I wish I could say this classic is as thrilling as it was when first published, but some books remain cultural milestones for their historical importance, even though more recent, imaginative, and better successors have come along, and this is true of most of Jules Verne's works, I think. He is the grandfather of "hard science fiction," and his books were notable for their rigorous attention to the laws of physics as they were understood at the time. Everything about Journey to the Centre of the Earth
has the ring of plausibility about it (backed up by a great detail of technical explanation of instruments and measurements and physical science), even though we now know the "internal fire" debate is settled.
But with the help of this outflow the thickness of the crust of the island increased materially, and therefore also its powers of resistance. It may easily be conceived what vast quantities of elastic gases, what masses of molten matter accumulated beneath its solid surface whilst no exit was practicable after the cooling of the trachytic crust. Therefore a time would come when the elastic and explosive forces of the imprisoned gases would upheave this ponderous cover and drive out for themselves openings through tall chimneys. Hence then the volcano would distend and lift up the crust, and then burst through a crater suddenly formed at the summit or thinnest part of the volcano.
To the eruption succeeded other volcanic phenomena. Through the outlets now made first escaped the ejected basalt of which the plain we had just left presented such marvellous specimens. We were moving over grey rocks of dense and massive formation, which in cooling had formed into hexagonal prisms. Everywhere around us we saw truncated cones, formerly so many fiery mouths.
After the exhaustion of the basalt, the volcano, the power of which grew by the extinction of the lesser craters, supplied an egress to lava, ashes, and scoriae, of which I could see lengthened screes streaming down the sides of the mountain like flowing hair.
Such was the succession of phenomena which produced Iceland, all arising from the action of internal fire; and to suppose that the mass within did not still exist in a state of liquid incandescence was absurd; and nothing could surpass the absurdity of fancying that it was possible to reach the earth's centre.
The plot, in brief: Otto Liedenbrock, German Professor of Mineralogy, discovers a Runic code in an ancient Icelandic text which, when deciphered, indicates that a 12th century Icelandic traveler named Arne Saknussemm found a passage to the center of the Earth down a volcano. (Journey to the Centre of the Earth
is notable also for featuring one of the earliest use of cryptography in fiction, as several chapters are spent on the deciphering of this code.) Liedenbrock immediately resolves to follow the footsteps of Saknussemm, and drags along his nephew, Axel, the narrator, and eventually a taciturn Icelandic guide named Hans.
This is a great book for kids who are still fascinated by anything to do with secret codes, volcanoes, prehistoric creatures, and fantastic journeys and haven't been jaded by exposure to countless books and movies based on such concepts. Yes, Jules Verne was the granddaddy of them all. However, this novel is basically a travel epic, written at a time when the journey to Iceland alone would have been considered quite daring and exciting. Professor Liedenbrock and his nephew, Axel, encounter darkness, lava, near-starvation and dehydration, an underground ocean, giant mushrooms, the remains of prehistoric fauna, and a battle between an ichthyosaurus and a plesiosaurus. But the whole book is just an account of their journey, with the reader expected to marvel at these fantastic sights.
It was interesting to me more for its historical context and to compare with imitators that have followed in the "fantastic voyage" genre than for the story itself. Three men travel to the center of the Earth, see a few interesting things, and come back, the end. Jules Verne's prose (as translated into English) conveys the breathless wonder of the characters, as well as their trials when they find themselves without food or water deep underground, but it's quite an arid narrative for all its meticulous details. I find Jules Verne to be readable but rather unexciting, as he seems to feel no emotion about his tale and doesn't inspire the reader to feel any.
A book to be read for the sake of having read it, but I suspect few modern adult readers will really find it thrilling or memorable.