Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the EarthJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a treat! I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a book so much. Most readers are at least vaguely familiar with this work, from the movie versions if not from having read it. It is a true action thriller from start to finish, fraught with peril and excitement on almost every page (or CD track in this case). Verne’s fertile imagination is wonderful. The plot is about a scientist and his nephew who find and translate an obscure Icelandic work revealing that its writer had, centuries earlier, traveled to the center of the earth through a volcanic crater. The party seeks to duplicate the voyage. Of course they meet with every possible danger and setback.

The book was written in French in 1864 and translated into English soon thereafter. It thus has certain characteristics that either charm or dissuade the reader. I’m solidly in the former camp. The language is both quaint and highly literate. Illiteracy was the norm at that time, so the mass market then was the top 10% or so of the populace in terms of education. Its aim, then, is quite high. If you are put off by vocabulary like whither and whence or tenebrous, effulgence, pellucid, antediluvian, abnegnation, and verdure, to cite just a few, then this book is not for you. Perhaps reality TV is your best bet. But if you enjoy the English language’s most expressive and evocative aspects used in a natural and compelling narrative, you will enjoy this book as I did. The high literacy level does not come across as stuffy or snobbish. It’s just the way educated people spoke and wrote at that time. I don’t know how much of the style is properly that of Verne’s and how much that of the translator, but the English version delighted me at every turn.

I listened to the audio-CD version. The reader was excellent, portraying the pedantic professor-uncle and the woebegone nephew admirably. He also handled a great many terms in several foreign languages, including Icelandic. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know any of them, as the narrator-nephew doesn’t either and his uncle translates everything to English for him.

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