Jour­ney to the cen­tre of the earth

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Cui Hao Edited by David Ball

Jules Verne was the most fa­mous science fic­tion and ad­ven­ture novelist in France in the 19th cen­tury. He wrote more than 60 nov­els in his life­time and is hailed as the “Fa­ther of Science Fic­tion.” His mas­ter­piece, Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth, is a leg­endary, ac­tion-packed science fic­tion novel that draws read­ers into a fan­tasy world that tran­scends time and space.

In the mid-to-late 19th cen­tury, there was an out­stand­ing science fic­tion writer in France who cre­ated many won­der­ful jour­neys. With his gift for writ­ing and great in­tel­lect, he used prose to create grand ad­ven­tures to un­known worlds. No one could have ex­pected it at the time, but many of his wild ideas such as neon lights, sub­marines, moon flights and space travel would one day all be­come re­al­ity. More than a cen­tury later, his works are still in­flu­enc­ing gen­er­a­tions of read­ers. This writer was none other than the French science fic­tion writer Jules Verne, a man about whom French aca­demi­cian Hu­bert Lyautey once said: “mod­ern science is sim­ply a process of work­ing out in prac­tice what Jules Verne had en­vi­sioned in words.”

Verne was the most fa­mous science fic­tion and ad­ven­ture novelist in France dur­ing the 19th cen­tury. He wrote more than 60 nov­els in his life­time and is hailed as the “Fa­ther of Science Fic­tion.” His mas­ter­piece, Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth, is a leg­endary, ac­tion-packed science fic­tion novel which draws read­ers into a fan­tasy world that tran­scends time and space.

Pro­lific Writer

Jules Verne was a novelist, play­wright and poet. Born into a mid­dle-class fam­ily in Nantes in 1828, his fa­ther was an at­tor­ney with a strong in­ter­est in lit­er­a­ture and

science. Verne nursed a strong de­sire to go to sea ever since his child­hood when he saw mer­chant ves­sels shut­tling up and down the Loire River, arousing his yearn­ing for the ocean, free­dom and ad­ven­ture. In an 1890 es­say ti­tled “Mem­o­ries of Child­hood and Youth,” he re­called skip­ping class one day to board a three-mast ship by him­self af­ter the guard had gone to a nearby pub to drink. He ex­plored the ship from top to bot­tom, even turn­ing the rud­der and later ven­tur­ing out onto a larger ship, only to be se­verely rep­ri­manded by his fa­ther.

Af­ter an un­ruly and free child­hood, Verne took his fa­ther’s ad­vice and went to Paris to study law. Dur­ing his time there, he had the plea­sure of meet­ing Alexan­dre Du­mas and his son Alexan­dre Du­mas fils, with whom he be­gan cre­at­ing a play. In 1848, Verne started fre­quent­ing the lit­er­ary sa­lons in Paris, where he dis­cov­ered that lit­er­a­ture was more at­trac­tive to him than law. The fol­low­ing year, Verne grad­u­ated with a li­cence en droit and wrote a large num­ber of manuscripts for plays. His first pub­lished play The Bro­ken Straws pre­miered in 1850, but failed to make a mark. One year later, Verne’s first two short sto­ries, “A Drama in Mex­ico” and “A Voy­age in a Bal­loon” were pub­lished in the mag­a­zine Musée des familles ( The Fam­ily Mu­seum).

From 1851, Verne be­gan re­search­ing top­ics such as ge­og­ra­phy and his­tory. Ev­ery day he would rise at 5 a.m. to read, take notes, write and re­vise works ei­ther at home or in the library. In 1856, he trav­elled to Amiens to at­tend a friend’s wed­ding and fell in love with the bride’s sis­ter, Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two young chil­dren. In 1857, Jules and Honorine were mar­ried in a sim­ple wed­ding cer­e­mony in Paris.

From 1863, Verne be­gan pub­lish­ing science fic­tion ad­ven­ture nov­els as part of the “Ex­tra­or­di­nary Jour­neys” se­ries, in­clud­ing the tril­ogy of Cap­tain Grant’s Chil­dren, Twenty Thou­sand Leagues Un­der the Sea and The Mys­te­ri­ous Is­land. That year, his first full-length novel, Five Weeks in a Bal­loon was of­fi­cially re­leased, mak­ing him an in­stant lit­er­ary celebrity. From then on, Verne de­voted him­self en­tirely to writ­ing. In 1872, he pub­lished “Dr. Ox’s Ex­per­i­ment” in The Fam­ily Mu­seum and was elected as an aca­demi­cian of Académie d’amiens (Acad­emy of Amiens). In the same year, he was also recog­nised by the In­sti­tut de France for his “Ex­tra­or­di­nary Jour­neys” se­ries and pub­lished Around the World in Eighty Days. In 1874, his works The Mys­te­ri­ous Is­land and The Sur­vivors of the Chan­cel­lor ap­peared, and the play Around the World in Eighty Days de­buted.

In 1893, Verne said in an in­ter­view: “I have thus far amassed many thou­sands of notes on all sub­jects, and to date, have at least twenty thou­sand un­used notes at home which can be turned to ad­van­tage in my work. Some of these notes were taken af­ter con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple. I love to hear peo­ple talk, pro­vided they talk on sub­jects with which they are ac­quainted.”

Jules Verne wrote 62 nov­els, 18 novel­las, dozens of plays and other works over half a cen­tury. His main works in­cluded full-length ad­ven­ture nov­els such as Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth and The Fur Coun­try. Verne’s writ­ing had a pro­found im­pact on the de­vel­op­ment and pop­u­lar­i­sa­tion of the new lit­er­ary style of science fic­tion. He was also a “teacher” of many in­ven­tors, who cre­ated such de­tailed de­scrip­tions of sci­en­tific fan­tasy that many aca­demic groups needed weeks to cal­cu­late even the num­bers listed in his book. Chi­nese writer Lu Xun (1881–1936) con­sid­ered Verne to be an out­stand­ing writer be­cause of his “aca­demic at­tain­ments and rich imag­i­na­tion” and his abil­ity to “pre­dict trends and create fan­tasies based on science to ex­press hu­man feel­ings.”

The great Rus­sian writer Leo Tol­stoy once said that Verne’s works were real eye­open­ers; his ideas were novel and plots fas­ci­nat­ing. The mod­ern Chi­nese science fic­tion writer Liu Cixin also holds Verne in high es­teem, hav­ing said: “Verne’s big, rough and clumsy ma­chines are sym­bols of the mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal world’s child­hood and shine with pure and child­ish beauty.”

Sub­ter­ranean Ad­ven­ture

Verne showed great re­spect for science and na­ture. His pro­tag­o­nists were all de­cent and con­fi­dent peo­ple, brave in the face of ad­ver­sity and con­tin­u­ously ven­tur­ing into the un­known. The evo­lu­tion of plot and use of lit­er­ary el­e­ments in his nov­els all fea­tured a strong sense of hero­ism and ro­man­ti­cism.

Science fic­tion al­ready ex­isted as a genre a long time be­fore Verne, but he un­doubt­edly sur­passed his pre­de­ces­sors in terms of imag­i­na­tion and use of sci­en­tific lan­guage. Within the lim­its of science and tech­nol­ogy, Verne pro­posed var­i­ous new con­cepts. As his fan­tasies tal­lied with the de­vel­op­ment of science, al­most all be­came re­al­ity in the 20th cen­tury. For ex­am­ple, in or­der to write the story of a space­ship fly­ing to the moon, he made a care­ful study of sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal con­sid­er­a­tions in­clud­ing aero­dy­nam­ics, flight speeds, weight­less­ness and propul­sion.

Verne wove com­plex and in­ter­est­ing sto­ries in the frame­work of his sci­en­tific imag­i­na­tion, cre­at­ing a strong ro­man­tic sense with a thrilling plot, strange co­in­ci­dences and ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral won­ders. Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth is a Verne clas­sic. At that time, Euro­pean colonists were in the midst of es­tab­lish­ing their re­spec­tive colo­nial em­pires. In a short pe­riod of time, these ex­plor­ers charted the source of the Nile, the Sa­hara Desert, the African con­ti­nent, and the North and South poles; and ar­chae­ol­ogy and ge­ol­ogy de­vel­oped to un­prece­dented

lev­els. It was in at this time that Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth came into be­ing.

In 1863, Verne moved to the rue La Fon­taine in the Au­teuil district of Paris. When cre­at­ing The Ad­ven­tures of Cap­tain Hat­teras, he be­gan to ex­plore an­other idea of pure fan­tasy—a jour­ney deep into the earth. The idea came from a ge­og­ra­pher friend called Charles Sainte-claire Deville whom he met in 1863. Deville had vis­ited nu­mer­ous vol­ca­noes and would of­ten talk el­e­gantly on the sub­ject, fas­ci­nat­ing ev­ery­one with his de­scrip­tions of spec­tac­u­lar erup­tions. Hav­ing stud­ied and vis­ited vol­ca­noes for many years and as an ex­pert on the ge­ol­ogy and land­forms of the vol­canic re­gions in Italy, Deville ex­plained the prin­ci­ples of vol­canic erup­tion to Verne.

Verne con­ceived the idea for a new story of “trav­el­ling to the cen­tre of the earth” based on his con­ver­sa­tions with Deville. Whilst lis­ten­ing to one story from Deville, Verne hap­pened to come across an ar­ti­cle in a ref­er­ence book. The es­say pre­sented a strange the­ory by Amer­i­can lec­turer John Cleves Symmes Jr. sug­gest­ing that “the earth is hol­low and open at the poles.” Verne was in­spired to write Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth. It was first pub­lished in 1864, be­com­ing pop­u­lar all over the world and re­ceiv­ing favourable re­sponses from read­ers. Verne was thus re­garded as a founder of the new cat­e­gory of “hard science fic­tion” and was hailed as the “Fa­ther of Science Fic­tion.”

The novel tells of Ger­man pro­fes­sor Otto Li­den­brock, his nephew Axel and their guide Hans who travel un­der­ground for three months to carry out a sci­en­tific ex­plo­ration. Verne sub­tly in­fused the novel with his sci­en­tific knowl­edge, weav­ing it into the plot whilst show­ing his read­ers a mag­i­cal un­der­ground world.

The story be­gins on May 24, 1863, with Pro­fes­sor Li­den­brock, a ge­ol­o­gist in Ham­burg, stum­bling upon a coded parch­ment let­ter in an old book writ­ten by an Ice­landic al­chemist. Af­ter sev­eral days of at­tempt­ing to de­ci­pher the runes, he dis­cov­ers that a man named Arne Saknussemm once trav­elled to the cen­tre of the earth via a vol­canic crater in Ice­land. The pro­fes­sor is over­whelmed with ex­cite­ment and de­cides to make the jour­ney too. Three days later, he heads to Ice­land along with his nephew Axel, and car­ry­ing pro­vi­sions, food and weapons. On ar­rival, he hires a guide by the name of Hans Bjelke.

The three trav­ellers fol­low the foot­steps of their pre­de­ces­sors and de­scend to the bot­tom of Snae­fell vol­cano af­ter much dif­fi­culty. They pro­ceed along the lava channels, where they dis­cover a deep sub­ter­ranean ocean, sur­rounded by a coast­line cov­ered in gi­ant plants. They see sev­eral pre­his­toric crea­tures in the ocean and the bones of an­cient hu­mans. On find­ing their way for­ward is blocked by a cave-in, they blast open the rocks but are swept deeper un­der­ground as the sea rushes into the large open gap. The fierce vi­bra­tions from the ex­plo­sion trig­ger a vol­canic erup­tion, eject­ing the group out of the un­der­ground world.

Af­ter three months of travel, dur­ing which time they have been lost, suf­fered from lack of wa­ter and en­coun­tered fierce storms, the group dis­cover they have been ejected onto the sur­face from a side­vent of a stra­to­vol­cano. As they re­gain their senses, they dis­cover they have been ejected from Strom­boli, a vol­canic is­land lo­cated in south­ern Italy.

A Pop­u­lar Mas­ter­piece

Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth records the hard­ships of the men’s jour­ney and the won­ders of the un­der­ground world in a suc­cinct man­ner. Based on the sci­en­tific achieve­ments and knowl­edge at that time, Verne ex­er­cised his imag­i­na­tion to

tell the story with in­ter­est­ing de­scrip­tions. The novel fea­tures a se­ries of twists and turns, as well as warm feel­ings, which take read­ers into a fan­tas­ti­cal, dream­like un­der­ground world.

Pro­fes­sor Li­den­brock is an in­tel­li­gent man with rich sci­en­tific knowl­edge who can also use tools like ham­mers and drills with ease, but lacks pa­tience. He is a de­ter­mined and coura­geous man with an iron will, who will never give up no mat­ter what dan­ger he en­coun­ters, stay­ing calm in the face of both wa­ter short­ages and storms. Axel is both the pro­fes­sor’s nephew and his as­sis­tant who shows a sin­cere pas­sion for ge­ol­ogy. Hans serves as the two men’s guide dur­ing their jour­ney to the cen­tre of the earth and is both sober and pru­dent. These three men, quite dif­fer­ent in per­son­al­i­ties and skills, go on an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture to­gether.

Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth is a typ­i­cal work ly­ing be­tween re­al­ity and imag­i­na­tion which in­tro­duces a jour­ney to the earth’s core in the form of a trav­el­ogue. The trip not only in­volves a phys­i­cal jour­ney from the ground to the cen­tre of the earth, but also a jour­ney through time as the group moves through pe­ri­ods of his­tory. His pro­tag­o­nists do not blindly be­lieve in dogma. Verne is a “sci­en­tific op­ti­mist” with pro­found sci­en­tific knowl­edge. In­stead they ad­vo­cate that science is com­posed of er­rors, but er­rors that need to be made, since they lead step by step to­wards the truth. In terms of plot and lit­er­ary el­e­ments, Verne was deeply in­flu­enced by Amer­i­can writer Edgar Al­lan Poe, Bri­tish writer Daniel De­foe and Swiss writer Jo­hann Ru­dolf Wyss. He made full use of Poe’s ro­man­tic, re­al­is­tic and sci­en­tific imag­i­na­tion, and re­fined the el­e­ments of dan­ger char­ac­terised by the pro­tag­o­nists’ thrilling ex­pe­ri­ences, fights of re­sis­tance and fi­nal tri­umphs.

Verne and his works first be­came known in China in the early 20th cen­tury. In 1902 af­ter the Hun­dred Days’ Re­form, re­formist Liang Qichao (1873–1929) founded the mag­a­zine New Nov­els in Yoko­hama while he was in ex­ile in Ja­pan. In the mag­a­zine, which ad­vo­cated a “revo­lu­tion in fic­tion,” Verne’s Twenty Thou­sand Leagues Un­der the Sea was clas­si­fied as science fic­tion. At that time, Lu Xun who had re­turned to China af­ter study­ing in Ja­pan, sub­scribed to New Nov­els. He in­sisted that science could help China de­velop, but found sci­en­tific the­o­ries too dif­fi­cult for com­mon peo­ple to un­der­stand. How­ever, he thought that if science was dis­sem­i­nated through nov­els, it could achieve twice the re­sult with half the ef­fort. There­fore, in 1903, the 23-year- old Lu Xun be­gan to trans­late From the Earth to the Moon. In 1906, he then trans­lated Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth from Ja­panese into Chi­nese and in­tro­duced it to China, catalysing the nascent Chi­nese science fic­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Cat­a­logue of Late Qing Fic­tion by Ja­panese scholar Taru­moto Teruo, by 1915, there were al­ready ap­prox­i­mately twenty trans­lated ver­sions of Verne’s works in China.

In his later years, Lu Xun re­called his pur­pose of trans­lat­ing sci­en­tific fic­tion nov­els dur­ing his time study­ing abroad, say­ing: “I liked science fic­tion be­cause I loved science. How­ever, I fan­cied my­self as be­ing clever and re­fused to trans­late di­rectly when I was young. Now I re­gret it when I think back.” How­ever, his pas­sion for science was not enough to ex­plain his love for science fic­tion. As Lu Xun said: “I ren­dered the book in plain lan­guage in the hope that read­ers could grasp the mean­ing eas­ily with­out hav­ing to trou­ble them­selves in un­der­stand­ing the con­tent. That way, they could glimpse the wis­dom of science and aban­don su­per­sti­tions, thereby be­com­ing en­light­ened and civilised.”

In 1959, the China Youth Pub­lish­ing Group pub­lished the Se­lected Works of Jules Verne in­clud­ing Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth trans­lated by Yang Xianyi and Wen Shiqing. In 1997, the Com­plete Works of Jules Verne’s Science Fic­tion Ad­ven­tures was re­leased by Qing­hai Peo­ple’s Pub­lish­ing House, with Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth as its first vol­ume, trans­lated by Zhang Rong, Luo Shun­jiang and Li Yuan­hua. In 2006, Guang­ming Daily Pub­lish­ing House pub­lished Chen Xiao­qing’s trans­la­tion of Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth, which is the most com­monly read ver­sion nowa­days.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est statis­tics pub­lished by UN­ESCO, Jules Verne is the sec­ond most-trans­lated author in the world, ap­pear­ing just be­hind the Bri­tish de­tec­tive novelist Agatha Christie. The data show that there are a to­tal of 5,000 dif­fer­ent trans­la­tions of Verne’s works around the world. In France, 2005 was cel­e­brated as the Jules Verne Cen­ten­nial to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the author’s death.

In 1959, Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Henry Levin di­rected the film adap­ta­tion Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth which im­pressed au­di­ences with its amaz­ing spe­cial ef­fects and scenes. In 1976, the film was re­made in Spain, and in 2008, Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Eric Bre­vig also di­rected the film to great suc­cess. Af­ter de­but­ing in Amer­ica, the movie was also re­leased in cin­e­mas across main­land China, re­ceiv­ing pos­i­tive re­sponses from Chi­nese movie-go­ers.

Verne’s work is filled with rough oceans, gi­ant mush­rooms, breath­tak­ing rivers of lava and char­ac­ters who must fight pre­his­toric ma­rine crea­tures. He used science to turn the bar­ren un­der­ground world into one filled with life. For 154 years, Verne’s nov­els have taken read­ers into fan­tas­tic worlds that ex­ist out­side of time and space, al­low­ing them to ap­pre­ci­ate one mag­nif­i­cent un­der­ground scene af­ter an­other.

A poster for Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth (1977 film)

A scene and a poster from 2008‘s Jour­ney to the Cen­tre of the Earth

Jules Verne

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