2006 Regional Championships - Blaggers Guide to Journey to the Centre of the Earth


Just in case you wanted to show off to your fellow bandsmen in the pub, 4BR gives the definitive guide to Jules Verne and his Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Its all true...

Jules Gabriel Verne was born on February 8, 1828, in Nantes, France (where you can go and visit the museum in his honour there). His parents were of a seafaring tradition, a factor which influenced his writings. As a boy, Jules Verne ran off to be a cabin boy on a merchant ship, but he was caught and returned to his parents. There he vowed to be a good boring young lad and dedicate himself to the law, so in 1847 Jules was sent to study law in Paris.

While there, however, his passion for the theatre grew and in 1850, Jules Verne's his first play was published. His father was outraged when he heard that Jules was not going to continue law, so he discontinued the money he was giving him to pay for his expenses in Paris. This forced Verne to make money by selling his stories.

In 1854 Charles Baudelaire translated Edgar Allan Poe's works into French. Verne became one of the most devoted admirers of the American author, and wrote his first science fiction tale, 'A Voyage in a Balloon' (1851), under the influence of Poe. When his career as an author progressed slowly, Verne turned to stockbroking, an occupation which he held until his successful tale ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon' (1863) in the series ‘Voyages Extraordinaires'. Became an international success.

Verne had met in 1862 Pierre Jules Hetzel, a publisher and writer for children, who started to publish Verne's 'Extraordinary Journeys'. This cooperation lasted until the end of Verne's career and like Dickins and Conan Doyle the adventures were published in weekly journals rather than fully blown books which made them all the more popular to the masses.

Soon he started writing novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth(1864), From the Earth to the Moon(1866), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea(1873).

Because of the popularity of these and other novels, Jules Verne became a very rich man. In 1876, he bought a large yacht and sailed around Europe, although he suffered somewhat from ill health due to digestion problems and the unfortunate effects of a gunshot wound to his leg caused not by an American Vice President, but by an accident with his nephew. On 9 March 1886, as Verne was coming home, his nephew, Gaston, charged at him with a gun. As the two wrestled for it, it went off. The second bullet entered Verne's left shin. He never fully recovered. Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.

His last novel The Invasion of the Sea appeared in 1905. Jules Verne died in the city of Amines on March 24, 1905.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Journey to the Centre of the Earth was published in 1864 under the original French title of Voyage au centre de la Terre.

Verne takes a radically different approach to storytelling by making the main character and narrator a 19 year old boy who relates to the events as his own adventures. It is unknown whether this was done under the influence of his publisher who wanted to distribute Verne's work as aimed towards growing teens, but the result is quite remarkable. While his previous novel and many of his later works are in fact fictionalized science, this is a gripping adventure story.

The story is narrated by Axel Lidenbrock, nephew of an eminent German geologist, Professor Otto Lidenbrock - a grumpy old so and so whom Axel is lives with in his rickety old house in Hamburg. 

It is right to point out that even though many people believe the story to be ‘English' due to the rubbish film of the story that was ‘disneyfied' some years ago, it is in fact very much in the mainstream European tradition. It is not cut from the same cloth of the  ‘penny thrillers' of Dickins and Conan Doyle and the hero is a young German who loves his niece Grauben who is his old uncle's ward (and just happens to be pretty and brainy into the bargain).

The story begins in the Lidenbrock house in Hamburg with Professor Lidenbrock having bought an old manuscript of an Icelandic saga written by Snorro Turleson.  In the first couple of chapters there is a darker side to Verne on show  - the way in which he describes the manuscript coming from ‘that Jew Hevelius's bookshop' and the way in which Axel amuses himself smoking a pipe that changes the smoking bowl from a nymph into a negress). It is still a book very much of its social time.

Inside the manuscript, they find a coded note written in a form of code. (A first indication of Verne's love for cryptology – and way ahead of that old impersonator Dan Brown!).

After Professor Lidenbrock pulls most of his hair out trying to decipher the code, Axel accidentally works its out (in truth it would have taken Alan Turrin and the lads at Bletchley Park about five minutes – its backwards). It turns out to be Latin, phonetically written in runic characters. To Axels dismay however, this does not end his uncle's obsession (although he does overlook the young mans amorous pleadings about his love for his ward) for the text turns out to be a 300 year old note by the alchemist Arne Saknussemm, who claims to have discovered a passage to the centre of the earth, via a extinct volcano called Snaeffel in Iceland. The message reads (when reflected in a mirror):

"In Sneffels Joculis craterem quem delibat Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende, Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges. Quod feci, Arne Saknussemm"

which when loosely translated into English reads: "Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jokul of Sneffels, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done, Arne Saknussemm"

or: "Just look what fun you can have if you and your batty old uncle take a rucksack, a pair of sturdy shoes and a Swiss Army Knife and take a short weekend break down a hole in the ground."

Before long they arrive in Reykjavik procure the services of a guide named Hans, and travel to the base of the volcano. They reach the volcano in late June only to find that is has not one but three craters. Rereading Sacnussem's message they conclude that the passage to the center of the earth, is through the one crater the shadow of a nearby mountain peak touches at noon. (Again Verne's love of riddles...)

After descending into this crater, the party of three travel into the bowels of the earth, encountering many strange phenomena and great dangers, including a chamber filled with combustible gas (Verne gives a nod and a wink to Sir Humphrey Davey in the book), and steep sided wells around the "path".

In the most remarkable part, they reach a giant cavern, lit by gasses on the ceiling, complete with a wood of petrified prehistoric trees and a subterranean ocean. Sailing across the ocean (on a raft of only halfway petrified trees that are still light enough to float – lucky them eh?) they are almost taken for a snack by an icthiosaurus (Loch Ness monster to you and me). Luckily another aquatic dinosaur appears and battles the icthtiosaurus without caring for the raft (if he did it would have been a shorter story).

Halfway the battle, a cyclonic lightning storm again threatens to destroy the raft and its passengers, but instead throws them on the coastline. This part of the coast, Axel discovers, is like a page out of textbook on prehistoric biology, complete with giant ferns and prehistoric insects. In another remarkable passsage, Axel also claims to have spotted from afar a prehistoric man herding a flock of mammoths – although that as Axel explains may have been more to do with the gasses that have gone up his nose!

Then it all comes thick an dfast. Axel gets lost, panics and starts shouting only to find that if he whispers his voice can be picked up by his companions (again a nod and a wink to Sir Christopher Wren and his ‘Whispering Gallery' at St. Paul's Cathedral ). Joined back together and exploring the coastline, they find a passageway marked by Saknussem as the way ahead.

However, it is blocked by fallen rocks, which the adventurers dynamite (they just happen to have some on them), but the explosion is unexpectedly large and they are swept away by the sea rushing into the gap. Eventually they find themselves inside an erupting volcano on their raft, and are transported rapidly back to the surface of the earth by the magma, where they find that they have emerged in, Italy at the Stromboli volcano.

With that the credits roll and Verne starts to write another blockbuster. Good story eh?


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