In this classic tale, a newly-discovered ancient parchment reveals that a secret passage through a volcano extends into the depths of the earth. Three men are hurled into the adventure of their lives as they undertake a journey of geological discovery and terrific danger.
Although it is... read more
The story begins on Sunday 24, May 1863, in the Lidenbrock house in Hamburg, 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... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The story begins on Sunday 24, May 1863, in the Lidenbrock house in Hamburg, 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 is a first indication of Verne's love for cryptology. Coded, cryptic or incomplete messages as a plot device will continue to appear in many of his works and in each case Verne goes a long way to explain not only the code used but also the mechanisms used to retrieve the original text.) Lidenbrock and Axel translate 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.<3> Axel decides to keep the secret hidden from Professor Lidenbrock, afraid of what the Professor might 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 Snæfellsjökull in Iceland. In what Axel calls bad Latin, the deciphered message reads:
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 last day, the sun comes out and the mountain peak shows the correct crater to take.
The travelers discover a giant cave filled with prehistoric mushrooms.
After descending into this crater, the three travelers 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 neighboring subterranean river. Lidenbrock and Axel name the resulting stream the "Hansbach" in his honor 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 as the Lidenbrock Sea. Whilst 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 travelers 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 center of the earth. The travelers 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 volcano. When they regain consciousness, they discover that they have been ejected from the active volcano on the Isle of Stromboli. 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.
“Was I to believe him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where did truth stop? Where did error begin?”
“Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”
“. . . as long as the heart beats, as long as body and soul keep together, I cannot admit that any creature endowed with a will has need to despair of life.”
“Man is so constituted that his health is a purely negative state; once his hunger is satisfied, it is difficult for him to imagine the horrors of starvation; without feeling them, he cannot understand them.”
1 My Uncle Makes a Great Discovery
2 The Mysterious Parchment
3 An Astounding Discovery
4 We Start on a Journey
5 First Lessons in Climbing
6 Our Voyage to Iceland
7 Conversation and Discovery
8 The Eider Down Hunter—Off at Last
9 Our Start—We Meet with Adventures by the Way
10 Travelling in Iceland—The Lepers
11 We Reach Mount Sneffels—The “Reykir”
12 The Ascent of Mount Sneffels
13 The Shadow of Scartaris
14 The Real Journey Commences
15 We Continue Our Descent
16 The Eastern Tunnel
17 Deeper and Deeper—The Coal Mine
18 The Wrong Road!
19 The Western Gallery—A New Route
20 Water, Where Is It? A Bitter Disappointment
21 Under the Ocean
22 Sunday Below Ground
25 The Whispering Gallery
26 A Rapid Recovery
27 The Central Sea
28 Launching the Raft
29 On the Waters—A Raft Voyage
30 Terrific Saurian Combat
31 The Sea Monster
32 The Battle of the Elements
33 Our Route Reversed
34 A Voyage of Discovery
35 Discovery upon Discovery
36 What Is It?
37 The Mysterious Dagger
38 No Outlet—Blasting the Rock
39 The Explosion and Its Results
40 The Ape Gigans
42 The Volcanic Shaft
43 Daylight at Last
44 The Journey Ended
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