Sunday, November 30, 2014

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Extraordinary Voyages #3) by Jules Verne, William Butcher (Editor)

One problem with reading the classics is I am not sure how the translation fares against other translations. This one seems well done and reminds me of the Victorian writers with its long romantic descriptions of nature wrapped up in scientific discussions that dip a bit too much into theory for my liking. But that's just personal taste. I nodded off on Professor Lidenbrock's paleontology spiel. I'm also the woman that dropped her geology class in college because she didn't like studying rocks. When the main character, geologist Axel, went off on the stratum layers of rocks I had no idea what I read after the passage. Ever do that? Completely zone out while reading technical details? You know... mouth hanging open, glazed-eyed look.  If you like science and adventure then you might like this and it's reflection on what people believed in the 1800s. I did like the book. The action, that is. Take into account that I read an hour a day on a treadmill because I like my sedentary reading experience to be active.

Overall, I liked this tale; however, my interest waned when the characters were in the interior and Axel's whiny, uncourageous voice seemed to repeat itself like a needle skipping on a record. He is such an unadventurous spirit I wanted to shake him. The introduction does a great job explaining the scientific inconsistencies and ideas during the 1800s. Make sure you don't pass it up because it enriches the text. You need to take into account the historical context of this work because there are annoying incidents. Take Axel's spunky girlfriend who was more ready-to-jump-into-the-earth than him. But of course a Victorian woman would not be able to do that.  Another irritating Victorian feature is when the Professor finds a skull and makes a politically incorrect statement about it representing the white race. It's offensive, but represents the times.

This adventure erupts when Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel decipher a document found in an Icelandic book, the discovery of Arne Saknussemm's account of traveling down the Snaefell crater to the center of the Earth. Lidenbrock wants to make the same journey himself and drags the reluctant Axel to Reykjavik, Iceland. They hire a local guide, Hans, who adds some humor by insisting to be paid on a certain day even after they've almost been killed. He's so calm and matter-of-fact in his actions that he is the hero in their journey. Axel is scared to death on the journey and thinks it's only a matter of time before he'll die. He spends most of his time trying to get Lidenbrock to turn around, even after seeing amazing sights. When he sees a 12 foot tall man underground he responds by shrugging his shoulders. What an amazing dud! I'd had it with him at that point. Thank goodness, Lidenbrock's impulsiveness and enthusiasm worked as a foil to Axel's duddiness. I might have abandoned the boy if Hans and Lidenbrock had not been invented by Verne.

Once the characters get into the volcanic crater they find a huge cavern containing a sea with ancient mammals and sea creatures both dead and alive. After crossing the sea they find a path with Saknussemm's runic initials and follow it. When they hit a blocked entrance they blow up the rock causing an earthquake that sends them on a journey to the surface of the Earth. I would have vomited Axel out of too if I was Mother Earth. He'd give anyone or thing indigestion. What we know about science today makes much of this story unbelievable. No one can survive the gases of a volcano and no one can ride a raft on top of lava to name a few. Still, it is a fun read. Just know that it is not a science fiction novel. The threesome don't solve any scientific need and their journey is more adventure than anything. Science is talked about and it gets tedious at times, but it's more a look into what the future might be like. The style of voice has the Professor and Axel sounding scholarly and formal.

I just finished reading about Snorri Sturluson and his descendant, scholar and librarian Arni Magnusson, who saved Sturluson's Icelandic sagas one of the few ancient written texts on Norse mythology in the early 1700s. There was a resurgence of public interest during the Victorian times in Sturluson's works and it is reflected in Jules Verne's piece. He uses the fictitious Arne Saknussemm and Iceland as the setting for his novel. I got a kick out of finding some Viking lore influenced Verne's novel. While, I enjoyed this book and like Victorian writers, I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. Perhaps the high reader who loves adventure and science. At least now I'll have an idea of the plot when reading abridged versions for elementary students.

4 Smileys

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