Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth: A Signature Performance by Tim CurryJourney to the Center of the Earth: A Signature Performance by Tim Curry by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another of those classics you almost don't have to read. The main points are already such a part of popular culture that reading it is mostly a matter of waiting to see when each part will come up. Still, when I saw it was narrated by Tim Curry, I thought it worth a shot.

The story opens with the discovery of a strange document inside the pages of an old book which brags of a journey through the planet, undertaken some centuries before. Our reluctant protagonist is talked into joining his uncle, the intrepid Professor Lidenbrock, on his own such exploration. Lidenbrock is a geologist, and believes the journey is possible, while Axel holds to scientific convention that says the Earth is full of magma. Of course modern science has borne out Axel's view, but it would be a short book if Lidenbrock didn't turn out to be correct. His theory is sound, by the scientific knowledge of the time.

The book's greatest value lies in its snapshot of scientific inquiry during Verne's time. Verne extrapolates several suppositions, based on the scientific knowledge he's working with. There are several points where he flirts with the truth (he dances all around the theory of continental drift, for instance), only to fall short because he lacks a crucial piece of later discovery. The fantastic creatures the explorers find living underground say a lot about the fossil records that existed then.

The story is fairly straightforward: Axel and his uncle go to Iceland, hire a guide, find the entrance the long-ago explorer used, and travel as far down through the earth as they can before circumstances force them to surface. Most of the narrative involves what Axel sees, rather than what he does. When he does make a decision, it's often the worst one possible. The greatest danger he faces is when he's separated from his uncle and the guide, and his light goes out.

So it's not the most exciting narrative. Still, it's interesting to see Verne's various theories about what an underground explorer might see, and how he came to those conclusions. There were times when I hoped the characters would move toward sources of danger, just to spice up the narrative a bit, but these characters were far too prudent for that.

If it hadn't been Tim Curry reading this to me, I wouldn't have soldiered through it. He adds a much-needed spark to the story. His narration is dynamic, and was often the only reason I kept listening. It was nice to experience this book for myself, but I would've felt the slog a lot more keenly in a print version.

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