Study Guide

Journey to the Center of the Earth

by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth is the story of a secret expedition beneath the earth’s surface, down through geologic space and time to an imagined subterranean world. Narrated by Axel Lidenbrock, one of the three adventurers, it tells how he, Professor Otto Lidenbrock, and their guide, Hans Bjelke, descend the chimney of an extinct volcano near Reykjavik, Iceland, proceed to unknown regions, and then, miraculously, survive a volcanic eruption which shoots them to the surface again from the mouth of Mount Etna.

The novel begins in the spring of 1863. Otto accidentally discovers a mysterious manuscript written by Arne Saknussemm, a sixteenth century Icelandic heretical philosopher and alchemist. Days pass as Otto wracks his brain endeavoring to decipher the cryptogrammic code of the manuscript, not realizing that Axel has done so already and has learned of Saknussemm’s startling claim to have found a passageway to the center of the earth. Axel believes the claim is either a hoax or a legend, unworthy of scientific investigation; besides, knowing his uncle’s obsessive temperament, he fears the consequences if Otto should learn the secret. Eventually, he does tell Otto, however, and just as he suspected, the professor decides to test the truth of the theory. Otto is convinced that the downward journey is feasible; moreover, unlike the majority of scientists of his day, he believes that the earth’s core is not fiery liquid but solid, and relatively moderate in temperature. Thus, after hasty preparations and a brave farewell to pretty Grauben—who promises to marry him on his return—Axel sets forth with Otto on the train and sea journey which brings them to Iceland.

There they hire a reliable guide, Hans, who agrees to accompany them wherever they go. Climbing to the crater on Mount Snaeffels—identified by Saknussemm as his starting point—they begin their descent. At the bottom of the volcano’s chimney, they proceed along one of several galleries, lit by the natural light of quartz crystals. “It was as if the spirits of the under-world were lighting up their...

(The entire section is 864 words.)