Journey to the Center of the Earth Themes

Jules Verne

Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A work of science fiction seeks to unify two quite different approaches to life: the scientific and the imaginative. To succeed, such a work must convince the reader, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge would say, to suspend disbelief in order to accept an imaginary excursion into realms of space and time beyond the known or predictable; yet, that journey of thought must seem absolutely probable, scientifically feasible. On purely scientific grounds, the reader could quarrel with Verne’s assumption that subterranean regions are habitable; that mine-like tunnels enseam layers of basalt and granite; that spacious caverns, forests, and seas exist there; or that anyone could survive being in a volcanic eruption. Once the reader accepts Verne’s premise that such things are possible, however—and Verne does treat those events as credible—he can then enjoy the narrative as the fictional adventure it is.

The idea of the journey itself is an ancient fictional motif. To sustain that motif, Verne develops three interlocking themes which are equally ancient, and effective: the underground as an underworld, man’s hubris in daring to venture there, and the capriciousness of Nature. Allusion has been made to Axel’s mythological imagination. For him, the journey is not unlike a descent to the underworld, fraught with all the hellish overtones that accompany the archetypal descent. Axel experiences vertigo as he is about to enter “the fathomless pit that was to...

(The entire section is 569 words.)