Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne is a work of fiction, and the author, along with HG Wells (Reviews: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man) are considered to be the grandfathers of science fiction writing. Journey to the Centre of the Earth is the second book I have reviewed for Jules Verne, the other being Around the World in Eight Days (Review).
To get the most from this SummaReview of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, after you have read the book review/summary, reflectively answer the following questions:
- What can you learn from the ideas in the SummaReview?
- What is one action that you can take as a result of reading this SummaReview?
- What are five takeaways from the SummaReview?
- What has made an impression on you while reading?
- Is there a framework that you can use in your life and work?
- How do the concepts in the SummaReview relate to what you already know?
- How can you combine key ideas from the profile to what you already know to create a new idea?
- Is this a book you’d like to read for yourself? Why? Why not?
While reading Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I was frustrated with the characters Professor of Mineralogy, Otto Lidenbrock (Angry Otto), and his nephew and assistant, Axel (Passive Axel Downer), and would never want to be with either of them on a journey. The contrast in the characters’ personalities made for good drama. The book made me realize that in real life, many scientists made great personal sacrifices for advances in science.
A word of caution: there are inaccuracies in some of the facts in the book, but as the editor, George Davidson so nicely put it, Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a work of fiction and not a textbook. This issue doesn’t take away from the story, it still works. The story is set in Hamburg, Germany in 1863.
Professor Lidenbrock purchases a really old book – over 600 years since published – by an Icelandic writer. A polyglot, the professor is able to speak and understand many languages, Icelandic being one of them. While Lidenbrock is reading and enjoying the book, Heims-Kringla by Snorre Turleson, a dirty scrap of paper falls out of it, on to the floor. Excitedly, he spreads out the piece of paper on the table. On the paper are a series of runic letters.
With dogged determination, the professor sets out to translate what’s on the paper. He is so engrossed in what he is doing that he misses supper, a first for him. Lidenbrock is very set in his ways and likes to eat his dinner and supper at the same time each day. He co-opts Axel to assist him to decode the message. He makes some progress until he is left with a Latin cryptogram, except he doesn’t know the cipher to get to the hidden message. However he has figured out that the message is written by Arne Saknussemm, a 16th century renowned Icelandic scholar and alchemist.
They work very hard to figure out this puzzle but to no avail. Professor Lidenbrock decides to go out for a walk. While he is away, Axel figures out the cryptogram and is determined not to tell his uncle because he knows that he’ll get dragged to go on the journey. The uncle returns and attempts once again to try and decipher the code and is unable to do so. Time is passing by and Axel is getting hungry and no one will be able to eat until Lidenbrock breaks the code. In a moment of weakness, when Axel believes that he can no longer endure the hunger pangs, he breaks down and tells his uncle how to break the cipher. When translated to English, the message reads:
“ Descend into the crater of jokul of Sneffels,
which the shadow of Scartarsis touches before the calends of July,
and you, bold traveller, will reach the centre of the Earth;
which I, Arne Saknussemm have done.
What Axel fears becomes a reality. His uncle orders him to pack both their trunks for their trip to the centre of the earth. Lidenbrock intends to repeat what Saknussemm did three centuries before. Axel doesn’t want to go on the trip but he doesn’t know how to stand up to his uncle. To go to the centre of the earth they have to travel to Iceland and go into a volcano that is presumed to be extinct – the last eruption was in 1219, and this is 1863. To recreate the Saknussemm’s journey they have to be at a certain point the last days of June so they can see where the sun’s shadow fall to direct their path.
Axel leaves the house for a walk, and meets Gräuben, his fiancée. Lidenbrock is also Gräuben’s guardian. Axel complains to her about what his uncle is asking of him and she encourages him to make the journey and when he returns they will marry. They have hidden their engagement from the professor because they do not think he will approve of their relationship.
While Axel is on his walk the professor is busy preparing for his trip and he is very thorough about his geological and other needs for the adventure. The uncle tells him not to disclose to anyone what they are doing. A friend, Mr Christiensen, the Danish consul in Hamburg provides a letter of introduction to Professor Thomsen in Copenhagen, who in turn will provide a letter of introduction to the Governor of Iceland. In Copenhagen, the professor thinks it will be great practice for their trip to climb to the top of a church spire, and this is a good idea because it helps to ease Axel’s vertigo after doing that for five days.
Professor Thomsen gives them letters of introductions to Count Trampe, the Governor of Iceland, Mr Pictursson, the bishop’s suffragan, and Mr Finsen, the mayor of Reykjavik. When they get to Iceland, the bishop is away, but the two are treated warmly by the governor and mayor. They also meet Mr Fridriksson, the science teacher at the Reykjavik school.
Mr Fridriksson recommends Hans Bjelke to be their guide to travel to Snaeffel. At this point, the professor still has not disclosed the real reason for his trip. The way that Jules Verne tells the story, you feel like you are right there with the characters. The guide doesn’t know exactly what the trip is about until the very end and he is okay with that. Hans is very calm and cool and the only thing he asks of the professor is that he be paid every Saturday at 6 pm. When the professor offered to pay in advance he refused.
The journey is not a smooth one, and perilous at many stages, and they never would have made it without the assistance of their guide. Axel and Lidenbrock are at opposite poles, one very pessimistic and the other very optimistic. What I liked about the book is that the characters evolved during the story. You also get glimpses of the professor’s humanity and love for Axel. For instance, when Axel gets separated from his uncle and their guide, the professor never stops looking until he finds his nephew. When he finds Axel he shows so much compassion, which is unusual for him.
Along the way, they find signs of Saknussemm so they know they are on the right track. There are frustrating times as well. In one instance they are sailing on a raft and end up where they started. And that turns out to be a blessing for them because they discover Saknussem’s knife. In the end, they never get to the centre of the earth, instead they end up in an active volcano, which spits them out in Stromboli, Italy.
By the time they return to Hamburg, Germany months after they left, the maid Martha, has told several people about their trip. Lidenbrock gets the acclaim he was seeking.
7 Major Lessons from Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
- New theories replace older ones.
- Science is always improving.
- At time in our lives we have to decide which path to take.
- If you take the wrong path and realize it, do not continue down that road, retrace your steps.
- Facts replace theories.
- What one man has done another may do.
- Even if you feel as if you cannot go any further, if you push yourself, you’ll find that you can go a bit further.
- The best laid plans go awry.
- Flexibility is necessary to adapt to changing circumstances.
When reading classics and other well written books, it’s important not to just focus on the story, but also focus on what you can learn from the characters. Otto Lidenbrock demonstrates the importance of knowing about, and understanding your field. He knew which geological instruments to take on the journey and was able to properly prepare for the trip. He was also an expert in his field – he knew more than the fundamentals, which served him well.
In Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne there were some excellent debating scenes where Axel poses an objection and the professor provides scientific reason. And even if it is now known that some of the science in the book is inaccurate, you will learn how to debate an issue.
I recommend Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right hand side) by email or RSS Feed.
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