The Underground City
20,000 Leagues Below Loch Katrine
In Edinburgh, which city Verne visited several times in his life, Luath Press released in 2005 a new translation of the ‘lost’ novel The Underground City, a curious piece about a group of miners who found a subterranean settlement in the Scottish Highlands, beneath Loch Katrine. The novel pulls off the curious trick of being a paean to the Highland scenery and at the same time setting most of its action in pitch black and extolling the virtues of escaping the surface world. Mind you, Verne was a contradictory writer at the best of times – he conceived fascinating ideas, set in motion fantastic chains of events, wrote glorious adventures about pirate kings in giant submarines exploring the far flung corners of the globe, then filled them with interminable descriptions of fish, horribly accurate and as dull to read as the operating instructions of the average dishwasher.
So it comes as no surprise that The Underground City, despite a pretty premise and an enjoyable plot, is full of leaden prose detailing everything you could possibly wish to know about the practicalities of coal mining. Interesting to the right audience, but not quite the stuff adventure stories are made of. Still, if you could read 20,000 Leagues Below the Sea without having to skip the boring bits you’ll probably love it. And besides, it’s fascinating simply as a Verne artifact; a novel that not many of us in the English speaking world will have read before. Despite continuing popularity in France, The Underground City has been out of print in the UK since its initial publication in 1877, and this is its first full English edition. The last British print had significant cuts, removing anything too pro-Scottish for the sake of delicate London sensibilities. All mention of bagpipes was strictly excised. Luath’s new version, reinstating and revelling in the Scottishness, is translated from the original by Sarah Crozier, who interviewed our editor Jennie Renton – you can listen to the recording of the conversation by clicking the link at the foot of the page.
The Underground City, Luath Press (£7.99 PBK, ISBN 184282080X)