Front cover of an 1874 English translation of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (French: Voyage au centre de la Terre; also published in English as A Journey to the Center of the Earth and A Journey into the Interior of the Earth) is a science fiction adventure novel by the French author Jules Verne. It was first published in France in 1864. The first of several English translations was published in 1871.

The main characters in the novel are Axel, a young German, and his uncle Professor Lidenbrock, a professor of geology at Hamburg University who also prides himself on his ability to speak and read several languages. The two men discover a piece of parchment which carries a coded message. The message tells them that it is possible to descend to the center of the Earth from one of the three craters on an Icelandic volcano. Axel and the professor travel to Iceland. They hire a local guide, Hans Bjelke, who leads them to the volcano and then accompanies them on their journey deep underground.

A popular 1871 translation changes Professor Lidenbrock's name to Professor Hardwigg and Axel's name to Henry Lawson.


Verne - Voyage au centre de la Terre, page 15

Professor Lidenbrock. 1864 illustration by Edouard Riou.

The novel begins in Hamburg, in the home that Axel and his uncle Professor Lidenbrock share, on Sunday May 24, 1863. Professor Lidenbrock excitedly returns home with an antique edition of an ancient Icelandic saga. A piece of parchment falls out of the book which the professor notices bears the name, in runes, of Arne Saknussemm, a medieval Icelandic alchemist. The professor is unable to understand the rest of the message written in runic characters and realizes that it must be in code. He orders that the doors of his house be locked and that he, Axel and their maid Martha go without food until the message has been deciphered. Axel eventually cracks the code and discovers it is a message in bad Latin which says that it is possible to travel to the center of the Earth from one of the three craters on a volcano in Iceland. The precise crater is indicated by the shadow cast by a nearby mountain peak but only during the last days of June. Axel initially keeps the information secret, fearing what his uncle would do if he learnt what the message said. After two more days of going without food, Axel's hunger forces him to reveal the secret.

Professor Lidenbrock immediately leaves for iceland, taking a reluctant Axel along with him. Axel does not consider himself to be the heroic or adventurous type and he wants to stay in Hamburg with Grauben, his sweetheart and Professor Lidenbrock's goddaughter. On the voyage to Iceland, Axel tries to convince his uncle of the scientific impossibility of traveling to the center of the Earth but to no avail. On arrival in Iceland the two men hire Hans Bjelke to guide them to the volcano.

The three men arrive at the volcano shortly before the end of June but the weather is cloudy and no shadow is cast. Axel hopes that the professor will be forced to abandon his plans and return home. However, on the last day of June, the sun comes out, the crater is revealed and the three men descend.

The three travelers follow a path which Arne Saknussemm had indicated by carving his initials in runes on the cave wall. They take a wrong turn and run out of water. Axel nearly dies of thirst but Hans discovers an underground river. The professor names it "Hansbach" in his honor.


Some of the prehistoric animals that Axel, Professor Lidenbrock and Hans see. 1864 illustration by Edouard Riou.

Following the course of Hansbach, the three reach an enormous cavern, lit by electrically charged gas and containing giant mushrooms, petrified trees and an ocean. The three men build a raft from petrified trees and set sail on the ocean, which the professor names the "Lidenbrock Sea". During the sea journey, they see several prehistoric animals and witness a fight between a Plesiosaurus and an Icthyosaurus. A storm throws the travelers on to an island dominated by a huge geyser. The professor names it "Axel's Island".

Several strange plants and prehistoric animals are found on the island, as well as a beach littered with bones. Amongst the bones, Axel and the professor find a large human skull. Professor Lidenbrock and Axel explore a forest on the island where they see a twelve-foot tall man, taller than the herd of mastodons which he is watching over. Axel and the professor conceal their presence from the man, fearing that he might be dangerous.

Books of Luxun2

Front cover of an early 20th century Chinese translation of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

After further exploration, the travelers find a passageway that Arne Saknussemm indicated as the way ahead. However, there was a cave in after Saknussemm's time and the passageway became blocked by a granite wall. The three men decide to blow up the wall, going out to sea on their raft to be out of the way when the explosion happens. However, the granite wall blocked the entrance to an apparently bottomless pit. The sea water rushes into the hole that has been opened up and carries the raft and the three travelers with it.

The three men find themselves inside a volcano which fills up with water and magma and they are expelled from a side vent. From the landscape, they see that they are no longer in Iceland. They notice a boy, Professor Lidenbrock attempts to speak to him in several different languages but he does not respond. Eventually, the boy tells them that they are on the Italian island of Stromboli.

The travelers return to Hamburg, Axel marries Grauben, Professor Lidenbrock is acclaimed as one of the greatest scientists of all time, although he regrets that his journey to the center of the Earth was cut short. Hans dislikes the attention and is happy to return to his quiet life in Iceland.

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