What lies beneath?
If you were to travel to the center of the Earth, what do you think you see along the way? Some rocks and hot magma? For my non-geologist readers, would reading a story about this be of any interest to you?
While brainstorming in my pre-reading predictions before taking the Journey to the Center of the Earth with Jules Verne, I thought back to my Geology courses in University (which led me to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree over a Bachelor of Arts) and I predicted that we would cut through the mantle, the outer core and inner core and along the way, we will possibly experience the sedimentary layers of sandstone, shale and metamorphic from the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. We might possibly see some dinosaur fossils from the past 500 million years. What will we find at the geological center of the Inner Core? Molten metal which can never melt because of the extreme pressure? How are we going to survive in temperatures of 6,700 F? Where are we going to start this journey? In Snaefellsjokull, an Icelandic volcanic crater?! Okay, I’m in.
It is a good thing that I am a “reader” of science fiction instead of a writer of science fiction, even the “Father of Science Fiction” such as Jules Verne. My story would not be very exciting. Verne’s journey to the center of the earth, however, includes living, breathing mammals, a lost civilization, underground seas, flora and fauna (without sunlight? how is this possible?) and so much more. Verne takes scientific knowledge, combines it with his unparalleled imagination and, once again, delights unequivocally!
According to Humphry Davy (I778-1829) an eminent early nineteenth-century British chemist and contributor to geological and paleontological science, “Verne’s Journey should be viewed as a ‘life-through-time’ paleontological work. The heroes progress through a cavernous ‘museum’ where fossil exhibits are encountered in situ and where the past comes alive literally and imaginatively…and where the entire experience is framed in nineteenth-century paleontological knowledge (408).”
As with many of Verne’s Adventure novels, Journey to the Center of the Earth, deals with scientific, ideological, and philosophical issues which were being debated in the mid nineteenth century and he closely integrates into his novels. The central question of Center — one unanswered at the time—was the condition of the Earth’s interior. Was it molten or solid?
According to John Breyer and William Butcher in their article “Nothing New Under the Earth: The Geology of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, the less central but more controversial issue was the nature of human prehistory. “Contemporary debates over evolution and the nature and meaning of evolutionary progress also made their way into the novel. The depiction in Journey of long-extinct animals, a preserved modern man, and a human giant raised issues that were being contested by contemporary scientists. The progress of the discussions was being followed closely by the educated public, many of whom were of course reading Verne’s novels (36)”. [for more on the human prehistory, see the article by Breyer and Butcher cited below]
However, for my purposes in this post, I highlight below the aspects of this realistic adventure that fascinated me.
The mystery and suspense of:
- Icelandic culture and history,
- a sunless sea with a battle between a plesiosaur and ichthyosaurus,
- a subterranean world of luminous rocks,
- a lightning storm inside the Earth,
- fossils that come alive
- a monochromatic forest
- a herd of Mastodon tended to by a pre-human giant
- the point where the North and South pole intersect- what happens here?
- a lost civilization
- the return trip-how does one get back to the surface of the Earth from the center?
There are many abridged translations which are easier reading for children and young adult readers. I am using an original French edition, unabridged, by the Librairie Général Française (I found a copy through Abe Books) which includes the coded Runic message left by Arne Saknaussemm-most abridged English translations leave out this key part of the story that leads Professor Lidenbrock to the right trail…no message, no journey.
“Descend into the crater of Sneffels Youcul which the shadow of Scartaris touches just before the calends of July, audacious traveller, and you will reach the centre of the earth. I have done it. Arne Saknussemm”.
Of course, now the important question is, how will we get back to the Earth’s surface? You will have to read it to find out!!
My grandson, George, has joined me in this adventure and illustrated his ideas of this journey:
Thank you, Jules Verne, for another exciting adventure! Next, to the Moon.
Copyright 2021 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Re-Framing the Science in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” Author(s): Allen A. Debus Source: Science Fiction Studies , Nov., 2006, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Nov., 2006), pp. 405-420 Published by: SF-TH Inc Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4241461
NOTHING NEW UNDER THE EARTH: THE GEOLOGY OF JULES VERNE’S “JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH” Author(s): John Breyer and William Butcher Source: Earth Sciences History , 2003, Vol. 22, No. 1 (2003), pp. 36-54 Published by: History of Earth Sciences Society Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24136985