Monday, November 03, 2008

Review:
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (Audiobook)

One area of my reading that I often feel is underrepresented is classics – genre or not, I need to be better read in them (and I don’t think I can rightly count any that I was forced to read back in high school). In the realm of science fiction classics, I’ve had Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne languishing on The Stack for years now. So, with my relatively new-found time for audio books in my schedule, I was happy to pick up Journey to the Center of the Earth, read by David Colacci (I’m not sure what the translation is – it was originally published in French).

This is a timeless tale of adventure that’s been told and retold many times since it was originally published in 1864. An esteemed German Professor and his scholarly nephew discover a mysterious message from a 15th Century academic. Once solved, the coded message alludes to an entrance to a passage to the center of the Earth through an Icelandic volcano. They set forth to achieve the goal of the center of the earth with many a surprise along the way.

First, for those readers who are unaware, by day I’m a geologist. The two main characters in The Journey to the Center of the Earth are geologists. With geologists as protagonists being so rare, this fact alone will endear Journey to the Center of the Earth to me for a long time to come. Conversely, with that comes the knowledge of geology that I have. Now, I fully realize that the book is over 100 years old, so the geology is going to be out-of-date. But, with my knowledge so close, the degree to which the book is impossible and the way in which some geologic terms are misused, I was often ripped from narrative as I put on my geo-cap and cried fowl.

As for the story – I have to say that it feels different from much of what’s written today. This is all about adventure and discovery – there are no real thematic elements – this is from a time when, apparently, the adventure was enough. Reflecting on this, I can now see why it has made the jump to TV and movies so often – it really does lend itself to this type of portrayal. However, for it work as a TV/movie, changes need to be made due to the tendency of the adventure to stop short just when it should hit the accelerator – great prehistoric beasts and even prehistoric man are eventually encountered, yet these are kept at a distance and to my disappointment, not explored in any way.

Perhaps it’s due to bias inserted by the reader or even a translation issue, but the main character – Harry, Henry, or Axel, depending on the translation and conversational use – really comes across as annoying and self-absorbed. It could also be something lost to the ages of the 19th Century. Whatever the reason, Henry (as my version used), really gets annoying, and the entire novel is told from his 1st person perspective. The other characters have none of nuance that modern characterization often shows – the venerable professor becomes an excitable and grumpy old man and the steadfast guide, Hans, does all the work and receives little attention. In retrospect, I’d love to see a satirical interpretation of Journey to the Center of the Earth from Hans’ perspective ala Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

It seems that Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn’t really hold up all that well to our modern times. The science fiction novel has evolved greatly since this early form, leaving the feeling of an extended outline lacking the flesh of a novel. However, the audio version was a fine way to spend my long drives and I’m very happy that I did listen to this – I’m not sure I’d have been all that pleased at reading the book though. In short, this classic is something I’m happy to have experienced, but it doesn’t translate well into the 21st Century. 5.5/10

5 comments:

TK42ONE said...

Okay, I know I lurk here and don't post often, but you said a few things that made me stop and want to comment.

First, yes, being so old, the story doesn't really measure up to what we're used to. And from some of the older stories I've read (like Twain, Verne, Dumas, etc.) none of them can really be compared to what we read today. Not that that diminishes the greatness they may have between the covers though.

Second, yes, many of these older action stories do make good fodder for TV and film. The action can cover up some of the shortcomings in plot, character development, etc.

Finally, I never knew you were a rock doctor. You really need to check out an author called Jack Du Brul. Not the crap he co-wrote with Clive Cussler, that stuff's junk. Read the stuff he wrote by himself. Why? The stories are full of action AND the main character is a geologist.

TK42ONE said...

Forgot to ask, where are you getting your audio books from? I've been using Audible.com and have been pleased so far. Their gapless playback works great on my iPod.

Neth said...

I've read several DuBrul books, though it's been a few years since I've picked one up.

I've just been picking up used audiobooks at the local used book store. I'd use the library, but it has a terrible selection. I hope to try out Audible sometime in the future, but I really haven't used anything by them yet.

TK42ONE said...

Sounds like you're well ahead of me.

Neth said...

nah...I have a week spot for the likes of Cussler and DuBrul that's a hold over from youth.

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