Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne (1864)
This has the dubious distinction of being the first novel I ever read on a Kindle, which is somewhat ironic, since Verne I am sure would have loved the idea of his work being shared on a device which could be read electronically. In a sense it is also fitting, since ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ or Journey to The Interior of The Earth (depending on which translator you end up with) is itself, like Arnie Saknussem’s message, digitally appearing nearly one hundred and fifty years after its publication, and once translated will show us the way to the Centre of The Earth.
In a nutshell, Prof. Liedenbrook shows his nephew Axel a book he has just bought, some five hundred years old, from which slips a document, written in a runic cipher. This is a note from lost explorer Arne Saknussem who has discovered a route to the Centre of The Earth. The Professor, inflamed, immediately begins packing for a trip to Iceland, and it is automatically assumed that Axel will go too.
Axel, to the author’s credit, seems not to be composed of the stuff of which heroes are normally made, and frets a great deal as to what may befall him once they are below ground.
It is indeed an extended bout of fretting since it is a goodly while before our duo reach Iceland (the entry point to the Underworld) and then another good fraction of the novel disappears before they finally abandon daylight.
It is not a wasted journey, since Verne acquaints us with the scenery and customs of a Denmark and Iceland perhaps long lost now. On the way, we acquire a guide, the redoubtable eiderdown hunter, Hans, who brings a monosyllabic Scandinavian sense of brooding masculinity to the proceedings.
To the modern reader, the journey to the volcano of Snaeffels is perhaps a little slow, but once we are underground, it is sheer joy.
Verne, eschewing any romantic religious notions, is rigorously scientific, for the most part via the observations of Professor Liedenbrok although one has to remember this was the science of the mid 19th century. Verne proposes some interesting evolutionary developments with regard to flora and fauna below ground.
It is interesting to note that Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ was published only five years before this (although it is also true that ideas surrounding evolutionary processes had been around for some time) and fascinating to see how quickly such innovative thinking spreads out into the public domain.