This is actually a really cool story and both times I've read it I really enjoyed it. Mind you it probably goes without saying that it is classic science-fiction however I am actually really hesitant to put it into that category because it is much more like and adventure novel. Okay, it does work on this theory that the centre of the Earth is actually not as hot as we think it is – in fact it is pretty cold – which means that it is possible to travel to its depths to find a huge network of caverns hidden away from the eyes of humanity. Mind you, I suspect that this idea has been proven false, (or nobody is actually all that game to descend into a volcano to see if Jules Verne is actually right) but it doesn't stop Verne was writing an awesome adventure story.
I'm sure you all know the plot of this book, and if you haven't read it you have probably seen the Brendan Fraser movie of the same name (which I have to admit I really like as well), but if you have been living under a rock for, say, most the 20th Century (though I am sure there are people out there that haven't heard of this book because I'm showing my Euro-centric side of me here) it is about this scientist, and his nephew, who discover a tunnel that descends into the centre of the Earth, and they decide to pack up and head off to Iceland for a bit of an exploration. They end up descending into the tunnel, go on an awesome adventure, and then get spat out of a volcano at the end.
As I have suggested, it's hardly one of Verne's most realistic novels (20000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon are much more realistic) and there are a number of events in this book that make me shake my head. Okay, ignoring the fact that the centre of the Earth is like full of lava that will burn you to a crisp if you even think of going down there, there are some other oddities as well. For instance they stumble across a number of dinosaurs, as well as a race of giants, that happen to live down there as well. The reason I find this a little unrealistic is that most living creatures actually need exposure to the sun to be able to live a healthy life. Okay, generations of creatures could end up adapting to this subterranean world, but I doubt they would be dinosaurs and their ilk (and if anything they would be blind and move about through the use of sonar).
Another thing that I noticed as I read this book is that Verne takes a particular interest in geology. Verne was a voracious reader and in many of his books describes many of the scientific ideas behind the world that he explores. 20000 Leagues explores oceanography in minute detail, while in this book he explores the science of geology. The thing about Verne is that he wasn't a scientist, he was a lawyer, so much of his writings is of a person who has a keen fascination in the scientific world, but not being a scientist himself. The other thing that I noticed is that he writes from a Christian viewpoint. The ideas that come out of his books regularly talk about creation and the Biblical model of the foundations of the world. Okay, he wasn't a literal seven day creationist, however you can tell that there is an acceptance of the concept of intelligent design – one thing Verne wasn't was an athiest.
I have to say that this little book has had a huge impact upon the course of literature (actually a lot of Verne's writings have had such an impact) and as I was reading it I couldn't help but think of how the creators of Dungeons and Dragons have used their concepts in the worlds that they created. In fact as his heroes were wandering through the darkness I was almost half expecting them to run into Drizzt and the city of Menzoberranzan. Okay, I do find it a little odd that the drow actually have ebony skin when creatures who live in a subterranean world would actually become albino, but I guess that is what happens in a fantasy setting.
The other thing I noticed about this book is that there is no adversary. A lot of people suggest that all great works of literature (and quite a lot of pretty ordinary works as well) all have an adversary, however this seems to be lacking in a number of Verne's works. Okay, you might suggest that the adversary is the Earth itself, and the inhospitable terrain that they are exploring, but it still goes to show that you can write a rip roaring great story, and a piece of classic literature, without having some bad guy to overcome.
Oh, and I've written a piece of fan-fiction on my blog where I speculate how the world would have turned out if Verne's idea actually turned out to be true.