Journey to the Center of the Earth, #3 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Journeys

Posted on January 13th, 2014

#2 of 54 in the Jules Verne Reading Challenge

Journey to the Center of the Earth, #3 of Jules Verne’s Extraordinary JourneysJourney to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
Series: The Extraordinary Journeys #3
Published by Hetzel in 1864
Pages: 254
Location: Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Underground
Read it on Gutenberg
Read it on Wikisource
In an ancient and cryptic note, Professor Lindenbrock discovers the location of a passage leading to the center of the earth. He sets off immediately for Iceland with his unwilling nephew Axel in tow. In the end, Axel enjoys his visit to Copenhagen, the sea-crossing to Rekjavik and the pony trek along the barren Icelandic coast. But the Snæfellsjökull rises ever higher ahead of him. Even supposing his uncle can find a way into it, what will they find there and can he bring them out alive?

I agreed with the world at large and gave this particular Jules Verne top marks. Even though it’s the longest Extraordinary Journey I’ve read so far, it has just the right amount of suspense, fascinating settings and amusing characters. It’s actually the second time I read it. The first was just before I went to Iceland and I really enjoyed the Icelandic travelogue at the beginning.

Iceland in Journey to the Center of the Earth – I wonder how many people who’ve only seen the film realise that rather over a third of this book is dedicated to deciphering a mysterious Icelandic manuscript and getting to and through Iceland.

Snorri Sturluson-EddaSnorri Sturluson and Arne Sakmussen
Sakmussen, the 16th century Icelandic alchemist who precedes our heroes into the center of the earth doesn’t exist, but the book in which his cryptic note was found is real. Snorri Sturluson was a 12-13th century Icelandic historian, poet and politician. The Heimskringla mentioned in Journey to the Center of the Earth is a history of real and legendary Norwegian kings. He also wrote the interesting sounding Prose Edda on Norse mythology.

Just for fun, I thought I’d throw in some photographs from my own trip to Iceland alongside a few illustrations from the book. I have been wondering how much Verne and/or the illustrator traveled and how else they did their research, but I’m putting that question off for another time.

   400px-Voyageaucentrederekjavik  H - Abandoned farm  400px-Voyageaucentredeicelandic landscape and ponies snaeffelsyokulthumbnail

The images show a view of Rekjavik, an abandoned home of the kind that was typical in the 19th century, Icelandic landscapes and a view of the Snæfellsjökull.

400px-VoyageaucentredetunnelInside the earth – the underground parts of the story are nicely dramatic. Basically, anything you’d expect to go wrong on an extended caving trip does go wrong, with a side-order of lost world peril to boot. I was reminded of every underground fantasy I ever read: the journey through Moria in Lord of the Rings, part of The Silver Chair (#5 of the Narnia books), Bluebear lost under the Gloomberg Mountains (#1 of Zamonia) and last but not least a frightening real life report I once read on an experiment to see just how disorientated a human being could become underground!

VoyageaucentredeAxels dreamThe history of life – Jules Verne seizes the opportunity of this book to discuss not only geology but the history of life as it was understood at the time. Much of what he had to say on either subject is now outdated or known to be flat out wrong, but I was fascinated to read a popularisation of what seems to be an evolutionary view of life only eight years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Still, he was utterly ignorant of the theory of continental drift, which didn’t come along until 1912.

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