1864 Journey to the Center of the Earth

21 April 2011

“Science, my lad, has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.”  -Prof. Liedenbrock 

I admit that I have never felt much of a draw to read Jules Verne.  I finished reading the Great Illustrated Classics versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth, and while I found the stories slightly interesting, I still wasn’t very tempted to check out the originals.  However, since the majority of our books are still in boxes (we’re waiting on bookshelves), and one that happens to be accessible is Journey to the Center of the Earth, I picked it up with a small amount of interest.  After the first page, I was hooked. 

The characters are what make this story, and I have a weakness for well-drawn, interesting characters.  Axel is the nephew of a brilliant professor and scientist, Dr. Liedenbrock.  Axel himself is a scientist, and is quite knowledgable and intelligent, but lacks the frenzied zealousness that his uncle thrives upon.  The conversations between these two characters are my favorite parts, and I was often laughing aloud at them. 

Dr. Liedenbrock has boundless energy and determination, and when it comes to science even daily necessities such as food and drink are small matters that he bears with very impatiently.  But even with all of this, there are moments in the book where he shows an amazing understanding of human nature.  Axel’s personality is in many ways shaped to temper the professor’s, which is precisely what the professor does not want.  They hire an Icelandic hunter named Hans to complete the journey with them, never of course telling him exactly where they plan on going.  Hans’ personality is impenetrable calmness.  The professor, described as a polyglot, can speak with Hans, but poor Axel, knowing only German and Latin, has to resort to yelling and improvised sign language.  Despite this, Hans’ presence often brings a small amount of much-needed tranquility to the group, not to mention the fact that he saves their lives several times. 

I highly recommend this book, but if you want to read it, I must put a restriction on your choice.  (It’s for your own good!)  Jules Verne was French, and therefore wrote the original in his native language in 1864.  Shortly afterwards, an unknown translator converted the book to English but did a very poor job, leaving things out and adding in events of his own invention, changing the names of the characters, and most disastrous of all, corrupting Verne’s unique writing style.  Unfortunately, this translation is the traditional one, and is still in print.  Some editions have a new, and much better translation.

I was unaware of any of this, and very luckily we happen to have the good translation.  The following is a link to the North American Jules Verne Society with more information on this, including the first sentences of the different translations, so you can tell with a quick look at the first page if you have a good translation or not.

http://www.najvs.org/readers.shtml

In a few weeks, I’ll be able to post some pictures of our very own Journey to the ‘Center’ of the Earth!  We’ll be visiting the Caverns nearby, and I’ve heard they go straight down quite a ways!  We planned on visiting them when we finished the book, but the trip will have to wait until after Spring Break next week!

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