Journey To The Center Of The Earth Summary

Jules Verne

Journey To The Center Of The Earth

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Journey To The Center Of The Earth Summary

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Jules Verne’s classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, written in 1864, has been hailed as both an inspiring work of science fiction as well as an entertaining, action-adventure story that has delighted readers for over 150 years.

The story centers on three men: German professor Otto Lidenbrock, a respected mineralogist; Axel Lidenbrock, Otto’s orphaned nephew; and Hans Bjelke, an Icelandic duck hunter who speaks Danish, and their adventures as they seek a hidden passage they believe will take them to the center of the Earth.

The story begins with Otto discovering a coded note hidden within the pages of a recently purchased runic manuscript. The manuscript is an Icelandic tale called, “Heimskringla.” Otto translates the bizarre code into Latin letters, but they make no sense. He locks himself, Axel, and their maid in the house, refusing to let anyone out  until he is able to decipher the code.  But it is Axel, fanning himself with the message, who discovers that the letters create Latin sentences if read backward. Fearing what Otto will do with the information, Axel keeps the answer a secret, but after two days of being locked in, he gives in and tells Otto what he has discovered. Translating the Latin, Otto learns that the note is written by an Icelandic alchemist named Arne Saknussemm, and it claims to show the location of a secret passage that leads to the center of the Earth.

As soon as Otto decodes the message and learns that the entrance lies at the bottom of a dormant volcano in Iceland, he decides to leave immediately for Reykjavik. Axel, who is more patient and less adventurous than his uncle, tries to talk him out of it by pointing out all of the known scientific reasons this passage could not possibly exist.

At this point, Otto’s ward (and Axel’s sweetheart) Gräuben steps in and convinces Axel to go with his uncle. She feels that Axel lacks maturity and believes this adventure will make him a man. She promises that if he goes she will marry him when he comes back. The two men then set off for Iceland where they meet and hire Hans to be their guide.

With the aid of both Hans and the Saknussemm document, Otto and Axel are able to locate the right volcano and climb up and into it. At the bottom of the volcano, they find a series of tunnels and manage to find the correct tunnel described by Saknussemm. They follow the tunnel downward for several days until their water supply runs out. In desperation, Hans digs a whole through the tunnel wall and finds an underground river. After replenishing their water supply, they follow the river down even further until it opens up into a massive cave so large that they cannot see the other side.

From this point on the three men encounter a host adventures involving bizarre plants and creatures such as giant mushrooms and insects, a herd of mastodons, prehistoric sea creatures, dinosaurs engaged in life or death combat, and large, Neanderthal-like sub-humans. They experience glowing crystals, natural gas chambers, places that allow normal communication with people who are great distances away, and chemically charged thunderstorms.

Finally, the adventurers reach what is supposed to be the tunnel to the actual center of the Earth, but they find it blocked by a cave-in. Otto and Hans decide to use explosives to open up the tunnel, but the tunnel turns out to be a virtual bottomless pit. The explosion causes the underground sea to sweep them into the tunnel. It also causes a pocket of volcanic magma to open up below them and the pressure from the super-heated water pushes them up and out of the pit and back to the surface by way of a dormant volcano in southern Italy.

Even though Otto doesn’t actually reach the center of the Earth, he finds himself lauded by the scientific community for his discoveries. Axel, who is both the narrator and the actual protagonist in the story, realizes that his uncle was right all along and returns to Gräuben ready to marry her and with a newfound zest for life. Hans, after being paid for his efforts, returns to Iceland to live his life in peace.

Axel, Otto, and Hans create an interesting trio of personalities in this book. Otto is always looking forward –willing to face incredible odds, overcome any obstacle, and make any sacrifice in order to achieve his goals. Axel always wants to go back. A fatalist, he is afraid that death lurks behind every corner and that failure is certainly immanent. Hans doesn’t care one way or the other; his interest is only in getting paid. And yet, it is Hans’ strength, skill, and ingenuity that make both the trip and their survival possible.  Still, as the protagonist, it is Axel who takes the biggest journey and has the most growth; he returns a changed man.

Some common themes explored in Journey to the Center of the Earth are faith vs. doubt, explored through the differing attitudes between Otto and Axel; the desire for knowledge, seen by how far the professor is always willing to go to get it; and the hubris of man, explored by the trio’s journey into the unknown.

Along with Around the World in Eighty Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, and The Mysterious Island, Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth demonstrates his ability to understand the sciences of his day and to extrapolate from them the logical discoveries that had yet to come. And, although not all of his predictions were correct, the fact that he was insightful enough to be right so often has made his work a staple for not only those interested in science fiction, but in science as well.