In times of crisis, reading and writing keep me afloat. I wrote this book review in my now-defunct website, theuntouchableone.multiply.com, on 25 November 2011, a time when I was unemployed, demoralized, and got no source of income.
‘Now,’ said my uncle, after completing these preparations, ‘let us see about the baggage; we’re going to divide it into three packages, and each of us will strap one on to his back. I’m talking about the fragile objects only.’
The Professor obviously did not include us under that heading.
‘Hans,’ he went on, ‘will take charge of the tools and some of the provisions. You, Axel, will take another third of the provisions, together with the arms; and I will take the rest of the provisions, and the delicate instruments.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘who’s going to take the clothes down, and this pile of ropes and ladders?’
‘They will go down by themselves.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
My uncle was fond of resorting to drastic measures, and never hesitated. On his instructions, Hans tied all the non-fragile articles in a single bundle, roped them together securely, and threw them bodily down the chimney. I heard the loud rushing sound produced by the displacement of the lavers of air. My uncle, leaning over the abyss, followed the descent of his baggage with a satisfied air, and only stood up when it had disappeared from sight.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘Our turn now.’
Now I ask any honest man if it was possible to hear these words without a shudder!
— Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Jules Verne)
How did it come about that three men – Prof. Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans – decided to descend to the centre of the Earth to make the most important expedition of their lives? Well not without strong objections from the young man Axel for no one had done it, no one had attempted it even by the most brave scientists in the world. So whatever it is that can be found down there, Axel is so damn scared to know. His feelings are valid because I believe any journey to the unknown never fails to elicit fear and stupefaction from any person, no matter how prayerful or faithful we think we are to our own God, for it forces us to leave our comfort zone, to leave what is familiar to us and move on to a place that is strange and quite foreign to us which can either harm us or improve our lives, where there is no guarantee of ever coming out alive or still sane. So it is only logical that people afraid of the terrible things that might happen to them when they leave a familiar place or position stay where they are. For life itself is already hard to bear.
For his uncle, Prof. Lidenbrock, this is not how he looks at things. As a scientist and as a person that he is, he only feels jubilation, optimism knowing that there is a new place to discover, a new experience waiting for them, new memories to remember by after. To him, life is ours for the taking. If they are successful in their expedition, it would benefit not only himself but mankind also and this must be done right away and has to be kept as a secret among themselves to prevent trouble. If the alchemist Arne Saknussemm reached the centre of the Earth and made it a point to leave the living “a proof” by means of a now ancient parchment bearing a mysterious cryptogram which Prof. Lidenbrock accidentally found between the pages of a very old book, he believes they can do it also. You see, it is obvious that Prof. Lidenbrock got inspired by Arne Saknussemm by his successful feat to the centre of the Earth who was persecuted for heresy during his time. This mysterious cryptogram will lead them to where they should go, to go to the crater of an extinct volcano called Sneffels found in Iceland, and one of the three chimneys found inside the mouth of the volcano will bring them to the centre of the Earth.
In Iceland, this is where they met Hans who became their guide and who is impetuously quiet all throughout their journey, effortlessly loyal to the professor’s orders to get things over and done with – an example that Axel will use as a motivation to follow his uncle’s orders for the sake of achieving his goal, a goal that he finds impossible and insane! Though he desires to go back home, back in the arms of his fiancee Grauben, godchild of Prof. Lidenbrock, and believes that Arne Saknussemm is a fake, the cryptogram is a fake that he hates his uncle for believing a scrap of paper, he knows that it is his responsibility to help and watch over his uncle, a man who has this outrageous enthusiasm and so stubbornly passionate with his endeavors. For Axel, he got nothing else to do but be with his uncle in all of his journeys. For Axel is an orphan and Prof. Lidenbrock is the only family he got.
Starting a new venture or making a new beginning to achieve something is comforting to think about. Once you’re in there, it suddenly becomes a totally different experience, different from how beautifully you thought about it when it has not happened yet. Because you see, it is so easy to be optimistic of things to come, when you are not there yet. But once you are already in the middle of all the comings-and-goings of your achieved goal, or on your way to meet your goal, you will realize that it is not without struggles and discomfort even if your goal is filled with good intentions. This is exactly what Prof. Lidenbrock, Axel, and Hans experienced when they attempted to pass through tunnels, abysses, caves, and holes to get to the centre of the Earth.
As a reader, being acquainted with the three main characters was interesting enough. Their difficult journey to be able to reach the centre of the Earth was all the more interesting and had a profound effect on me. I saw symbolisms in the story and was able to relate it with what I’m going through right now. For example, when Axel got lost and got separated from his companions, he had to endure walking and feeling his way through total darkness when his lamp got destroyed while trekking back to those previous paths he had taken hoping his uncle and their guide were still somewhere near. In that unfamiliar place, he was screaming and shouting for help but no response was heard for his companions were already on the far side of the maze, obstructed by numerous walls of the labyrinth. It was a hopeless case, though he could walk and shout with all his remaining strength, he felt so helpless that the next best thing to do was to despair. He got petrified with the thought to die there alone below the surface of the Earth that he thought of going back from where they came from but it was impossible for he was being surrounded by darkness and a million miles away from up above. Not knowing what to do, he prayed. He deeply prayed. He prayed, despite the impossibility, that his companions would be able to find him. He surrendered it all up to Him. Miraculously, Prof. Lidenbrock and Hans were able to find Axel looking dirty and miserable and most important of all, alive, after three days of being isolated from them. (Truly, when you’re feeling helpless and losing hope, despite of the strenuous efforts you’ve done to make things all right, despite the good deeds you’ve done to have good karma but nothings happens, despite all the hard work and sincerity you put into what you do, despite all the kicking and screaming for mercy and kindness but still you’re left alone, and no matter how painfully hard you try to help yourself independently and yet nothing improves, out of desperation, you just have to look up and believe that there is Someone up there watching over you, a God of love and compassion, just waiting for you to reach out to Him. And pray that one day, with His blessing, everything is gonna be alright.)
Aside from this incident, since it was their first time to be underground, the three guys also lost their direction (granting there is really a path to the centre of the Earth), exposed themselves to danger and chaos that tested their patience and endurance and sanity, marvelled at things that they thought they were not supposed to see in a subterranean world, and got to face the biggest obstacle of their lives that they thought they have no means of escaping. Axel, weakened by their series of turmoil was already thinking of giving up and just die and never again see Grauben. But to Prof. Lidenbrock, “As long as the heart goes on beating, I can’t admit that any creature endowed with will-power should ever despair!”
This book was first published in 1864, a time when mankind has not yet discovered the interiors of this planet. You know, the inner core, the mantel, the outer core, and we all know by now that it is hot in there that no man could live there. And that is the good thing about reading novels such as “Journey to the Centre of the Earth.” Jules Verne made the impossible possible which has, in one way or another, inspired me.