Science Fiction is one of the most popular genres of all times; it is read by the people of all ages and all fields. Time has been witness of the popular classics that emerged in the world of literature under the category of science fiction. Science Fiction brought a great appeal to the world literature and people began to look for more and more for this highly imaginative yet completely scientific writings. According to the Bedford Glossary science fiction is “a type of fiction that is grounded in scientific or pseudoscientific concepts and that, whether set on Earth or in an alternate or parallel world, employs both realistic and fantastic elements in exploring the question “What if?” The genre of Science Fiction is based on the exploration of different aspects of life; let it be social, psychological, moral or biological. It conveys new ideas, not only about the present but also makes great futuristic speculations.
Here I will discuss the novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth in the light of the given characteristics, and prove the significance of science fiction novel in the English literature.
Jules Verne’s famous novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth is one of the first novels that become a beacon of light not only for the readers of science fiction but, for the writers as well. It is written by the famous French author Jules Verne, who is well known for his fantastic adventurous stories, and is acknowledged to be one of the pioneers of science fiction. Journey to the Centre of the Earth is recognized world over, is read by people of all ages and has been translated into many other languages.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a unique literary endeavor that incorporates great characterization, simple plot, and grand adventurous fiction, enveloped in scientific narrations. The story revolves around the characters of Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel and their guide Hans. Otto Lidenbrock is a well-reputed geologist, mineralogist, and Professor at Johannaeum. Being a man of science he was an enthusiast about all new scientific discoveries, and always anticipated scientific adventures.
The story is being narrated by Axel, who is a timid, undecided and less motivated boy. But being brought up under the care of his uncle he had developed much interest in science, minerals, geology and other scientific works. Much of his time was spent in his uncles’ laboratory. The story starts to unfold when Otto Lidenbrock comes across an old parchment with runic letters inscribed on it. That parchment revealed the secret passage to the centre of the earth, its author being a famous Icelandic scientist Arne Saknusseumm. This is when Lidenbrock is taken by the enthusiasm to become the first scientist to discover and make journey to the centre of the earth!
Jules Verne wrote the novel in a way that it contained scientific information throughout the story. One major tool of providing readers with a point to sift their mental faculties for scientific knowledge was to add scientific discussions and arguments in the story. He brought about many such arguments that made the story gripping; for example, when Lidenbrock decides that they would leave for the Summit of Sneffels and make a quest to the centre of the earth, many questions arise in the readers minds. Questions like; how would the journey be made in utter darkness? When the earth is filled with magma, how will they pass through it? And won’t the pressure inside earth’s crust be unbearable? The author very intelligibly answered all these questions by setting the characters in an argument about these notions. Take example of an excerpt from the novel:
‘Yes, it is well known that the temperature increases by approximately one degree centigrade for every seventy feet you go below the surface of the globe. Now, assuming that this ratio remains constant, and given that the radius of the Earth is about four thousand miles, the temperature at the centre will be well over 200,000Â°. The substances at the Earth’s core exist therefore as white-hot gases, for even metals like gold or platinum, even the hardest rocks, cannot resist such a temperature. My question whether it is possible to travel in such an environment is consequently a reasonable one!’
We can see clearly how Verne has added the chunk of scientific facts (temperature increases by approximately one degree centigrade for every seventy feet) into the story. Making scientific calculations, by keeping in mind the radius of earth and other variables, shows the great extent of knowledge that Verne has employed in writing the novel. Later through the story he creates the atmosphere of curiosity and adventure for the readers, and so one starts to anticipate what lays ahead in the story.
Adding scientific knowledge and fantasy for the readers in a science fiction knowledge is inevitable. Jules Verne in his novel takes full knowledge and responsibility of it. At one point in the novel when Lidenbrock is ready to make the journey, they prepare a complete list of provisions and instruments required on such a journey. The list is given in the form of a scientific list:
“The instruments included:
1. A centigrade thermometer made by Eigel, graduated to 150Â°, which didn’t seem quite right to me…
2. A manometer operated by compressed air, designed to show pressures greater than that at sea level…”
This list is important when one analyses the novel under the characteristics of science fiction novels. It gives us the details of scientific instruments and their information with much precision and accuracy. The valuable information given to the readers is immense and this part of the story gives thrust to the interest of the readers, and helps make it more and more ‘grounded by a high degree of realism.’
Throughout the novel Verne refers to actual places, and real geographical locations and facts. For example when Lidenbrock along with Axel starts the journey to Iceland; Verne adds the following lines:
“Iceland is one of the biggest islands in Europe. Its surface stretches across fourteen hundred miles, but it has only sixty thousand inhabitants. Geographers have divided it into four parts, and it was the Region of the South-West Quarter, ‘Sudvestr Fjordjngr’, that we had to cross, almost diagonally.”
This factual information given by Verne provides the readers with immense knowledge as well as entertainment; it becomes easier for the readers to relate to the real life places than to imagine a fantasy world. This adds to the general knowledge of the readers as well.
Once the journey beneath the earth’s crust takes momentum, an adventurous aura envelops the novel, and one after another many discoveries occur. At one place in the novel Axel is lost and is left alone in the darkness to find his companions. In this situation he suddenly hears his uncle calling his name, this is the moment when Verne uses the famous scientific phenomenon known as ‘acoustic effect’. Jules Verne further gives more knowledge of the special effect by saying the following words:
“This astounding acoustic effect can easily be explained by simple natural laws; it arose from the peculiar shape of the gallery and the conductibility of the rock.”
Here we see that Verne explains the working of the scientific phenomenon, and further he also gives examples from different places on earth like, “the Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s in London”. This makes his ideas more convincible and concrete.
Jules Verne creates a fantastic world underground, and shares unique and daring adventures with the readers. His scientific imagination reaches great heights and opens new dimensions of though for the readers, as they are introduced to new ideas and possibilities. Journey to the Centre of the Earth makes its readers journey through the Lidenbrock Sea, which is “a vast sheet of water…”, and around the shore there were “tall, dense forest…” which had plantation from all the ages, trees of medium height and dense vegetation. Through the imagery of this forest one can explore the different ages of evolution, the primary plats and animals, as well as the secondary vegetation growth. The readers become accustomed to the ideas of how different species had lived on Earth and evolved and became as they are at present.
One of the characteristics of the science fiction novels is that they include fantastic characters such as aliens or monsters. And Journey to the Centre of the Earth contains a whole chapter dedicated to the “Battle of monsters.” In it there is the description of two ominous monsters, that are half- lizard and half whales. These monsters fight a ferocious battle and this adds to the thrill and excitement of the novel.
The discovery of the human skeleton, the fierce electronic storm, the powerful geyser and diverse subterranean life puts beauty in the novel and keeps the readers engrossed till the end. Journey to the Centre of the Earth not only provides scientific knowledge but also develops a sense among the readers to ponder on the scientific information and explore different areas and discoveries in science. This book enhances the interest of people in subjects like geology, geography and other natural sciences.
Even today Science Fiction remains as the most anticipated genre of literature. It has gained much popularity among children and young people due to its challenging and thrilling appeal. Many new writers are emerging in this genre and are adding to the world of literature. The popularity of science fiction can easily be gauged by the fact that hundreds of films are made related to it, like Star Trek, Star Wars, E.T., Frankenstein, Batman, and the list is inexhaustible! Hence the future of science fiction is secure and promising as well.