Jules Verne is perhaps the single most important persona in the evolution of science fiction as a genre. Seminally seminal to say the least, his books utilized and pushed beyond the limits of discovered reality to incorporate elements of the yet undiscovered in adventurous tales. Appearing a century prior to the likes of Asimov, Bester, and Clarke, his novels of Earth’s exploration, though certainly dated by today’s standards, set a high bar for imagination, science, and entertainment rolled into one.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is Verne’s fifth major published work and sees the author finding form writing stories of exotic expeditions. After cracking a secret message hidden within the saga Heimskringla, Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel head to Iceland. Hiring the services of the guide Hans Bjelke upon their arrival, they following the instructions of the encrypted message to a local volcano and enter the caldera. The trio’s journey from there only becomes more adventurous by the page: what exists at Verne’s center of the Earth is anything but predictable.
Redolent with both fantastical imagination and the science of Verne’s time, Journey to the Center of the Earth is everything that makes the genre entertaining: amazing creatures, an unearthly setting (or all too earthly, depending on perspective), and the use of scientific knowledge to enhance, and as necessary, escape situations. Though the story takes its time to get rolling, beginning with the moment the trio enters the caldera until the last pages, readers will be kept engaged by the variety of scenes they encounter.
Journey to the Center of the Earth, along with being one of the first entries into the then uncategorized genre of science fiction, is inimitable. Like Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, or Roald Dahl’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, the book’s central concept is so unique that anyone who attempts to write a book in the same vein needs either to give full homage to Verne or have the patience to deal with the “derivative” moniker that would forever be attached to the work. Verne having the luxury of swimming in virgin waters, his tale moves with a freedom simply unavailable to the saturated market of sci-fi and fantasy today.