Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Jules Verne
(190x, A.L. Burt)
[original copyright 1865]

A man and his uncle find a secret journal and follow the clues in an attempt to get to the Earth’s center.


+ -- First reading (hardcover)
May 26th to June 7th, 2019


I really enjoyed the first half of this book, as they traveled to Iceland and began their descent. But when it came to finding life and a huge dynamic ocean, I was less enthused, no matter if this was written when we had very little knowledge of the composition. Still, the research it must have taken to write about it, with the different theories proven and refuted by a fiction text, is astounding. No wonder the author is so famous. In the end, it was a pleasure to read.

Spoiler review:

I liked the way the book was written. There’s a formality to it that gives it a historical significance, and that is entirely a product of when the book was written. It was Verne’s time, and he was able to rouse the normal people who were beginning to show an interest in more than just going home at night from their physical labors.

In my copy of the book, the main character is named Henry, but sometimes his uncle calls him Harry. I’m not sure if I have a lousy translation, but the rest of the book was nicely written, so it’s a little strange. Regardless, it’s Henry’s uncle the Professor, who finds a mysterious artefact in an old book, which when deciphered leads them to conclude that an Icelandic explorer journeyed through a volcanic shaft to travel to the center of the Earth. Henry is hilarious, as he never wants to do anything -he panics at the slightest obstacle, and always hopes to persuade his uncle to give up the quest.

The funny part comes at the beginning, where it is the Professor who gets sea-sick on the way to Iceland, and Henry who enjoys the ride. Interesting how nobody got sick on the raft that was traveling so much faster later on. Otherwise, it’s Henry who is complaining, who thinks of all the inconveniences, all the things they will be deprived of, quoting scientific theories that his uncle ignores, and who can dream of a thousand ways they could die -not once, but several times throughout the book.

They travel to Iceland and meet various important people, after which they hire a guide, Hans. Their trip around Iceland to get to the volcano is full of idiosyncrasies from a hundred years ago, and which would not make it into a novel now (I’m thinking of the significant presence of the lepers, here), though the people are just normal poor people, money-wise and of technology, what little there existed at that time. When they climb the slope of the volcano, Henry remarks on the geography of the land, the thinning of the air, and the not-too-distant ocean. They descend into the cone of the volcano, and find the right shaft. It’s ridiculously easy to get down into the shaft, but I don’t know any better, so I shouldn’t judge… They wander for days, weeks, but this part of the book is never boring. I loved the scientific explanations and debates, even if I have no idea whether they were real theories of the time. Ridiculous or not, they were fun to have debated.

I especially liked the hallucinations of Henry when he was separated from his companions and lost. Their boiling hot river was supposed to be a guide, but he was so engrossed in the geology of the place that he lost sight of it. I liked Hans, too, a man of very few words, but he was resourceful, and completely dedicated to the Professor, no matter the obstacle. He was a cool comparison with Henry. The Professor himself is a very stubborn, hard man, though he has a lot of compassion for his nephew. He went to extraordinary lengths to rescue him, several times, even saving the last mouthful of water on their long, dry hike. But he’s never one to let the truth get in the way of his mission!

It's when they reach a depth beyond which they cannot return, where they go into the Lost World, that my interest began to wane. Seeing the underground ocean was interesting, especially as it seemed to go on forever. The sea creatures that battled near them, the geyser island, the electrical storm that blew them back to their starting point, and the mushroom forest with its giant mastodons and giant shepherd people took too long to describe and explain, and it seems clear that the author needed something that would interest his readers of the time, something they could comprehend. Not to mention that nobody knew the composition of the center of the Earth.

So the interior of the planet becomes a reflection in time of the surface. There is an ocean, and the life found there existed millions of years ago, but they all live together.

Finally, while it may be disappointing that they never reach the center of the Earth, it’s a lot more realistic. My greatest fear was that they could actually do it, all the while going nearly horizontally! When they claimed that they were only hundreds of fathoms below the surface, my mind automatically calculated the thousands they had left to go, and compared that with the number of pages left. Something extraordinary would have to happen for them to achieve their goal.

I don’t know if their passage through the newly-discovered shaft can be considered extraordinary, but their reaction is. When they come to a dead-end, they decide to blow it up. But they use an excessive amount of gunpowder, and blow a hole so large that the inner ocean is thrown back, then pours into the hole. They fall in their raft, and although it’s unbelievable that they could stay on it, or that it could hold together (no matter Hans’ incredible skill). When the ocean fills the bottom of the shaft, they start to rise, and the water gets hotter, and eventually it’s replaced with lava.

They are spewed out of the volcanic peak. From Iceland, they’ve traveled under the Earth’s crust to some Mediterranean islands, where they made it alive!

The journey itself was amazing, and while I suppose they need to find something of worth, or else the readers would have been disappointed, I was less enthusiastic about the prehistoric life they found there. The characters were very well realized, from Henry to the Professor and even the mostly silent Hans. The story is well worth the read.


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