Journey to the Interior of the Earth

This weekend’s listening: Journey to the Interior of the Earth, by Jules Verne, as read by the crew at Librivox. I loved it, and actually was more satisfied by this book (which is better known as Journey to the Center of the Earth) than I was by Master of the World and Robur the Conqueror, which were made into a 1961 Vincent Price film (still unavailable on DVD) that I loved, loved, loved as a very young child. I finally read Master and Robur earlier this year thanks to Project Gutenberg, and liked them but was bewildered by some of the weird racial stuff and what felt like careening, largely centerless narratives in both books.

centre.jpgI later (when I was 8 or 10) saw the 1959 film of Journey, with James Mason and Pat Boone, but never read the book. Now that I’ve listened to it, I’m struck both by Verne’s capricious wit (which was present in Master of the World but seemed absent in Robur) and the similarities between Verne’s passionately intellectual and somewhat unhinged Professor Lidenbrock and the similar, but further unhinged, Professor Challenger of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The two men have in common a tendency to get worked up in cases of perceived intellectual torpor, though Challenger seems much more likely to threaten physical assault, something that I’m sure would have been sort of a wish-fulfillment for both Doyle and Verne, as it is for most self-identified¬†Brainiacs. The narrating characters in both Journey and Doyle’s The Lost World (and “The Poison Belt” and “When the World Screamed,” later and less well-known Professor Challenger stories) regard the professorial characters with admiration, bemusement, embattled tolerance and not a small amount of terror: another brand of wish fulfillment, I think, for any writer.

Some days I wish I were more Challenger than reporter; perhaps then the lava men and Tyrannosauruses would not intimidate me.


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