had to run to National Bookstore, open up a copy and read the last four chapters. That was. Frightening. 
  • There’s also a movie deconstruction of this, starring Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson. No need to talk about that. 
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