Book of the Week

 

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Title: Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Author: Jules Verne

Published in French as Voyage au centre de la Terre in 1864, Journey to the Centre of the Earth first appeared in English in 1871. Since then, there have been a number of translations and movies made of the original.

I have loved this story from my childhood for the uniqueness of the adventurer. Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew, Axel, and guide, Hans, journey to the centre of a volcano in Iceland in the footsteps of Arne Saknussemm, a fictitious, famous alchemist of the sixteenth century. Saknussemm claimed to have discovered the passage to the centre of the Earth through an extinct volcano in Iceland called Snaefellsjokull. Lidenbrock deciphers his writing in the ancient runic script and follows in his footsteps with Alex and Hans.

They discover a fantastic world. The interior of the earth seems to be lighted up by strange electrical impulses and has brown coloured vegetation( explained by lack of sunlight), streams, caves and an ocean. They discover bones of dead animals, mummies, strange plants and prehistoric fishes, some of which are eyeless. They sail on a raft in an underground ocean, watch dinosaurs battle and run away from a twelve-foot giant grazing a herd of mastodons. The spirit of the book is one of hope and adventure. While they ride on a raft of mummified wood on a hot solution of water and magma in hope of exiting the volcano by being thrown out with an eruption, Alex thinks they will surely die. The professor remains eternally hopeful. He says:

As long as this heart goes on beating, I can’t admit that any creature endowed with will-power should ever despair. 

The Professor is an eternal optimist who lives for his dreams. He does not pursue wealth or power as an end.

The three of them finally exit through Stromboli in Italy, thrown out by an eruption.

The book has an unusual and gripping storyline. There are some home truths that are spelt out by Professor Lidenbrock very well. Here is a sample I really liked.

Science, my boy, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.

This is a perspective that is borne true by discoveries made by greats like Steven Hawkins even today. That truth is a perception at a given point of time of a reality as perceived by a person and is mutable, that there are no black and whites in real life is so well borne out by this observation made by the professor.

We have had a number of Hollywood productions on this book and on this theme. I remember watching another movie called The Core. This had a journey to the centre of the Earth as well for different reasons. The scientists ride on a vehicle with a giant drill that  bores through the Earth to it’s centre as the planet has stopped spinning. People are dying and the weather is turning violent. A team, dedicated to help mankind, journey to the centre to help restart the spinning. The centre of the Earth is shown to be made of magma and is very hot. Some of the team die while trying to do the job. It is rather bleak.

Verne’s novel is less obvious, more gripping and less gory. Both the storylines had to do with courage and heroism. But, I found Verne’s story more appealing for it’s sense of values, creativity and adventure. It had a more imaginative approach and a sense of fun. If I were to reread the book or rewatch the movie I would select the book, Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

 

 

 

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