Believe it or not, I’ve never gotten around to reading a Jules Verne book until recently. I’ve seen many a movie based on his stories, adored a ride at Walt Disney World where he was a main character and certainly loved the ideas he stood for – exploration, the impossible is possible, innovation, imagination, time travel. But, I’d never actually read one of his books. I have a bunch of them on my to-read list and I thought now, as I was already in a deep science fiction haze, was an ideal time to finally read one. I chose Journey to the Centre of the Earth to start myself off. I thought perhaps I should step away from the time machine stories for awhile.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth is aptly named. It is about an adventure, undertaken by an English geologist, his brilliant uncle, also a scientist, and their mute Icelandic guide to the center of the earth after being tipped off that a path exists thanks to a scrap of paper with runes on it that falls out of a book the uncle has recently acquired.
One thing that was comforting about Verne immediately was his style is a lot like a personal favorite, Charles Dickens. I’m not sure why Verne reminded me of Dickens so much. I think it was the earnest English narrator, his grumpy if fabulously funny uncle and the silent but loyal servant that did it. It was the cast of many of a Dickens novel, just missing about another 20 characters. Verne is more sparse in his character list but the three men, who must carry the entire narrative, never bored me. I liked them, even when I did want to lovingly hit them up side the head and tell them they are being idiots. At times the story is predictable and a little cliche. But Verne is one of those wonderful writers where I can step back and remember he wasn’t being cliche. He was actually the first one to do it this way.
Verne also frames the story as a memoir, being written after the adventures have been completed. It does take a little of the fun out of it when the characters are in dangerous situations. We know very early on that everyone survives. Where Verne hooks you is putting the characters into situations and making a reader wonder how on earth they survive it. His storytelling, because of the format, is very matter of fact and full of facts and figures. Verne is believable as a science fiction writer because he based his ideas on facts and possibilities, not far-fetched too-fantastical-to-be-real theories. We know no lost world exists beneath the crust of the earth but Verne surrounds his fantasies with enough fact to leave you wondering. I liked my first meeting with Verne. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of his work.