Thursday, September 19, 2013

My favourite Verne

Jules Verne came up on Twitter today, where the question of who first wrote about the moon travel was brought up. I had to take a look, too, and learned that humans have always been fascinated with the moon travel. It was seen as rather difficult to reach, however, and most of the earlier moon travelling required divine or demonic help, or was achieved only in a dream.

The first books featuring man-made technical innovations that might have made the travelling possible weren’t published until the 19th century. Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) was generally regarded one of the first such books, although Poe had an earlier story (1835) where the moon travel was attempted with a balloon.

Oddly enough, this post is not about From the Earth to the Moon. I’m not sure I’ve even read it. It simply made me remember my favourite Verne, which heads in the other direction entirely. I like – probably unfashionably – Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) the best. I read it quite a few times growing up. Although, if I recall correctly, I tended to skip the beginning on later readings, and start straight from where the professor and his team descend into the volcano.

Jules Verne: Journey to the Center of the Earth
The story is simple. Professor Lidenbrock, a German, discovers a runic message in an old manuscript that, when decoded, reveals a passage to the centre of the earth from a volcano in Iceland. The Professor immediately sets out on an expedition with his reluctant nephew Axel and a native guide. After all kinds of amazing events, they emerge back on the surface through a volcano in Italy.

It’s an adventure story, plain and simple, at least once the actual expedition starts. The party encounters fascinating natural phenomena as well as prehistoric monsters; even what they suspect is an early human. They barely escape with their lives on many occasions. It’s an exciting and entertaining book that kept me on edge the entire time.

I had some trouble dating the book, however. I can’t remember what it was, exactly, that made me constantly wonder when it was that the events in the book took place. It felt much more modern than what I imagined things would have been on Verne’s time. A sign of good science fiction, perhaps?

I’ve read some other books of Verne’s, and have seen numerous movies and TV series based on them. Around the World in Eighty Days came close to being equally entertaining, although mostly in visual form – I was especially fond of an animated series for children where each character was an animal – but I haven’t read the book more than once. Other books, like Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, I found positively dull. To my amazement, there isnt a proper filmatisation of my favourite Verne, although there have been a couple of attempts, the latest 3D monstrosity from 2008; for those who prefer their books in a movie form, there is a 1999 movie on YouTube in its entirety.

I think that Journey to the Center of the Earth appealed to the budding historian in me. It had old manuscripts, cryptic messages, and mystically preserved prehistoric life. It all seemed like it could actually be possible. Is there anything more intriguing than that? There isnt for me.