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A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Jules Verne

Date of publication: 1864

The story involves a professor who leads his nephew and hired guide down a volcano in Iceland to the "center of the Earth". They encounter many adventures, including prehistoric animals and natural hazards, eventually coming to the surface again in southern Italy. From a scientific point of view, this story has not aged quite as well as other Verne stories, since most of his ideas about what the interior of the Earth contains have since been proven wrong. However, a redeeming point to the story is Verne's own belief, told within the novel from the viewpoint of a character, that the inside of the Earth does indeed differ from that which the characters encounter.


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. While looking through the book, Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel find a coded note written in runic script. (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.

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 accidentally discovers the code when fanning himself with the parchment, realizing that the letters simply have to be read backwards to reveal sentences written in rough Latin. Axel decides to keep the secret hidden from Professor Lidenbrock, 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. The message reads (when reflected in a mirror):

The Runic cryptogram."In Sneffels Joculis craterem quem delibat Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende, Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges. Quod feci, Arne Saknussemm"
which, when translated into English, reads:

"Descend, bold traveler, into the crater of the jokul of Sneffels, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the calendas of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth; I have done this, Arne Saknussemm"

(From Wikipedia, description text under GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL))

Project Gutenberg Edition

Free ebook in HTML format - 536 Kb - 139 pages

Main topics: abyss, adventure, discovery, terror, eccentricity, giant, man, sea, monster, road, storm, earth, volcano, travel.

Full original french version also available:
Voyage au centre de la Terre


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