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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Book cover of the 1878 edition
Author Jules Verne
Original title Voyage au centre de la Terre
Illustrator Édouard Riou
Cover artist Édouard Riou
Country France
Language French
Series The Extraordinary Voyages #3
Genre Science fiction, adventure novel
Publisher Pierre Jules Hetzel
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 183
Preceded by The Adventures of Captain Hatteras
Followed by From the Earth to the Moon

Journey to the Center of the Earth (French: Voyage au centre de la Terre, also translated under the titles A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and A Journey to the Interior of the Earth) is a classic 1864 science fiction novel by Jules Verne. The story involves German professor Otto Lidenbrock who believes there are volcanic tubes going toward the centre of the Earth. He, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans descend into the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull, encountering many adventures, including prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before eventually coming to the surface again in southern Italy, at the Stromboli volcano.


  • Plot 1
  • Inspiration 2
  • Main characters 3
  • Notes 4
  • Adaptations 5
    • Film 5.1
    • Television 5.2
    • Theater 5.3
    • Other 5.4
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The story begins in May 1863, in the Lidenbrock house in Hamburg, Germany, with Professor Lidenbrock rushing home to peruse his latest purchase, an original runic manuscript of an Icelandic saga written by Snorri Sturluson ("Heimskringla"; the chronicle of the Norwegian kings who ruled over Iceland). While looking through the book, Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel find a coded note written in runic script. (This was a first indication of Verne's love for cryptography. Coded, cryptic or incomplete messages as a plot device would continue to appear in many of his works and in each case Verne would go a long way to explain not only the code used but also the mechanisms used to retrieve the original text.) Lidenbrock and Axel transliterate the runic characters into Latin letters, revealing a message written in a seemingly bizarre code. Lidenbrock attempts a decipherment, deducing the message to be a kind of transposition cipher; but his results are as meaningless as the original.

Professor Lidenbrock decides to lock everyone in the house and force himself and the others (Axel, and the maid, Martha) to go without food until he cracks the code. Axel discovers the answer when fanning himself with the deciphered text: Lidenbrock's decipherment was correct, and only needs to be read backwards to reveal sentences written in rough Latin.[1] Axel decides to keep the secret hidden from Professor Lidenbrock, afraid of what the Professor might do with the knowledge, but after two days without food he cannot stand the hunger and reveals the secret to his uncle. Lidenbrock translates the note, which is revealed to be a medieval note written by the (fictional) Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm, who claims to have discovered a passage to the centre of the Earth via Snæfell in Iceland. In what Axel calls bad Latin, the deciphered message reads:

The Runic cryptogram
In Snefflls [sic] Iokulis kraterem kem delibat umbra Skartaris Iulii intra kalendas deskende, audas uiator, te [sic] terrestre kentrum attinges. Kod feki. Arne Saknussemm.

In slightly better Latin, with errors amended:

In Sneffels Jokulis craterem, quem delibat umbra Scartaris, Julii intra kalendas descende, audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges; quod feci. Arne Saknussemm

which, when translated into English, reads:

Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jökull of Snæfell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches (lit: tastes) before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm

Professor Lidenbrock is a man of astonishing impatience, and departs for Iceland immediately, taking his reluctant nephew with him. Axel, who, in comparison, is cowardly and anti-adventurous, repeatedly tries to reason with him, explaining his fears of descending into a volcano and putting forward various scientific theories as to why the journey is impossible, but Professor Lidenbrock repeatedly keeps himself blinded against Axel's point of view. After a rapid journey via Lübeck and Copenhagen, they arrive in Reykjavík, where the two procure the services of Hans Bjelke (a Danish-speaking Icelander eiderdown hunter) as their guide, and travel overland to the base of the volcano.

In late June, they reach the volcano, which has three craters. According to Saknussemm's message, the passage to the centre of the Earth is through the one crater that is touched by the shadow of a nearby mountain peak at noon. However, the text also states that this is only true during the last days of June. During the next few days, with July rapidly approaching, the weather is too cloudy for any shadows. Axel silently rejoices, hoping this will force his uncle – who has repeatedly tried to impart courage to him only to succeed in making him even more cowardly still – to give up the project and return home. Alas for Axel, however, on the second to last day, the sun comes out and the mountain peak shows the correct crater to take.

After descending into the crater, the three travellers set off into the bowels of the Earth, encountering many strange phenomena and great dangers, including a chamber filled with combustible gas, and steep-sided wells around the "path". After taking a wrong turn, they run out of water and Axel almost dies, but Hans taps into a neighbouring subterranean river. Lidenbrock and Axel name the resulting stream the "Hansbach" in his honour and the three are saved. At another point, Axel becomes separated from the others and is lost several miles from them. Luckily, a strange acoustic phenomenon allows him to communicate with them from some miles away, and they are soon reunited.

After descending many miles, following the course of the Hansbach, they reach an unimaginably vast cavern. This underground world is lit by electrically charged gas at the ceiling, and is filled with a very deep subterranean ocean, surrounded by a rocky coastline covered in petrified trees and giant mushrooms. The travelers build a raft out of trees and set sail. The Professor names this sea the Lidenbrock Sea. While on the water, they see several prehistoric creatures such as a giant Ichthyosaurus, which fights with a Plesiosaurus and wins. After the battle between the monsters, the party comes across an island with a huge geyser, which Lidenbrock names "Axel's Island".

A lightning storm again threatens to destroy the raft and its passengers, but instead throws them onto the coastline. This part of the coast, Axel discovers, is alive with prehistoric plant and animal life forms, including giant insects and a herd of mastodons. On a beach covered with bones, Axel discovers an oversized human skull. Axel and Lidenbrock venture some way into the prehistoric forest, where Professor Lidenbrock points out, in a shaky voice, a prehistoric human, more than twelve feet in height, leaning against a tree and watching a herd of mastodons. Axel cannot be sure if he has really seen the man or not, and he and Professor Lidenbrock debate whether or not a proto-human civilization actually exists so far underground. The three wonder if the creature is a man-like ape, or an ape-like man. The sighting of the creature is considered the most alarming part of the story, and the explorers decide that it is better not to alert it to their presence as they fear it may be hostile.

The travellers continue to explore the coastline, and find a passageway marked by Saknussemm as the way ahead. However, it is blocked by what appears to be a recent cave-in and two of the three, Hans and the Professor, despair at being unable to hack their way through the granite wall. The adventurers plan to blast the rock with gun cotton and paddle out to sea to escape the blast. Upon executing the plan, however, they discover that behind the rockfall was a seemingly bottomless pit, not a passage to the centre of the earth. The travellers are swept away as the sea rushes into the large open gap in the ground. After spending hours being swept along at lightning speeds by the water, the raft ends up inside a large volcanic chimney filling with water and magma. Terrified, the three are rushed upwards, through stifling heat, and are ejected onto the surface from a side-vent of a stratovolcano. When they regain consciousness, they discover that they have been ejected from Stromboli, a volcanic island located in southern Italy. They return to Hamburg to great acclaim – Professor Lidenbrock is hailed as one of the great scientists of history, Axel marries his sweetheart Gräuben, and Hans eventually returns to his peaceful life in Iceland. The Professor has some regret that their journey was cut short.

At the very end of the book, Axel and Lidenbrock realize why their compass was behaving strangely after their journey on the raft. They realize that the needle was pointing the wrong way after being struck by an electric fireball which nearly destroyed the wooden raft.


The book was inspired by Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man of 1863 (and probably also influenced by Lyell's earlier ground-breaking work "Principles Of Geology", published 1830–33). By that time geologists had abandoned a literal biblical account of Earth's development and it was generally thought that the end of the last glacial period marked the first appearance of humanity, but Lyell drew on new findings to put the origin of human beings much further back in the deep geological past. Lyell's book also influenced Louis Figuier's 1867 second edition of La Terre avant le déluge ("The Earth before the flood") which included dramatic illustrations of savage men and women wearing animal skins and wielding stone axes, in place of the Garden of Eden shown in the 1863 edition.[2]

Main characters

  • Professor Otto Lidenbrock: a man of science and astonishing impatience and the uncle to Axel.
  • Axel: the nephew of Professor Lidenbrock, overly cautious and unadventurous student.
  • Hans Bjelke: a Danish-speaking Icelander eiderdown hunter who becomes their guide; dependable, resourceful and imperturbable.
  • Grauben: the goddaughter of Professor Lidenbrock.


  • The 1871 English language edition published by Griffith and Farran (named Journey to the Centre of the Earth at Project Gutenberg) is an abridged and altered translation. It changes the Professor's name to Hardwigg, Axel's name to Harry (or Henry) Lawson, and Grauben's name to Gretchen. It omits some chapters, while rewriting or adding portions to others. The redactor's note by Norm Wolcott, at Project Gutenberg, claims that this translation is the most popularly reprinted one, despite the flaws. The 1877 translation by Ward, Lock, & Co., Ltd., translated by Frederick Amadeus Malleson, is more faithful, though it too has some slight rewrites (according to the redactor at its Project Gutenberg page, where its title is translated as Journey to the Interior of the Earth).
  • The 1877 translation by Ward Lock & Co Ltd., translated by Frederick Amadeus Malleson was adapted by AD Classic Books' 2008 edition of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. In this edit by A.R. Roumanis, antiquated writing and out of date sayings were replaced which makes this the most modernized version available.
  • The novel frequently uses the device of the Professor explaining or arguing scientific matters with Axel, in order to communicate scientific facts on which the world-view is based. In the midst of their descent, this role reverses at one point, as Axel points out strata to the Professor as another example of the same story-telling method. Many things postulated in the novel are now known to be incorrect, including the temperature of space being minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and volcanoes erupting due to a reaction between water and chemicals in the Earth's crust.



Walt Disney Pictures began work on a "Journey" in the late 1990s, but was not happy with the appearance of the subterranean caverns, so the project was scrapped and the cavern scenes were altered and used in the production of their 2001 film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.



  • A stage version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, written by Gerald Fitzgerald and directed by Steven-Shayle Rhodes, was produced at Pegasus Theatre in Dallas, Texas in 2000, with substantial changes made to the characters and the plot.
  • In 2014, Fitzgerald's 2-act script was adapted into a 3-act melodrama format and presented at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre in Dallas, directed by Joey Dietz.


  • A thrill ride based on the book, Journey to the Center of the Earth, is open at The Mysterious Island section of Tokyo DisneySea's theme park.
  • A water ride at Water World in Federal Heights, Colorado called 'Voyage to the Center of the Earth' is loosely based on the book.
  • A mill chute ride, called 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' and loosely based on the book, existed at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom from 1960 to 1992.
  • Video games called Journey to the Center of the Earth: in the early 1980s by Ozisoft;[5] in 1988 by Chip Software [6] for the Commodore 64; in 1989 by Topo Soft [7] for the ZX Spectrum and in 2003 by Frogwares.[8]
  • A board game adaptation of the book designed by Rüdiger Dorn was released by Kosmos in 2008.[9]
  • A concept album called Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Rick Wakeman, was released in 1974. It combines song, narration and instrumental pieces to retell the story
  • An 8-part radio serial was produced for BBC Radio 4 by Howard Jones in 1963. It starred Bernard Horsfall and Jeffrey Banks.
  • A radio drama adaptation was broadcast by National Public Radio in 2000 for its series "Radio Tales".
  • Alien Voices, an audio theater group led by Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie, released a dramatized version of Journey to the Center of the Earth through Simon and Schuster Audio in 1997.
  • A 90-minute radio adaptation by Stephen Walker directed by Owen O'Callan was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 20 November 2011 and re-broadcast on 11 and 12 November 2012. Nicholas Le Prevost starred as Professor Otto Lidenbrock, Nathaniel Parker as Axel and Oliver Senton as Hans. Rosemary McNab, an original female character who funds and accompanies the expedition (and has affairs with both Hans and Otto along the way), was played by Kristen Millwood.[10]
  • Christopher Lloyd's character of Doctor Emmett Brown, one of the two main fictional characters of the Back To The Future film series, attributed the origins of his lifelong devotion to science to having read as a child the works of Jules Verne in general, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth in particular. (This is evident when he reveals that he tried to dig to the Center of the Earth at the age of twelve.) Back to the Future Part III, especially, pays homage to Journey of the Centre of the Earth where Dr. Brown carves his initials in a mineshaft after storing the time machine, just like Arne Saknussemm did to help guide future explorers. At the end of the film, it is also revealed that Dr. Brown's two sons are named Jules and Verne.
  • The first part of the second season of Around the World with Willy Fog by Spanish studio BRB Internacional was "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the Pellucidar series using the Journey to the Centre of the Earth concept.
  • The surname of Kathy Ireland's character in Alien From L.A. (1988), a film about a girl who falls through the earth and discovers a repressive subterranean society, is Saknussemm.
  • The 1992 adventure/role-playing game Quest for Glory III by Sierra Entertainment used Arne Saknoosen the Aardvark as a bit character for exploration information, alluding to the explorer Arne Saknussemm.
  • The DC Comics comic book series Warlord took place in Skartaris, a land supposed to exist within a Hollow Earth. Its creator, Mike Grell, has confirmed that "the name comes from the mountain peak Scartaris that points the way to the passage to the earth's core in Journey to the Center of the Earth."[11]
  • Louis MacNeice's final play Persons from Porlock contains a reference to Journey to the Centre of the Earth at the beginning. Because his mother used to read it aloud to him, Hank became 'completely fascinated' with 'caves and pot-holes and things' (p 111). At the end of the play 'Herr Professor Lidebrock' is one of the characters Hank meets down the pot hole. Hank says to him, 'Oh, my dear Professor, I've always wanted to meet you, since my mother used to read me your adventures. How you went down the volcano and ran into all those mastodons. But, of course, in your case you got out again.' The Professor replies, 'That was because I am a character in fiction.' He continues, 'Jules Verne invented me'(p 141).[12]
  • Halldór Laxness, the only Icelandic author to be awarded the Nobel Prize, situated his novel Under the Glacier in the area of Snæfellsjökull. The glacier has a mystic quality in the story and there are several references to A Journey to the Center of the Earth in connection with it.
  • In the Exile computer game series and its remake, the Avernum series, the player's party is exiled to a vast underground cavern similar to the one described in A Journey to the Center of the Earth. It also contains a subterranean ocean and networks of tunnels, but it is lit by bioluminescent mushrooms rather than an electric phenomenon. One of the goals of several of the games is to escape from the cavern.

See also


  1. ^ To produce the cipher, the text is written backwards, and then each letter and punctuation mark is placed in a separate cell of a 7x3 matrix, going row by row. When each cell is filled with the first 21 letters, the 22nd letter is placed in the first cell, and so again through the matrix repeatedly until the message is complete. To decipher, one copies out the first letter of each cell, then the second, and so forth, and finally the resulting message is read backwards.
  2. ^ Criticism:  
  3. ^ "Journey to the Center of the Earth". IMDb., Inc. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Journey to the Center of the Earth". IMDb., Inc. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  5. ^ The Legacy
  6. ^ Lemon
  7. ^ World of Spectrum
  8. ^ Moby Games
  9. ^ Board Game Geek
  10. ^ "Jules Verne- Journey to the Centre of the Earth", BBC Radio 4, 20 Nov 2011.
  11. ^ Brian Cronin, 2006, "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #54!" (archive)
  12. ^ Louis MacNeice, Persons from Porlock, London: BBC, 1969.

Further reading

  • Debus, Allen (July 2007), "Re-Framing the Science in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth", Science Fiction Studies 33 (3): 405–20 .

External links

  • A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Griffith and Farran, 1871) entire early English translation.
  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth and PDF Full text of the Oxford University Press translation, with introduction, notes and appendices. Most modern translation available online.
  • Journey into the Interior of the Earth (Malleson, trans.; Ward, Lock & Co., 1877) from
  • A Journey to the Interior of the Earth (Malleson, trans.; Ward, Lock & Co., 1877) – in easy to read HTML format.
  • A Journey to the Interior of the Earth at Project Gutenberg (English)
  • Journey to the Interior of the Earth public domain audiobook at LibriVox
  • Free Audio Book of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" from The Drama Pod
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth – Classics Illustrated comic book
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