A Journey to the Centre of the Earth Summary

Jules Verne


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Professor Lidenbrock, a polymathic teacher at the prestigious Johanneum College in Hamburg, purchases a copy of the Heimskringla (a record of Icelandic kings) at a secondhand bookstore. In this copy, he finds an encrypted runic manuscript and deciphers the cryptogram, which proves to be the work of a celebrated (fictitious) alchemist, Arne Saknussem. The decrypted text claims that the center of the earth might be reached by means of one of the several craters of the extinct volcano Snaefell in Iceland.

Lidenbrock suggests to his nephew Axel that they should mount an expedition to follow in Saknussem’s footsteps and journey to the center of the earth. Axel is initially horrified, but he is persuaded to risk the enterprise by a girl named Graüben, whose affection he craves and who judges that it will make a hero of him. Axel and his uncle then set sail for Reykjavik, eager to get there by the first of July, when the angle of the sun’s rays will indicate the correct crater.

After conferring with local scholars, Lidenbrock hires a taciturn guide, Hans Bjelke, and assembles an extensive collection of scientific instruments. The members of the party then make their way to Snaefell, where a sign specified by Saknussem’s manuscript informs them into which crater they must descend. As they do so, they make various geological observations, but the expedition seems doomed to failure when they run out of water. They are saved when they...

(The entire section is 472 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like the greater number of Verne’s works, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a novelistic description of scientific phenomena. This third of Verne’s works is geological and paleontological. The different geological strata of the earth, its minerals, the formation of the planet, and the different hypotheses concerning its core are reviewed. At the same time, the structure of the work calls upon the archetypal descent of the hero into the underworld.

Verne’s characters are conscious that their scientific goals echo those of humanity. Mister Fridriksson, their Icelandic host, who converses with the hero Harry in Latin, bids them farewell with “this verse that Virgil seems to have written for us: ’Et quacumque viam dederit fortuna, sequamur’” (“And whichsoever way thou goest, may fortune follow”). Verne knew that others had written of the descent into the underworld, usually as a pretext to criticize society on the surface of the planet, without any scientific pretensions. His motivation is otherwise: to explore scientific data and imagine an adventure story.

The story is told by one of its protagonists, the student Harry, a lover of geology. Verne seems to voice his opinion when the narrator proclaims the scientific validity of the expedition:No mineralogists had ever found themselves placed in such a marvelous position to study nature in all her real and naked beauty. The sounding rod, a mere machine, could not bring to the surface of the earth the objects of value for the study of its internal structure, which we were about to see with our own eyes, to touch with our own hands.

The characters of the novel are limited to the three of the expedition. Harry’s cousin and fiancé, Gretchen, is reduced to the figure of the knight’s lady who sends him off on his mission and welcomes him home, a hero, at the conclusion of the adventure. Harry’s youthful imagination, his concern...

(The entire section is 794 words.)