Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. New York, New York: Puffin Classics, 1994. 291 pages. $4.99, paper.
by Jayme Russell
I don’t want to say a word against science—far from it—but when one finds oneself in the presence of rhombohedral crystals, retinasphaltic resins, gehlenites, fangasites, molybdenites, tungstates of manganese, and titanite of zirconium, the nimblest tongue may be forgiven for slipping.
I will let something slip. I feel inadequate when admitting that I haven’t read certain books, no matter how much I read each year. Still, I always like to remember the quote from Haruki Murakami: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” I’ve never read any of his books.
I’ve also never read any books by Jules Verne, not all of us can know books like Bastian. (I’ve never read The Neverending Story, but have watched the film again and again and again.) Lately, I have been thinking about reading more classic science fiction. I pulled Journey to the Centre of the Earth from the library shelf and found a very strange cover, so I checked it out.
This copy was printed in 1994 (I was eleven) and obviously was meant to be appealing to young readers; the cover shows a menacing tyrannosaurus threatening three figures, who seem to be young blonde men dressed in modern day clothes, as their makeshift raft splashes over a waterfall.
This cover may have been popular with children, but now the Vistafoil vinyl laminate covering, which is meant to be invisible and to protect the book, is raised in large bubbles. The plastic covering has pulled up from the spine and also the middle of the book’s cover. It is what you see first when you look at this book, as well as the menacing dinosaur shrouded in these misty bubbles. Yet, if you hold the book at a certain angle you can also see a billowing volcano filling the giant cavern with a sky of reddish-grey smoke, giant trees towering so high that they seem to bend, and rocks of different textures and colors. These things, that you can barely see, are what the book is really about.
I hardly gave a thought now to sun, stars, and moon, trees, houses, and towns, all those terrestrial superfluities which men who live on the surface of the earth regard as necessities. Living as fossils, we did not give a jot for these human wonders.
Of course, what you do see, people in the midst of a menacing situation, is important in selling an adventure story to young children. The title alone may generate interest and can be seen clearly here, even with the plastic bubbles. A large green box takes up almost half of the cover. When I flip the book over to look at the back, I can see a small thumbnail of the cover. The best part of the picture, more billowing smoke from the volcano leading to a darker red glowing abyss of a sky, is totally obscured by the green title box.
The fascination of the void took hold of me. I felt my centre of gravity moving, and vertigo rising to my head like intoxication. There is nothing more overwhelming than the attraction of the abyss.
Little do young readers mature enough to understand the language from 1864 know, the characters do not even look into the abyss and enter the earth until Chapter 17, midway through the story. Perhaps there are young children out there who like that kind of slow dramatic buildup. However, after finishing the book, and loving the language and geological descriptions, I wonder if there were children who were disappointed by the lack of a T-Rex. I know I waited for it in vain. To remedy this, I placed my dinosaur bookmark inside and returned it. Now, if a child should make it through this text, they will find a menacing Tyrannosaurus Rex inside.