Journey to the Center of the Earth: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry - Jules Verne

The next day the sky was again overcast; but on the 29th of June, the last day but one of the month, with the change of the moon came a change of weather. The sun poured a flood of light down the crater. Every hillock, every rock and stone, every projecting surface, had its share of the beaming torrent, and threw its shadow on the ground. Amongst them all, Scartaris laid down his sharp-pointed angular shadow which began to move slowly in the opposite direction to that of the radiant orb. My uncle turned too, and followed it. At noon, being at its least extent, it came and softly fell upon the edge of the middle chimney.
“There it is! there it is!” shouted the Professor. “Now for the centre of the globe!” he added in Danish.
I looked at Hans, to hear what he would say. “Forüt!” was his tranquil answer.
“Forward!” replied my uncle.
It was thirteen minutes past one.

Jules Verne was one of my favourite authors when I was a kid. My mom loved his stories, too. Twenty Thousand Leagues and In 80 Days made repeat appearances at our bedtime reading. However, for some reason we never read Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We have both watched the film more times than many others, of course, but we just didn’t get around to the book.

The film starring James Mason is a classic that I still love to watch, even tho I know certain parts of the dialogue by heart now.

So, imagine my surprise when I started the book and Prof. Liedenbrock did not reside in Edinburgh but in Hamburg!

And this was just the first difference between the film and the book, which meant that reading the book was not spoilt much by the film but actually intrigued me to see what other departures the film had taken from the original story.

It turns out, there are quite a few departures. Most regrettably, the book does not feature Gertrude. 

Where the book shines, tho, is in the descriptions …

At last, at eleven in the sunlight night, the summit of Snæfell was reached, and before going in for shelter into the crater I had time to observe the midnight sun, at his lowest point, gilding with his pale rays the island that slept at my feet.

and the the inspirational science:

If the grotto of Guachara, in Colombia, visited by Humboldt, had not given up the whole of the secret of its depth to the philosopher, who investigated it to the depth of 2,500 feet, it probably did not extend much farther. The immense mammoth cave in Kentucky is of gigantic proportions, since its vaulted roof rises five hundred feet  above the level of an unfathomable lake and travellers have explored its ramifications to the extent of forty miles. But what were these cavities compared to that in which I stood with wonder and admiration, with its sky of luminous vapours, its bursts of electric light, and a vast sea filling its bed? My imagination fell powerless before such immensity. I gazed upon these wonders in silence. Words failed me to express my feelings. I felt as if I was in some distant planet Uranus or Neptune  —  and in the presence of phenomena of which my terrestrial experience gave me no cognisance. For such novel sensations, new words were wanted; and my imagination failed to supply them. I gazed, I thought, I admired, with a stupefaction mingled with a certain amount of fear.

I don’t like to use the term “science fiction” in relation to Jules Verne. Even tho he may be one of the first Sci fi authors, it just does not feel right to just put his works into a specific category like that.

For example, he also includes social commentary on the science of the times, which really brings out the side in his books where he challenges and questions science. When I think of “sci fi”, I mostly have this idea of books and stories where science is accepted and developed as an integral part of the plot, not one where the plot and story is used to motivate people to ask questions. Of course, it may just be that I have this all wrong. After all, I do not tend to read many books that carry the sci fi label.

Still, there is something very special about Verne. In his commentary on the science of his time – this book was written in 1864 – Verne seems very circumspect. He does not just mention the scientists of his own nation, but includes references to those of any nation that he found useful in his narrative. There are two aspects in this that really struck me: For one, I’m intrigued now if other writers at this time did the same or whether they contained their focus in some way.

The second aspect to this that struck me is how “modern” this approach seems, when maybe it isn’t? I mean, I know that universities have always had an exchange of ideas and scientist and proud themselves on the ability to be global leaders in providing knowledge. Yet, in the age of Brexit etc, where universities are warning of the impending “brain drain”, it just struck me as amazing that a purveyor of popular fiction, which is often now classed as children’s literature, could have so fully embraced the idea that scientific discovery is made by all nations and to benefit of all mankind, and cannot be achieved by a single nation in isolation.

Anyway, I will get of the soap box. Maybe I just spend too much time this weekend huddled around a bbq with my international scientist friends.

There are so many fantastic and fantastical elements to Verne’s stories that I love that I cannot list them all in a review. What I did on finishing this book, tho, was to call my mom. As some of you may know, my mom and I have been to Sicily recently. So, when I finished the book and found out that the island of Stromboli features in this story, I had to let my mom know. We had a fun time watching a lot of people being sea sick on the way back from Stromboli. (Trust me it was funny – but you probably had to be there…)

So, when Prof. Liedenbrock essentially makes the same journey, it lent an additional “colouring” to the scene.

Needless to say, I absolutely loved Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and I wish people would read more Verne again. My mom now will (she’s off to the library tomorrow). As for me, I certainly look forward to my next encounter with his genius also. I quickly downloaded the Delphi collection of his complete works, which seem to be one of the better annotated collections that contains the unabridged works in a professionally edited format. I had tried a few other titles for the kindle, but some turned out to be either the abridged or pretty unreadable. (I would strongly recommend trying a sample of any Verne book in kindle format if possible. The Amazon description will be of no help whatsoever!)

I should also add that Tim Curry’s reading of this book was divine.


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