Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne, Tim Curry

I have had a ridiculous amount of fun this year listening to classic novels as audiobooks. When Audible offered a freebie (I think it was a freebie) of Journey to the Center of the Earth read by Tim Curry, I was excited – Tim Curry! Come on. It almost didn’t matter what it was; I kind of place Curry in the same class as Tom Baker – love the actor, adore the voice, will listen to literally anything read by him.

And I was right. Curry was fabulous. His performance – and it was in every way performance – was incredibly enjoyable, and accounted for a good part of my rating. The voices he gave to the characters were dead on; the emotion with which he invested some scenes elevated them; it’s purely because of his voice that I don’t completely loathe the two main characters of this book, Axel and his Uncle/Professor Otto Liedenbrock. Not completely …

I do dislike them intensely, though. Even Tim Curry couldn’t prevent that.

I will absolutely grant that part of my dislike for the book was some inability to separate myself as a 21st-century woman with a (very) basic (high school) education in geology from myself as reader of a book published and I assume set in 1864. From the former point of view it’s an absurd figment of science fantasy. I know, I know – I have no problem accepting vampires (as long as they don’t sparkle), werewolves, thousand-year-old druids and 932-year-old Time Lords. I never said I was consistent.

Still, despite the initial head-meets-desk reaction I had to a forest many leagues below the surface of the earth, not to mention a life-filled ocean and the mastodon-herding giants – still, it was fun. It felt like a Disney version of science, crossed with Lewis Carroll – fall down the universe’s biggest rabbit hole, and land in an impossible, improbable wonderland. I was able to enjoy some of the fantasy.

The parts I couldn’t enjoy were simply outweighed by the stupidity of the characters. The two so-brilliant scientists, Axel and his uncle, were textbook examples of book-smart vs. street-smart. I mean, what moron goes on any expedition into the unknown with only a little water? Good God, people, don’t you watch Les Stroud and Bear Grylls? Well, no, obviously not, but – common sense, men! “Oh, don’t worry, we’ll find fresh-water springs”: probably the last words of many a dim adventurer.

And the subject of stupid adventurers brings me straight to Axel. Good grief. In my Goodreads updates I referred to him as a damsel in distress, and also TSTL: Too Stupid To Live. Bringing that boy on an expedition (I keep wanting to write a Winnie-the-Pooh-esque “expotition”) is like taking a penguin to the Bahamas. I lost count of the number of times he fell or got lost or otherwise needed rescuing – and every single time there was poor old Hans, probably thinking “ach du lieber (or the Icelandic equivalent thereof), we should just put the fool on a leash.” I can’t imagine why his uncle brought him in the first place, unless he didn’t realize what a Moaning Myrtle the boy would become, in addition to being a hazard to himself and all those around him. Every step of the way he complained and protested and fretted and despaired. The fact that he happened to be right in some of his complaints – as, for example, when he protested the minimal amount of water they were toting – doesn’t make his constant whingeing easier to tolerate.

And the Professor … a more overbearing, pompous, irritating, foresightless windbag I don’t remember in my reading. Did I mention it was his decision to bring only a little water with them? And also to chuck most of their gear down an apparently bottomless hole, confident that they would catch up to it in the climb. And also to set off across an apparently limitless ocean in a boat I wouldn’t sail in a bathtub rather than try to trek the shoreline. And then to pause at random intervals and pontificate as if in front of an audience.

Oh, and to take few or no specimens of their discoveries. “Center of the earth, eh, Liedenbrock? Riiiight.”

My list, made early on in the read/listen, for tips on a hypothetical Journey to the Center of the Earth:
1. Bring water
2. Lots
3. Be sure to pay guide/servant/lifesaver weekly, even if he can’t spend the money
4. Give guide/etc raise after he saves your butt after you disregarded 1 & 2
5. Do not bring nephew; he is prone to both hysterics and despair
6. Do not bring uncle/professor, as he confuses humans with camels (also: twit)
7. Do bring Tim Curry, because he just makes everything sound good.

I don’t think the uncle and nephew actually did give Hans any kind of monetary reward for saving their rear ends, on several more occasions than just the water situation. The uncle paid him promptly every week – not that he was able to spend or bank or otherwise appreciate said payment, miles below the surface of the earth – and probably lost it all in their adventures.

The translation used by Audible was an odd one. The only example I noted was this: “His absolute silence increased every day.” If it’s absolute, it can’t increase, though, can it? The Goodreads edition has it: “But his habit of silence gained upon him day by day” – which works. I would be interested in either reading or listening to another version, to see if anything improves … but no. The language wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I spent over eight hours alternately smiling happily at Tim Curry’s performance and wanting to reach through my iPod and shake Axel and Otto until their ears flapped. It’s another of those “could-have-been” books. It could have been so much fun. It just wasn’t.

 

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