A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the second of the long series of “extraordinary voyages” that formed the backbone of Jules Verne’s literary output and made him famous. It was one of the boldest of these novels, taking him into a hypothetical realm where he was forced to allow his imagination a freer rein than usual. Verne was careful, however, to take his inspiration from actual scientific discoveries and to populate his imaginary underworld with things that were known to have existed on the surface. Even the twelve-foot-tall humanoid, who now seems rather fanciful, is supported in the text with a mass of evidence intended to license the biblical claim that there once were “giants in the earth.”
Verne was sufficiently carried away by the current of his speculations to land himself with an awkward problem when it came to getting his heroes safely home again. That necessity drove him—not for the last time—to the only kind of rank implausibility that he was ever prepared to entertain, but he was always prepared to make compromises for the sake of a final narrative flourish. He always liked to end his stories with a melodramatic climax.
Although Verne was careful to relate every aspect of his own tale to scientific discoveries, he was aware of the great literary tradition of fantastic voyages, and he took care to acknowledge that fact. The professor discovers the manuscript in a copy of the part-historical, part-mythical Heimskringla, and he does not reject its testimony out of hand when he finds that it is the work of an alchemist. The solving of the cryptogram pays homage to Verne’s favorite writer, Edgar Allan Poe, whose works were still...
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