When I was growing up, in the middle of the rural West Wales countryside, the library was the most important place in my life. It was a time where I could be captivated equally by a surreptitiously-read Mills & Boon, or the detailed descriptions of re-setting a broken arm in a First Aid book. It was there, in that spirit of discovery, that I first picked up Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a book that ignited and empowered my imagination not just through childhood, but into adulthood, too. Jules Verne’s sense of possibility never left me.
The journey in Centre of the Earth sends Professor Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide, Hans Bjelke, across Iceland, to the volcano they would go down in order to attempt to reach the centre of the earth. The terrain immediately compelled me. Forget the centre of the earth; Iceland itself, as Verne described it, was terrifying, beautiful and unearthly before the team had gone even a centimetre underneath the surface. Iceland in the 1800s really must have seemed like another place to European readers, and when it takes the team several weeks to reach the volcano, they are weeks camping and navigating a strange, unfamiliar land. For years afterwards, I dreamed of exploring Iceland.
When I did finally make it, we sped across the landscape in our rental car, making light work of the protagonist’s arduous journey and stopping to marvel at geysers and waterfalls. We walked on black-sanded beaches and stayed in an isolated cabin just a few metres from the sea. Beforehand, at Reykjavik’s Faxa Bay, I looked over to try and see the volcano crater from the book, Snæfellsjökull, but it was hard to tell through the haze if it was the volcano that had captured my imagination as a child.
Then, one day we decided we wanted to go swimming in some hot springs we’d seen on a map. We hiked for miles through grey fog and sulphur-scented steam, and for the first time I was a little afraid, up close and personal with the landscape. It wasn’t surprising to me that such a place would have inspired a novel about another world under the surface. If our own could be as new and strange as this, what else could be imagined? What could be waiting to be found?