I went on my first ‘classics’ kick on fifth grade after reading two books which sent me to seek out many others. One of those was War of the Worlds, and the other was A Journey to the Center of the Earth. While I no longer remember which one came first, these books together set me on a course of six months of reading Jules Verne, HG Wells, and other classic pieces. While I enjoy HG Wells, I tend to prefer Jules Verne, who draws from the adventure novel/travelogue tradition for his science fiction, instead of the horror genre from which HG Wells’ stories derive.
A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a classic adventure novel, and to a modern reader has little of science fiction about it. We like to think today that we have explored our whole world, that there are no longer secret places where we can discover radical new truths about our home. Whether or not that is the case today, it was not so in the nineteenth century. No, the nineteenth century was a time when we at last had the tools and the science and the ways of thinking to begin to plumb the world’s mysteries, to attempt to explain them, and to reach the extremes of our home. That spirit is reflected in A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
It wasn’t my intention to reread A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but I picked it up as a piece of research when I had an idea for a short story to enter in November’s Elegant Literature contest inspired by that story, and, more broadly, by the spirit of adventure of which that story is emblematic. I wanted to capture a similar style – the first-person narration, almost epistolary (I know, it’s not really letters, but the concept is similar) – and a similar tone, although my story ended up being a little more mixed in its feel. But this is a review for A Journey to the Center of the Earth, not my own story.
From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon is probably my favorite Jules Verne story, but A Journey to the Center of the Earth easily takes second, and there is a reason it is the more famous of the two. Were it not for my preoccupation with space travel, the latter would probably be my preferred story, since it is better written, has more interesting characters, and more exciting adventures. It doesn’t really matter to me that there is almost no chance that most of it could actually happen. Plus, I enjoy the survival aspects – the man versus nature plot type is one of my favorites, for all I haven’t written it very often.
When I do a review for a famous book like this, I’m always uncertain what to say. Most people have a general idea of what the book is about, and probably already have a decent idea of whether or not they will enjoy it, especially with one like this which has experienced so many spinoffs and adaptations into various media over the years. What can I say that would be helpful? Like I’ve said in other reviews, A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a classic for a reason, a story that remains relevant and enjoyable despite its age, and not merely because of it.
Adventure still exists in the world today. We may not literally find remnants of previous geological eras buried beneath the Earth, and we may not be likely to ride a geyser aboard an improvised raft, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find our own excitement. The world is a vast place, and it is hubris to imagine it safely cordoned off and ‘civilized.’ Maybe A Journey to the Center of the Earth will help you find your adventure. It just takes a little imagination.