Friday, 8 February 2002

Jules Verne: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864)

Edition: Heron
Review number: 1062

Not only was this the first Jules Verne novel I ever read, it was probably also the first adult science fiction. Like many of his novels, its title directly describes its contents: it tells of a journey of exploration into the mouth of an extinct volcano. In style it is clearly based on Victorian tales of adventure set in the normal world, where explorers in darkest Africa would be facing danger in the jungle. It is very like The Lost World; these two novels may well be among the most Victorian in terms of thought-world of all.

Verne's geology has been quite comprehensively outdated since Journey to the Centre of the Earth was published, but that is, by this time, one of the charms of the novel. Here we have an Earth with a cool centre containing sedimentary rock, open caverns large enough to contain considerable seas filled with living fossils (in an ecosystem without access to sunlight), and so on. Verne was writing long before ideas such as plate tectonics, but he wasn't even reflecting the most up to date ideas of his own day; most geologists believed that the temperature steadily rose through to the centre of the planet (even without convincing descriptions of the processes that might make this possible), and the relative cold beneath a volcanic zone is hailed as a vindication of the ideas of Humphrey Davy. The idea continued to be used for many years even as its scientific plausibility faded - Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar stories depended on it.

Verne's novels are not really meant to be about scientific accuracy; they are meant to be speculations in the form of exciting adventures, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth is certainly that.

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