Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm--Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne
The very last thing that unadventurous Axel wants to attempt is a journey down a volcano to find the center of the earth. He's quite happy as he is, thank-you very much, and with a good cook, a pretty cousin, and a dedicated interest in mineralogy, his stoic German upbringing effectively removed any explorer spirit years ago.
Axel lives with his uncle Lidenbrock, who took him in after the death of his parents. When his uncle brings home a new book purchase (a used book purchase, actually) Axel isn't too worried. Not worried, that is, until his uncle finds a Runic cypher tucked in the back, and becomes so upset trying to solve it that he orders no-one to eat until he discovers its meaning.
Unknown to Linenbrock, Axel finds the solution. He refuses to reveal it, however, as he's not about to send the excitable man on a wild goose chase to a place that doesn't exist. After all, if his uncle will starve everyone in his household for a three sentence cryptogram, to what lengths will he not go when he discovers its meaning? And he, Axel, would be forced to go along.
However, the lack of dinner, and supper, and breakfast, and dinner again, begins to work on him, and he decides that "Very likely he would make the discovery himself when I should have suffered starvation for nothing. Under the influence of hunger this reasoning appeared admirable. I determined to tell all."
All of his forebodings come true. Uncle Lidenbrock takes off in a transport of joy, gets out maps of Iceland, packs his bags with plenty of mountain climbing picks, and sets of with Axel in tow. Axel couldn't be less enthusiastic. Not only do heights terrify him, but the thought of leaving pretty Grauben and dying in the bottom of a volcano doesn't appeal to him. Once in Iceland they secure Hans Bjelke the eiderdown hunter as their guide and prepare to descend the crater of Sneffels. Axel in vain postulates various scientific theories why this adventure is impossible. In vain he watches with glee as a cloud cover threatens to hide the shadow of the sun on the 15th of July. One by one Professor Lidenbrock rejects his theories, and the cloud cover fades away with minutes to spare.
They are descending. And come dinosaurs, come water shortage, they are going to the center of the earth. Unless, of course, they die first.
Some of you may be trying to wrap your names around "Axel", "Lidenbrock", and "Grauben", but never fear. Most American editions have changed them to "Harry", "Hardwigg", and "Gretchen", respectively. I put the original names in this post to do honor to Verne's work, but I find "Harry" a little easier to empathize with than "Axel". ;)
Axel is often dubbed a coward, but I would hesitate to be that harsh with him. He's a cautious fellow who likes to have routine meals and routine studies. There are many such people in the world that I myself am acquainted with, whom I would never call a coward. He is rightly called overcautious in regards to anything that upsets his carefully regulated schedule, and his protests for the first leg of the journey are the jerk reaction of an introvert trying to wrap his mind around spontaneity. I didn't like him when I read it through the first time, but now we're good friends (probably sparked by our mutual terror of heights), and he is rather my favorite of the characters. The journey is related from his perspective.
I have heard that this is the only one of Verne's scientific theories never to be proven, however it is not one to be laughed at. Verne may have founded it on Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man which would explain why the scientific theories in this book haven't been proven. There are two types of science: observational science, which can be observed, tested, and repeated; and historical science, which we have neither seen (since it occurred in the past), nor are we able to test, nor can it be repeated again. Verne's designs for a super cannon in The Begum's Millions can be imitated and tested, but his theories in JtCE rely on the evolutionary ideas of rock layers, which fall into the realm of historical science. Historical science is a legitimate field, but one interprets evidence as a creationist or an evolutionist, and the proofs for either view in this type of science are taken on faith. Unfortunately, Verne in accepting Lyell's proofs, took the wrong evolutionary view. The rock layers Axel and Lidenbrock examine so excitedly are a result of a catastrophic world-wide flood, not millions of years of random evolutionary processes. (For more info on biblical geology, check out Answers In Genesis.) JtCE, perhaps more than any other of Verne's works, pinpoints his worldview of theistic evolution, including Axel and Lidenbrock's sightings of neanderthals and dinosaurs. Verne certainly seemed to believe in the providence of God, often making his characters pray and seek God's deliverance, but he obviously didn't believe in young earth creationism. Most of his books, however, do not bring up this theme, as they focus on observational science rather than historical, and when read with a biblical perspective of what a neanderthal truly is, and the real history of dinosaurs, there is nothing in JtCE that cannot be changed to fit with a creationist conclusion, even though Axel and Lidenbrock don't have the right perspective. Just take the time to evaluate the conclusions they should have come to based on biblical creationism, and you'll find plenty to spark good conversations. The underground dinosaur fight, though a bit far-fetched, would fit much better with the biblical timeline of dinosaurs having existed at the time of man rather than millions of years before, and the neanderthals are simply that--real men who live in caves, not ape men as Lidenbrock imagined.
Not all the science in JtCE deserves to be called evolutionary, however. Verne's descriptions of Iceland and some of Axel's mineralogical musings are quite interesting, as well as their discovery of acoustic underground communication phenomenons.
I don't recall any language, but it's been a while since I read it, so there may be some mild instances. Verne is generally conservative in the amount he uses, if he does so at all.
There are no movie adaptations that do justice to this work. Giant lizards, women accompanying the expedition, and other such atrocities spoil Verne's original masterpiece.
Perhaps after this short scientific rambling you're wondering if JtCE has any other claims on your attention? Well, splendid adventures, including Axel losing himself after a wrong turn, an underground dinosaur fight, and a volcano eruption should provide several hours of fascinating entertainment.
As well as, of course, the question: do they make it to the center of the earth?
Have a great week of reading adventures!