The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The three major characters in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth are a German mineralogist and geologist named Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their Icelandic guide, Hans. This novel is a first-person narrative told from Axel’s point of view.

Otto Lidenbrock is a stereotypical scientist, obsessed with his research projects. He has little understanding of or patience with those who do not share his enthusiasm for scientific discoveries. His nephew Axel has a solid classical education, but his main interest in life is his love for Graüben, Lidenbrock’s goddaughter.

Lidenbrock’s hobby is collecting old books and manuscripts. One day, he discovers a mysterious message written in Old Icelandic by a sixteenth century scientist named Arne Saknussemm. Axel decodes this message for his uncle. They learn that Saknussemm claimed to have traveled from an Icelandic volcano toward the hollow center of the earth. Lidenbrock and Axel soon realize that no one before them had decoded Saknussemm’s message. They decide to travel to Iceland and attempt to replicate Saknussemm’s journey to the center of the earth.

After an arduous boat ride to Iceland, they hire a temperamental guide named Hans. The three of them go into the Mount Sneffels volcano in Iceland and discover an extraordinary world hidden beneath the crust of the earth. To their amazement, they observe massive mushrooms, plants, and fossils, along with an extensive series of lakes and rivers. Several times, as they explore passages that lead nowhere, they almost run out of water, but each time they eventually find a path that appears to take them closer to the center of the earth.

Near the end of the novel, Lidenbrock, Axel, and Hans realize that they have begun to travel back toward the surface. When they exit from a volcano, they find themselves not in Iceland but rather on the volcanic island of Stromboli, near Sicily. After Lidenbrock and Axel return to Hamburg, Germany, the geologist resumes his scientific research and Axel marries Graüben.