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Where it all began: Journey to the Center of the Earth

This isn’t actually the first book I’ve ever read (that’s The Wizard of Oz if I remember correctly), but it’s the first book I fell in love with. Not that I didn’t enjoy read the ones I had read before, it’s just that Journey to the Center of the Earth was able to steer my curiosity and capture my soul of a young wannabe adventurer.

For those who haven’t read it or need a refresher, here’s the synopsis. Otto Lindenbrock is a German geologist who acquires a runic manuscript about the history of Iceland. Within the manuscript, the professor finds a note signed by Arne Saknussem, a 16th-century alchemist, and he tries to decipher it together with his nephew Axel. After some initial difficulty, they finally manage to read the original message: Saknussem claims he has reached the Center of the Earth by descending into a volcano crater in Western Iceland just before the middle of July.

They all set off to Iceland and begin their journey together with Hans, an Icelander hunter whom they hire as a guide. At first, they descend through a cave departing from the bottom of the crater in a labyrinth of granite and volcanic rocks. It’s not a journey without challenges, so much that a wrong turn is enough to send them way out of their path and almost remain without water supplies.

Fortunately, Hans discovers a small subterranean stream. They begin following the course of the stream until they get into an enormous subterranean cave (approximately as big as Europe). The cave is lit with electrically charged gas and hosts a full Ocean with prehistorical creatures and all kinds of fossils. After sailing on the subterranean Ocean, they follow an indication from Saknussem himself until their way is blocked by a huge boulder. They blow it up with gunpowder, but it generates a pit swallowing them. After falling for a while, they sense they’re beginning to travel upwards, and before they realize it they’re expelled on the Earth’s surface through a volcano chimney: they’ve arrived in Stromboli, a small volcanic island close to Sicily.

It’s the end of their journey and when they get back to Germany they’re acclaimed as heroes.

To this day, I’m still unsure why this book impressed me so much. Maybe it was because my soul is split into a science addicted half and a daydreamer’s one, but Jules Verne’s books were just what I needed. After Journey to the Center of the Earth, I devoured all of his other books, one after the other.

But Journey to the Center of the Earth still holds a special place, and returning to it after such a long time is like watching an old photograph. I remember the thrill and interest in the ciphered riddle (something I still can’t do without) and the bit of comic relief given by the professor’s extreme positions in contrast with the calmness of his nephew.

While researching for this post I found out that the idea of having a “hollow” Earth instead of a sequence of melted rocks until the core has been used over and over again in literature, movies, and games, but the one in Journey to the Center of the Earth still stands out for its accuracy. Moreover, Professor Lindenbrock is exquisitely described in the book as a scientist from his own era thanks to how methodically he deals with any new species or geographic landmark they encounter in their journey.

Finally, I couldn’t close this post without mentioning the setting: Iceland. Since reading the book I’ve been fascinated by that strange and wild island far far away. As an amateur landscape photographer, my Instagram timeline is flooded with all kinds of snaps from over there, and I know that Iceland is on top of my destinations for when we’re free to travel again. Re-reading this book has somehow revamped my curiosity about it and now I really can’t wait to be able to go.

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