Saturday, November 22, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

We wanted to start with some of the earliest science fiction and agreed that one of the novels written by Jules Verne would be a good place to start. Because a new movie based on Journey to the Center of The Earth was just being released we choose it as the book to discuss at our next meeting. None of us had read the book previously. I did not want to buy the book so I went to Project Gutenberg to see if it was available.

For those of you not familiar with Project Gutenberg the website states and I quote; “Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.” At last count there were over 25,000 free books in Project Gutenberg’s online catalog and over 100,000 more available at affiliates. There is no copyright violation on any of the books listed. Journey to the Center of the Earth was available as a free download. I downloaded it to my computer and the moved the book to my ebook reader.

Jules Verne wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864. All of his novels have been translated from French to English and we found difference as we each had different editions. One of the first was that the characters had been given new names in the later editions. None of us found this to be an exciting book. Written in the first person it was long on description and short on action. Verne filled the book with facts about the geology of the earth. In some ways the book was like geology textbook. The characters were observers. There are only three main characters, Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel and Hans Bjelke their Icelandic guide for the journey. You quickly learn that the Professor is impatient, his nephew does not like adventure and Hans is stoic. Axel is the narrator in the book. Any danger is always at a distance and never seems to threaten the characters. We all agreed that this book would not be a best seller today. Everyone commented on the difference in social norms between 1864 and 2008. Most notable was the role of women. You know they are there but only in the background. Their role is to stay home and keep the fires going. No journeys to distant places for them.

Journey to the Center of the Earth has been made into a movie several times. Women and children have been added to the script. There is a lot more tension in the movie. The actors are participants in threatening situation instead of observers. In many ways the movies bear little resemblance to the book.

None of us would have read this book had we not chosen it for the book club. While the book was very poplar when it was written, no one felt that it had stood the test of time. It was slow moving and did not hold anyone attention. There was not a “I have to keep reading to find out what happened” feeling while reading the book. We knew from the beginning that everyone came home. The consensus was that Journey to the Center of the Earth was a classic only because it was among the first Science Fiction books written.

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