Sunday, July 13, 2008

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, 1869, 425 pages.

The basic premise of this book is that there is a deadly sea-monster roaming the depths of the world's oceans, the likes of which no one has seen before. It has caused the deaths of many a seaman and several sea-going vessels. Now Professor Aronnax, a scientist from Paris, has been thrown overboard on a transatlantic crossing, because of the force of this mysterious undersea power, but is rescued by the amazing submarine Nautilus, captained by the secretive Captain Nemo, and kept captive on board, along with his valet and a Canadian adventurer, both of whom also ended up in the sea. Now it is up to Aronnax to discover the truth about the Nautilus, Captain Nemo's origins, and to enjoy the fantastic world of the deep to which he is introduced.

I didn't enjoy the book half as much as I was hoping to; I had wished very much that 20,000 Leagues would become as dear to me as Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which has been a favourite of mine since I was a teenager. It did not. It wasn't that it was a bad story; there are its exciting elements, and it is highly imaginative. The sometimes stilted Victorian dialogue utterly delighted me, and was a great source of amusement, although I'm sure it was unintentional! However, there are also incredibly long lists of fish, shells, and invertebrates to plow through; the exciting events are interspersed with long periods of inactivity, and the ending is so inconclusive that it made me wonder why I had begun. The book left me with a palpable sense of disappointment.

About the author:

Jules Verne (1828-1905) was born in Nantes, in western France. He began writing when he was twenty and studying law in Paris. His father, finding out about his writing, cut him off financially, and young Jules was forced to find work as a stockbroker, a job he both hated and was good at. While in Paris, Verne had the good fortune of meeting Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, both of whom helped him develop his writing style. In 1857 he had an even more fortunate meeting with a widow with two daughters, Honorine Morel, whom he married. Honorine was very supportive of Verne's writing and encouraged him to find a publisher. Verne was taken on by Pierre-Jules Hetzel, one of the most influential of French publishers, and after that, he published two or more volumes a year until his death. In 1861, Jules and Honorine welcomed their son Michel into the world; he would prove to be a trial, at one point being sent abroad to a penal colony.

Verne and his wife moved to Amiens; it was there in 1886 that Verne's nephew Gaston, who suffered from paranoid delusions, shot him in the leg, leaving him with a permanent limp. In 1888, Verne became a town councillor for Amiens, a position he held for fifteen years. He died in 1905 of complications from diabetes.

Verne has often been called "the father of science-fiction", though to be fair, I should mention that the label has also been applied to H.G. Wells. Verne's imaginative works have been far-seeing, as they have predicted many modern amenities and discoveries, such as submarines, helicopters, air-conditioning and jukeboxes; he even posited, in 20,000 Leagues, the notion of underwater hydrothermal events, which were not discovered for many decades after his death.