Journey To The Centre Of The Earth by Jules Verne

51XMUTEvJpLA battered leather armchair, an open fire, a decanter of port, the wind howling outside, perhaps a paper knife of curious Oriental design: these are the ideal accoutrements to reading a novel like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. They are not always available in May in London in 2014 but one must make a fist of it. Actually, you don’t really need all the kit – Jules Verne supplies you with everything necessary. There’s some ancient text, a bit of runic script which needs deciphering. There’s an irascible academic. There’s an impossible journey. There is ghastly peril. It’s magnetic. You get 3-D glasses with this Vintage edition and even that sort of gimmick can’t spoil it. We are on the trail of Arne Saknussemm – you know, the 16th century Icelandic scholar and alchemist. The one whose works were burned by the church for heresy. Yes, that’s him. Anyway, he found a way to the earth’s core (kept surprisingly quiet about it) via a volcano in Iceland and Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel, based in 19th century Hamburg, find out about it hundreds of years later by means of the coded note in a strange tome and…oh, you get the picture. On their underground journey, they encounter sea monsters – a grandstand view of a battle between an ichthyosaurus and a plesiosaurus, since you’re asking – and spy an enormous proto-human tending a herd of woolly mammoths. They even make some un-Victorian concessions to the intense heat: ‘By degrees we had all taken off our coats and waistcoats.’ Good heavens. Well, it was 1864. And there were no ladies present. No breathable man-made fibres for them either, this was the full tweed experience. Things go awry eventually. ‘I have no clear memory of the hours which followed,’ says Axel. This is sensible on Verne’s part. Since Axel is our narrator, he would have had to explain exactly how the trio of intrepid explorers was belched out of the volcano as it erupts without being burnt to the size of a Kettle Chip. The moral: as with Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World or H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, ifyou’re going to read rubbish, then make sure it’s classic rubbish.

 

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