collage of bones, insects, a volcano, a dinosaur, and a skull

Journey to the Center of the Earth

by Jules Verne
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Chapters 15–21 Summary

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Last Updated on March 16, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1052

Chapter 15

The three men and their three porters reach the base of the mountain and begin to climb to the summit of Snæfellsjökull, which Axel reports to be five thousand feet high. As they move along, Axel shares his knowledge of all the geological events that would have caused the landscape to form as it has. The climb is challenging, and it takes them until the evening to reach a spot where they can stop. Axel appears exhausted, and Lidenbrock tells Hans they should stop, but Hans insists it is not safe. As he says this, a waterspout rises from the sea, and they must scurry along to avoid having rocks and ice dropped upon them when it collapses. Professor Lidenbrock stays close to Axel, lends him strength, and supports him as they finish the climb. They reach the crater by 11 p.m. Axel takes a last glimpse at the midnight sun before going inside for shelter.

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Chapter 16

Morning comes, and the group begins their descent to the base of the crater, where the porters leave the three travelers and their equipment before returning to Stapi. At the bottom, they find the opening to three large “vents,” the channels into the earth from which the lava would have flowed when the volcano was active. In the center of these stands a great rock; according to the parchment, it must be used to identify which of the three vents will lead them into the bowels of the earth.

The professor knows he must wait for the sun to cast the shadow of the great rock across the entrance to tell them which one. For several days, they are forced to wait under cloudy skies. Finally, the sun emerges, a shadow falls on one of the openings, and the trio embarks.

Chapter 17

Having finally identified the chimney into which they must descend, the professor begins directing Hans and Axel with the gear. While each is assigned some gear to carry, most of their provisions are lowered into the chasm. Using the climbing ropes, Hans, Axel, and Professor Lidenbrock begin their descent into the darkness. Once again, Axel is confronted by his fears. The descent is slow: each person must climb to the bottom of his rope and then reattach it to descend further, a process that is repeated until they reach the bottom. When they finally do so, Axel calculates that they have taken over ten hours to descend 2,800 feet below their starting point. Exhausted, they eat and lay down to rest.

Chapter 18

In the morning, the group is refreshed by a very peaceful and quiet sleep on the floor of the volcano. Axel points out that the silence is as frightening as it is peaceful, but his uncle chides him. In the brighter light, they locate the provisions they had lowered into the darkness the day before. They locate a dark corridor, and with electric lamps to direct them, they pick up their packs and enter.

As the trio begins this part of the journey, even Axel comments on how beautiful the lava formations are. For several hours, they climb, slide, and pick their way through the corridor, stopping to rest by 8 p.m. that evening. Checking their instruments, Axel and the professor determine that they are now ten thousand feet below sea level. The temperature there, however, is not what they expected according to known science. They ponder the anomaly without resolve before going to sleep.

Chapter 19

The next morning, they arise early and continue their journey down the corridor. After some hours, the trio comes to an intersection. The professor proclaims that they have reached the end of the chimney they followed at the crater floor. From here, there are two paths. The professor immediately directs the group to one of them; Axel can tell that he is uncertain but does not wish to appear so to the others.

They continue down the new path for two days. However, as they proceed, Axel cannot help but notice that they are no longer descending and may in fact be climbing back up. He confronts his uncle, who dismisses him. However, the geological features soon change so much that Lidenbrock can no longer deny Axel’s suspicions. Lidenbrock concedes that he may have made an error but says he cannot yet be sure. He believes that the group should continue onward and ration their dwindling supply of water.

Chapter 20

The next day, the tunnel continues to lead them on a more or less horizontal path, which continues to disconcert them, as it prevents them from reaching the depths at which they expect to find fresh water. They continue to ration their water supply. After two more days, all three are thirsty, but the geological features continue to suggest they are not descending; instead, the men find themselves winding through layers of coal with no change in pressure or temperature to indicate vertical progress.

By the end of the day, their path abruptly comes to a halt. The professor immediately concedes that he was wrong, but he is encouraged that now they know: once they retrace their steps, he says, they can take the correct path. Axel is less confident, pointing out that for the multi-day journey back, they will have no water. His uncle asks him sternly, “And no courage left either?” Axel does not dare reply.

Chapter 21

The next morning, the trio set out to retrace their steps with a sense of urgency. By the time they make it back to where the tunnels split, they are on their hands and knees, at which point Axel faints. His uncle comes to him and, to Axel’s astonishment, gives Axel the last mouthful of water from his canteen that he had been secretly saving. Axel is moved by his uncle’s rare show of compassion.

After drinking, Axel insists they must try to climb out of the volcano and save themselves. Lidenbrock’s kindness turns to anger, and he ridicules Axel for his lack of courage. An argument ensues between them. Axel tries to convince Hans to join his side, but Hans sides with Lidenbrock and wishes to continue. Finally, Lidenbrock convinces Axel to give the second path one more day. If they do not find water, they will all return.

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Chapters 8–14 Summary

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Chapters 22–27 Summary