Book Review: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne

By Soyeenka Mishra

“As long as the heart beats, as long as body and soul keep together, I cannot admit that any creature endowed with a will has need to despair of life.”

Journey to the Centre of the Earth was a journey indeed, a fabulous adventure; a classic piece of Sci-Fi lit straight from the 1860s. It wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be (thanks to prior knowledge of the well-known movie franchise), but don’t worry – that’s a good thing. When it wasn’t being a whole rollercoaster of astonishing discoveries and mortal perils, it served as a great source of fun, for I loved the underhanded humour evident in particular points.

Lemme briefly mention about the characters. The first, of course, is the narrator, Axel Liedenbrock. He is our practical-minded, logical, and pragmatic protagonist. I liked this character a lot, especially because of all the sarcastic remarks, most of which were directed towards his dear ole uncle, Prof Liedenbrock, about whom I shall talk in a bit. Call me deranged, but I found his perfectly rational concerns about their then-upcoming journey in the beginning of the plot quite absurd. I mean, of course I do understand his reasons, but hey,you’re getting to go on an adventure of a lifetime while we people are stuck here at our homes in this pandemic! Ha, but jokes aside, I loved his character arc; comparing the Axel at the beginning to the one at the ending, one will find staggeringly impressive differences. I ended up smiling so wide when he started behaving loony just like his uncle, hungry for new discoveries towards the end, something for which he’d always thought the latter to be eccentric, if not mad. But I was blown away by his resourcefulness at times, and all those estimations and calculations and rapid identification of the huge variety of stuff. I mean, I know I don’t have that sort of retention capacity, and he’s only older by a few years, so hats off, truly.

Now comes the star of the show book, our very own Prof Otto Liedenbrock, the mineralogy scholar who is just the slightest bit insane (again, most great personalities are, aren’t they?). This guy just blows my mind. A man with immense knowledge (that he isn’t always the keenest to impart to others, heh), a violent passion for making the discovery of his life, an iron will that never ceases to exist (even in the direst and most hopeless of conditions), with a temper and impatience to match, this is a person you just can’t help but admire. His anger outbursts were hella hilarious to me, while his impatience to just solve this mystery or find that thing instantaneously was the most relatable thing ever.  Not to mention his ability to speak such a vast multitude of languages is like one of my life goals so that automatically makes him one of my more-liked characters in this book.

Our third main character is the quiet eider-gatherer from Iceland, Hans (not of-the-Southern-Isles) who does most of the physical labour among the trio, literally a life-saver for them. He speaks whenever absolutely necessary, doing whatever he’s told by his ‘Master,’ Prof Liedenbrock, perfectly, stoically, and efficiently as long he’s paid weekly without fail. It is implicit that the Liedenbrocks wouldn’t have been successful in their endeavour had it not been for Hans, and it’s chucklesome when you actually process the fact that he literally went to the centre of the earth, facing unimaginable dangers with no questions asked but devoted obedience just because he was being paid to do this job. Respect, man. One more mention-worthy bit: his sizeable frame and general vibes reminded me of certain Mohammedan from an epic series.

There were a couple of other characters too, but I’ll just mention Gräuben, Axel’s fiancée, who basically becomes the reason for which the latter stays determined to survive the journey. I liked how she was all pushy to send Axel off on the journey of his life while the latter kept whimpering how there was simply no way they were gonna return alive.

It’s finally time for the plot (rubbing hands gleefully like a fly)! What stood out to me the most was the writing. At many points, there was what I wouldn’t exactly call a bunch of purple patches, but extremely vivid imagery of the surroundings which was exhilarating. The icing on the cake was the plethora of not-really-esoteric-but-still-kinda terms that only ones heavily invested in geology, geography, and the likes, might be quite familiar with. My favourite part of this book was the fact that Verne had given perfectly plausible scientific phenomena and believable reasons to explain all of his fantastical elements. I always love it when the out-of-the-ordinary things have logical explanations (yes, that was indeed a nod to the Grishaverse).

Anywho, readers completely devoid of scientific curiosity might find the book a tad boring, considering all the long, excruciating treks the trio set out on in the duration of their grand escapade; one might grow tired of repeatedly going through all the lengthy descriptions filled with scientific jargon. But people like yours truly who find exactly that sort of writing quite enjoyable will be pleased to find just how well-detailed the whole journey is. I was quite surprised to realise their actual descent down the earth doesn’t even begin until halfway through the book, but that being said, the previous scenarios were just as engaging.

Talking about the actual scene of the centre of the earth… well, how do I put it? I’ll just quote Axel’s view on the very same thing since I feel he definitely worded my sentiments accurately:

“For such novel sensations, new words were wanted; and my imagination failed to supply them.”

I’d have loved it if the journey had been longer; I wished to know what more secrets that mysterious depth hid in its confines, for so far whatever we got to know, it was beyond intriguing: giant forests of fungi, uncountable extinct varieties of flora and fauna in all their living glory, various plants and animals but supernatural in proportions (that was just so cool!),(literally) mediterranean seas and geysers and species of human resembling giants, and an almost omnipresent source of light electric in origin. Aren’t all these things really ruffling your truffles? I imagine getting to view these sights in person must’ve been breathtaking, sigh. A longer exploration of this whole new world would’ve been the best thing ever.

I’ll touch on the negative points before I wrap this up: firstly, my paperback had loads of typos which kept distracting my mind from the plot quite regularly; the grammar Nazi in me was silently but violently quaking all the while.  Secondly, I was studying Shakespeare as well as Dante simultaneously while reading this book, and therefore the epicness of our book of discussion was partially lost on me in favour of the works of the former authors. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the story; on the contrary, I feel Verne has written this superbly. Even though things can feel somewhat monotonous at some points, there were exciting events following them to keep the reader glued. The ‘electric joke’ at the end felt like a really good inclusion for the ending bit, though Hans was definitely missed. Last but not the least, it was really inspiring to see Prof Liedenbrock being so invested in this journey of discovery, determined to fulfil his role till the very end, especially during the last few chapters when the chances of their survival were getting reduced to nil bit by bit. An inspiring albeit insane character to be remembered for a long, long time. Though I wouldn’t say I’d choose it for a re-read, I’d suggest picking this book up when you’re looking for a quick Sci-Fi/Fantasy read that will not consume your heart, mind, and soul for all of eternity, unlike certain fantasy series.

Image Courtesy: Soyeenka Mishra

Location: Bhubaneswar, India

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