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Banbury Cross

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Post details: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth

What we see of Mother Earth is but a peel of an apple. When we roam its surface, when we potter around in the garden, even when we dig foundations for our buildings we barely scratch its skin. But despite our limited range, we can't help pondering what lies beneath. Do the vast reaches of that tremendous unexplored volume harbor anything magnificent? Or perhaps sinister?

That's what Jules Verne must have been thinking when he sent a group of travelers into our planet's innards through the crater of an inactive volcano in Iceland. The protagonists of his famous novel enter a geological wonderland and waged many an adventure in the labyrinth of its arched caves filled with mystifying features and antediluvian monstrosities. No wonder that his book has resonated with every child's fantasy for more than a century. Once we figure out the concept of the inside - we just can't help wondering what lies just underneath our feet. We have always been drawn to the unknown and the sizable radius of Earth provides plenty of space to unknow.

This notorious piece of literature had such profound influence on former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman that he put it to music not once but twice, in both cases accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. First in 1974 under the original Verne's title, and second time in 1999 as the Return to the Center of the Earth. Both compositions are remarkable jewels that are a peculiar in at least two regards. First, they mix classical music with rock (no pun intended), both in terms of style and instrumentation. And second, unlike other musical action forms (opera, cantata, musical or operetta) his "concept albums" further the plot by a mixture of music and narration. While an actor reads passages of Verne's book, Wakeman's music conjures up vivid images that expand the plot into new dimensions, forming a symphony of subterranean acoustics filled with echos and reverberations.

Earlier this year I visited Luray caverns and my first impression was draped in the opening theme from Wakeman's first Journey. The unique charm of the stalactites and stalagmites reopened that page in my memory and rerendered it with fresh authenticity. What a spectacle! The absence of natural light wraps your mind in a cocoon of mystery. The dark cavernous ocean visually implemented by shadows and reflections capsizes your senses and literally invites strange sea creatures from its depths into your imagination.

It was also an extravagant hyperbole for many of our problems. No matter what your difficulty is, it usually pays to look underneath the cover and beyond the obvious, beyond what is visible on the surface. In a sense a successful solution always ends up being the Journey to the Center of the Earth. It's a strange world down there, but that's where the solutions lurk.



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