Monday, 4 July 2011

A fantastic journey you can take again

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

I remember being entirely engrossed in this book when I read it as an eleven-year-old boy, feeling I was in those subterranean tunnels and passages with the travellers. Recently I downloaded the Malleson translation onto my Kindle (free from Project Gutenberg) to explore whether the story still has the capacity to engage the adult as it had the child.

The simple answer is, yes it does, and in some ways I may have reaped more from the experience this time around, because I appreciated the skill in the characterisation as well as Verne's ability to take us along with them on the adventure. The three main characters - Axel, the young narrator, his eccentric and obsessed uncle Professor Liedenbrock, and their taciturn Icelandic guide Hans - make wonderful travelling companions for the reader. We are sucked along in the whirlwind of the Professor's passion experiencing, like Axel, that heady mix of curiosity and trepidation, relying for our safety on Hans, one of the most steadfast silent heroes in literature.

Of course the scientific arguments that Verne presents through the arguments between Axel and the Professor sometimes border on the absurd, and the sights we come across - including an underground ocean, living dinosaurs and a twelve foot humanoid - are fantastic indeed but there is just enough true science to persuade us to leave our disbelief at the entrance to the volcano.

Jules Verne was a true pioneer of the science fiction genre. Many lesser writers have followed in his footsteps; but literature is a sustainable magic for readers, and it's our delight that we can still make the journey with the original master.

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