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Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Journey to the Centre of the Earth-1874.jpg
Front cover of an 1874 English translation
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
25 November 1864; rev. 1867
Published in English
1871
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 with the variant titles A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and A Journey into the Interior of the Earth), is a classic science fiction novel by Jules Verne. It was first published in French in 1864, then reissued in 1867 in a revised and expanded edition. Professor Otto Lidenbrock is the tale's central figure, an eccentric German scientist who believes there are volcanic tubes that reach to the very center of the earth. He, his nephew Axel, and their Icelandic guide Hans rappel into Iceland's celebrated inactive volcano Snæfellsjökull, then contend with many dangers, including cave-ins, subpolar tornadoes, an underground ocean, and living prehistoric creatures from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. (The 1867 revised edition inserted additional prehistoric material in Chaps. 37–39.) Eventually the three explorers are spewed back to the surface by an active volcano, Stromboli, in southern Italy.

The category of subterranean fiction existed well before Verne. However his novel's distinction lay in its well-researched Victorian science and its inventive contribution to the science-fiction subgenre of time travel—Verne's innovation was the concept of a prehistoric realm still existing in the present-day world. Not surprisingly, Journey inspired many later authors, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his novel The Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Pellucidar series.

Plot

The story begins in May 1863, at the Lidenbrock house in Hamburg, Germany. Professor Otto Lidenbrock dashes home to peruse his latest antiquarian purchase, an original runic manuscript of an Icelandic saga written by Snorre Sturluson, "Heimskringla", a chronicle of the Norwegian kings who ruled over Iceland. While leafing through the book, Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel find a coded note written in runic script along with the name of a 16th century Icelandic alchemist, Arne Saknussemm. (This novel was Verne's first to showcase his love of cryptography; coded, cryptic, or incomplete messages would appear as plot devices in many of his works, and Verne would take pains to explain not only the code itself but also the mechanisms for retrieving the original text.) Lidenbrock and Axel transliterate the runic characters into Latin letters, revealing a message written in a seemingly bizarre code. Lidenbrock deduces that the message is a transposition cipher, but achieves results no more meaningful than the baffling original.

Professor Lidenbrock locks everyone in the house and forces himself, Axel, and Martha the maid to go without food until he cracks the code. Axel discovers the answer when fanning himself with the deciphered text: Lidenbrock's deciphering was correct but simply needed to be read backward in order to reveal a paragraph written in rough Latin. Axel tries to hide his discovery from Lidenbrock, afraid of the professor's maniacal reactions, but after two days without food, he knuckles under and reveals the secret to his uncle. Lidenbrock translates the paragraph, a 16th century note written by Saknussemm, who claims to have discovered a passage to the center of the earth via the crater of Snæfellsjökull in Iceland. The deciphered message reads:

Jules verne cryptogramme
The Runic cryptogram

In Sneffels Yokulis craterem kem delibat umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende, audas viator, et terrestre centrum attinges. Kod feci. Arne Saknussemm.

which, when translated into English, reads:

Go down into the crater of Snaefells Jökull, which Scartaris's shadow caresses just before the calends of July, O daring traveler, and you'll make it to the center of the earth. I've done so. Arne Saknussemm

Snaefellsjökull
Snæfellsjökull

A man of astonishing impatience, Lidenbrock departs for Iceland immediately, taking the reluctant Axel with him. The latter repeatedly tries to reason with his uncle, describing the dangers of descending into a volcano that could very possibly reactivate, then putting forward several accepted scientific theories as to why the journey is flatly impossible. The professor ignores Axel's arguments, and after a swift trip via Kiel and Copenhagen, they arrive in Reykjavík. There they hire as their guide Icelander Hans Bjelke, a Danish-speaking eiderduck hunter, then travel overland to the base of Snæfellsjökull.

In late June they reach the volcano, which has three craters. According to Saknussemm's message, the route to the earth's center is via the crater that's touched by the noontime shadow of a nearby mountain peak, Scartaris, just before the end of June. But at that point the weather proves too cloudy for any shadows, and Axel hopes this will force his uncle to abandon the project and go home. Alas for Axel, the sun finally comes out, and Scartaris's shadow indicates the correct crater.

Reaching the bottom of the crater, the three travelers set off into the bowels of the earth, encountering many dangers and strange phenomena. After taking a wrong turn, they run short of water and Axel nearly perishes, but Hans saves them all by tapping into a subterranean river, which shoots out a stream of water that Lidenbrock and Axel name the "Hansbach" in the guide's honor. Later on Axel becomes separated from his companions and gets lost deep in the earth. Luckily an odd acoustic phenomenon allows him to communicate with the others from a distance, and they are soon reunited.

'Journey to the Center of the Earth' by Édouard Riou 03
Édouard Riou's illustration of an ichthyosaurus battling a plesiosaurus.

Following the course of the Hansbach, the explorers descend many miles and reach a cavern of colossal size. It's a genuine underground world that's lit by electrically charged gas near its ceiling, is filled by a deep subterranean ocean, and surrounded by a rocky coastline that's covered with petrified tree trunks, the fossils of prehistoric mammals, and gigantic living mushrooms. The travelers build a raft out of semipetrified wood and set sail. The professor names the ocean the "Lidenbrock Sea" and their takeoff point "Port Gräuben", after his goddaughter back home (whom Axel will marry at the novel's end). While at sea they encounter prehistoric fish from the Devonian Period and giant marine reptiles from the age of dinosaurs, including an ichthyosaurus, which battles and defeats a plesiosaurus. After the conflict between these monsters, the party reaches an islet with a huge geyser, which Lidenbrock names "Axel Island".

A lightning storm threatens to destroy the raft and its passengers, but instead surprises them by apparently throwing them back onto the very coastline they'd previously left. But this section of coast, Axel discovers, is the site of an enormous fossil graveyard, including bones from the pterodactyl, megatherium, and mastodon, plus the preserved body of a man. Nephew and uncle then venture into a forest featuring primitive vegetation from the Tertiary Period; in its depths they are stunned to find a prehistoric humanoid more than twelve feet in height and watching over a herd of mastodons. Axel isn't sure he has actually seen the creature or not, and he argues with Lidenbrock over whether it's a manlike ape or an apelike man. In any case, fearing it may be hostile, they quickly leave the forest.

Continuing to explore the coastline, the travelers find a passageway marked by Saknussemm as the way ahead, but unfortunately it has been blocked by a recent cave-in. The adventurers lay plans to blow the rock open with gun cotton, meanwhile paddling their raft out to sea to avoid the blast. On executing this scheme, however, they find a seemingly bottomless pit beyond the impeding rock and are swept into it as the sea rushes down the huge open gap. After spending hours descending at breakneck speed, their raft reverses direction and rises inside a volcanic chimney that ultimately spews them into the open air. When they regain consciousness, they learn that they've been ejected from Stromboli, a volcanic island located off Sicily.

The trio returns to Germany, where Axel and Lidenbrock deduce that the electric storm at sea had reversed the poles of their compass — in actuality they hadn't been driven backward but forward to a new shore notable for containing gigantic hominids. At home in Hamburg again, they enjoy great acclaim; Professor Lidenbrock is hailed as one of the great scientists of the day, Axel marries his sweetheart Gräuben, and Hans returns to his peaceful, eiderdown-hunting life in Iceland.

Inspiration

The novel's paleontology drew heavily on the descriptions of prehistory in Louis Figuier's 1863 popular-science work La Terre avant le déluge ("The Earth before the Flood"); Verne was personally acquainted with Figuier and a fellow member of Paris's Circle of the Scientific Press.

Main characters

  • Professor Otto Lidenbrock: a hot-tempered geologist with radical ideas.
  • Axel: Lidenbrock's nephew, a young student whose ideas are more cautious and realistic.
  • Hans Bjelke: Icelandic eiderduck hunter who hires on as their guide; resourceful and imperturbable.
  • Gräuben: Lidenbrock's goddaughter, with whom Axel is in love; from Virland (today part of Estonia).
  • Martha: Lidenbrock's housekeeper and cook.

Adaptations

Film

  • 1959: Journey to the Center of the Earth, USA, directed by Henry Levin, starring James Mason and Pat Boone, distributed by 20th Century Fox. The film transfers Verne's beginning locale from Hamburg to Edinburgh, "Professor Otto Lidenbrock" becomes "Professor Oliver Lindenbrook", and Axel becomes earth-sciences student Alec McEwan. Special effects are sometimes perfunctory, modern lizards standing in for Verne's prehistoric monsters — iguanas, for instance, are decked out in paste-on dorsal fins and offered up as dimetrodons. The film also introduces a new subplot and two additional main characters: a female explorer (Arlene Dahl) and a villainous antagonist (Thayer David).
  • 1978: Viaje al centro de la Tierra, Spain, directed by Juan Piquer Simón, starring Kenneth More and Pep Munné. It was distributed in both the U.S. in theaters as Where Time Began and the U.K. on TV as The Fabulous Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
  • 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.
  • 1989: Journey to the Center of the Earth took only the title and general concept from the Verne novel, offering a new storyline aimed at a teen audience. It was written by Debra Ricci, Regina Davis, Kitty Chalmers, and Rusty Lemorande, and was directed by Lemorande and Albert Pyun. It stars Emo Philips, Paul Carafotes, Jaclyn Bernstein, Kathy Ireland, Janet Du Plessis, Nicola Cowper, Lochner De Kock, and Ilan Mitchell-Smith.
  • 2008: Journey to the Center of the Earth is a 3-D film by Eric Brevig. Cast members include Brendan Fraser, Anita Briem and Josh Hutcherson. The film is a modern-day paraphrase of the 1860s original — it uses Verne's book as its inciting incident instead of Saknussemm's message, then follows the novel's overall structure with fidelity: a geology professor, his nephew, and an Icelandic guide (now a female named "Hannah") penetrate Snaefells, discover a seashore with giant mushrooms, sail across an underground ocean inhabited by pods of plesiosaurus, and reach the other side where they encounter a terrestrial monster from prehistory, in this case a tyrannosaurus rather than a mastodon. Ultimately the three explorers exit the underworld via an erupting volcano, find themselves in present-day Italy, and return to their starting point in academia.
  • 2008: Journey to the Center of the Earth was a direct-to-DVD release by The Asylum. Released as Journey to Middle Earth in the United Kingdom, the production began life as a 2008 TV film from RHI Entertainment. Starring Rick Schroder, Peter Fonda, Victoria Pratt, Steven Grayhm, and Mike Dopud, it was shot in and around Vancouver during the summer of 2007. A loose, low-budget adaptation (Pratt and Fonda's characters were added to the original story), it apparently hoped to ride the coattails of the Eric Brevig film.

Television

  • An animated television series, Journey to the Center of the Earth, first broadcast in 1967 on ABC, starring the voices of Ted Knight, Pat Harrington, Jr., and Jane Webb; loosely based on Verne's novel and closer to the 1959 film.
  • The first part of the second series of Around the World with Willy Fog entitled Willy Fog 2 by Spanish studio BRB Internacional was titled "Journey to the Centre of the Earth".
  • A limited animation television special in the Famous Classic Tales series was aired by CBS in 1977.
  • In 1993, NBC aired a made-for-TV film version with a cast including John Neville, F. Murray Abraham and Kim Miyori. The film used the title and general premise of Verne's novel, but had its heroes carry out the journey in an earth-penetrating machine borrowed from Burroughs.
  • The Wishbone 1996 episode "Hot Diggety Dawg" followed the novel and featured several major scenes identifying the central character as Professor Lidenbrock.
  • The 37th episode of The Triplets, called Journey to the Center of the Earth, makes reference to this novel.
  • The 1999 Hallmark Entertainment miniseries starred Treat Williams, Jeremy London, Bryan Brown, Tushka Bergen, and Hugh Keays-Byrne. This version deviates massively from Verne's original.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth was a 2008 American-Canadian TV film.
  • The 2012 episode Journey to the Center of the Earth, from Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, makes reference to the novel. In it, the naughty twins Daisy and Poppy magically send Mrs. Fotheringill to the center of the earth, and it's up to Grandpapa Thistle to guide Ben, Holly and their family there on a rescue mission.

Radio

  • A seven-part radio serial was broadcast on the BBC Home Service in 1962. It was produced by Claire Chovil, and starred Trevor Martin and Nigel Anthony.
  • An eight-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.
  • A 90-minute radio adaptation by Stephen Walker directed by Owen O'Callan was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 28, 1995 and rebroadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on November 20, 2011, on November 11 and 12, 2012, and on December 20 and 21, 2014. Nicholas Le Prevost stars as Professor Otto Lidenbrock, Nathaniel Parker as Axel, and Oliver Senton as Hans. Kristen Millwood plays Rosemary McNab, a new character intended to spice up the old storyline: she funds and accompanies the expedition, enjoying love affairs with both Hans and Lidenbrock en route.
  • Much more respectful of Verne's original is the two-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Journey to the Centre of the Earth broadcast on March 19 and 26, 2017. Featuring Stephen Critchlow as Professor Lidenbrock, Joel MacCormack as Axel, and Gudmundur Ingi Thorvaldsson as Hans, it was directed and produced by Tracey Neale and adapted by Moya O'Shea.

Theme park (themed areas) and rides

  • 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. It also includes a dark ride based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Le Visionarium (Timekeeper), featuring Jules Verne in a circle vision ride (1992–2005) and Space Mountain, de la Terre à la Lune, in its original version (1995–2005), based directly on From the Earth to the Moon in Discoveryland (the hub facing part of the Land features steampunk-related theming) at Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris) between 1992 and 2005

Other

  • Video games called Journey to the Center of the Earth: in 1984 by Ozisoft for the Commodore 64; in 1989 by Topo Soft for the ZX Spectrum and in 2003 by Frogwares.
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth game for Sega Genesis was planned but never released.
  • A board game adaptation of the book designed by Rüdiger Dorn was released by Kosmos in 2008.
  • Caedmon Records released an abridged recording of Journey to the Center of the Earth read by James Mason, in the 1960s.
  • Tom Baker was the reader for a recording released by Argo Records in 1977.
  • Jon Pertwee was the reader for a recording released by Pinnacle Records Storyteller in 1975.
  • In 2011, Audible released an unabridged "Signature Performance" reading of the book by Tim Curry.
  • 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.
    • Wakeman released a second concept album called Return to the Centre of the Earth in 1999. It tells the story of a later set of travelers attempting to repeat the original journey.
  • 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.
  • 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 Center 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 the book when 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 revealed that Dr. Brown's two sons are named Jules and Verne.
  • 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 takes 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."
  • Louis MacNeice's final play Persons from Porlock contains a reference to Journey to the Center of the Earth at the beginning. Because his mother used to read it aloud to him, Hank became fascinated with "caves and pot-holes and things". 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... Jules Verne invented me".
  • Halldór Laxness, the only Icelandic author to be awarded the Nobel Prize, set 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.
  • Norihiko Kurazono's Chitei Ryokou (地底旅行) is a manga adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth that was serialized in Comic Beam from 2015 to 2017.
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