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Journey to the Center of the Earth

Jules Verne

  Journey to the Center of the Earth

  Journey to the Center of the Earth

  Jules Verne

  This edition published by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

  1994 Barnes & Noble Books

  ISBN 0-7607-9840-0



  I My Uncle Makes a Great Discovery

  II The Mysterious Parchment

  III An Astounding Discovery

  IV We Start on the Journey

  V First Lessons in Climbing

  VI Our Voyage to Iceland

  VII Conversation and Discovery

  VIII The Eider-Down Hunter—Off at Last

  IX Our Start—We Meet with Adventures by the Way

  X Traveling in Iceland—The Lepers

  XI We Reach Mount Sneffels—The "Reykir"

  XII The Ascent of Mount Sneffels

  XIII The Shadow of Scartaris

  XIV The Real Journey Commences

  XV We Continue Our Descent

  XVI The Eastern Tunnel

  XVII Deeper and Deeper—The Coal Mine

  XVIII The Wrong Road!

  XIX The Western Gallery—A New Route

  XX Water, Where is It? A Bitter Disappointment

  XXI Under the Ocean

  XXII Sunday below Ground

  XXIII Alone

  XXIV Lost!

  XXV The Whispering Gallery

  XXVI A Rapid Recovery

  XXVII The Central Sea

  XXVIII Launching the Raft

  XXIX On the Waters—A Raft Voyage

  XXX Terrific Saurian Combat

  XXXI The Sea Monster

  XXXII The Battle of the Elements

  XXXIII Our Route Reversed

  XXXIV A Voyage of Discovery

  XXXV Discovery upon Discovery

  XXXVI What is It?

  XXXVII The Mysterious Dagger

  XXXVIII No Outlet—Blasting the Rock

  XXXIX The Explosion and Its Results

  XL The Ape Gigans

  XLI Hunger

  XLII The Volcanic Shaft

  XLIII Daylight at Last

  XLIV The Journey Ended


  American children growing up in the years following World War II had ample occasion to become aware of Jules Verne. Thanks to his prophetic novels From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, his name was indissolubly linked to space travel, the great scientific project of that day. Abridgments and comic book versions of his books abounded, and following the lead of Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days (1956), filmmakers mined his work enthusiastically, turning out in rapid succession From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), The Mysterious Island (1961), Master of the World (1961), Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), and In Search of the Castaways (1962, based on The Children of Captain Grant). Like television adventure serials or DC comics, Verne's work was the exclusive cultural property of children. If adults thought of him at all, it was as a strictly subliterary phenomenon, a constructor of clever but mechanistic boys' adventures who had fortuitously earned a footnote in the history of technology: he had "foreseen" submarines, high-speed modern travel, the exploration of space.

  That was the Verne I absorbed with more or less enthusiasm at an early age, without having had to read a single one of his books in its original form. It was with some surprise that a few years later I came upon a different and unexpected Verne. In 1966, the French publisher Livre de Poche began an ambitious project of reissuing a series of Verne's novels in paperback, accompanied by their original illustrations. The paperbacks' striking cover designs interpolated cut-outs from those engravings—figures of impeccable 19th-century voyagers decked out in top hats, canes, and exquisitely trimmed moustaches—into contemporary color photographs of appropriate natural settings: sea, sky, cavern, harbor, jungle, mountain, glacier. Drawn mostly by the cover, I picked up Journey to the Center of the Earth and read it in a single night, entranced above all by the inexorable rhythms of Verne's storytelling voice.

  The Livre de Poche covers turned out to be an elegant statement about Verne's aesthetic. Splicing fictitious beings into actual places is his fundamental gesture, a collision that implies others: of dream with waking life, of myth with history, of theater with politics, of magic with science. The substrata through which his subterranean explorers crawl are as real as Verne can make them, a realness certified by an impressive display of scientific terminology. The explorers themselves, by contrast, are puppet figures, and not in any pejorative sense: they have the facile energy and acrobatic grace of performers in the opera comique where he labored for years as playwright and librettist before succeeding as a novelist. Verne assumes many roles—scientist, geographer, historian, political polemicist, effusive tour guide, romantic contemplator of the cosmos—but it is the unredeemed vaudevillian in him that keeps his books moving inexhaustibly along.

  As Livre de Poche continued to reissue those works, it became clear that Verne's oeuvre was considerably more extensive and varied than most English-language readers realized. His life work, grouped under the rubric Extraordinary Voyages, began its trajectory in 1863 with Five Weeks in a Balloon, written when Verne was already thirty-five and had behind him a long, largely unsuccessful career as playwright and magazine writer; and it continued through sixty-four more novels and story collections, the last published in 1919, fourteen years after Verne's death. It was a project that in its playful fashion embodied the impulses of a half-century of European expansionism in high gear. The voluminousness of Verne's output corresponds to an unbridled spatial reach: around the moon and off on a comet, under the sea and around the world, and into every corner of the globe. The Voyages contain novels set in India (The Steam House), China (The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China), Russia (Michael Strogoff), Greece (The Archipelago On Fire), Turkey (Kereban the Inflexible), Ireland (Foundling Mick), Scotland (The Green Ray), the Gobi Desert (Claudius Bombarnac), the Sahara (The Invasion of the Sea), South Africa (The Southern Star), Brazil (The Jangada), Canada (Family Without a Name, whose liberationist sentiments continue to make it a rallying point for Quebec Libre partisans), and the United States (the Civil War novel North Against South and the remarkable political fantasy The Begum's Fortune, which pits a French utopia against a German dystopia in the wilds of Oregon): not to mention the ice floes of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, an assortment of far-flung islands, and a number of entirely man-made environments, airborne, afloat, or sunk among the underground networks of an abandoned colliery.

  Taken together the novels constitute a 19th-century Book of Knowledge, an encyclopedia of geographic, scientific, and historical monuments, factoids, and stereotypes, methodically laid out like an immense relief map: a map with little people roaming among the landmarks, pausing to smoke under an explication of geology or geography, achieving their melodramatic itineraries by means of elaborately explicated technology either just invented or just about to be invented, or engaging in a life-and-death pursuit in between paragraphs on the discovery of Australia, the opium trade, or the disposition of vowels and consonants in Old Icelandic.

  As French scholars have pointed out in tireless detail, it is also an encyclopedia of political concepts jostling each other with their contradictions intact, the conservatism and prejudice of the bourgeois householder side by side with a romantic sympathy for oppressed nationalities, remnants of Saint-Simonian utopianism, visions of future technocratic states, and bursts of the mysterious anarchic rebellion most powerfully expressed in the figure of Captain Nemo.

  Verne's literary ambitions were high, nurtured by a d
eep admiration for Scott, Dumas, Cooper, Defoe, Dickens, Balzac, Sterne, and (crucially) Poe. The only ornaments in his workroom were busts of Molière and Shakespeare. One of his great achievements (which has hitherto tended to elude translation) is a magnificently supple prose style which can accommodate lyrical rhapsody and technical explanation, absurdist comedy and methodical political analysis, frantic action sequences and lush and langorously extended descriptive passages. Nothing is out of place because, after all, it is a model of the whole world that he is constructing: a model, potentially, of all the worlds, "known and unknown," as the series' subtitle proclaimed.

  Roland Barthes defined Verne's motive force as the will to appropriate, and indeed his protagonists' overriding goal is to learn how to use the world, how to master and exploit the material universe while remaining in control and protected from its dangers. The travelers in The Steam House traverse India in a lavishly appointed, steam-driven house on wheels, so that they can survey the terrors and mysteries of the jungle while calmly sipping tea and reading the newspaper. The luxuriously appointed drawing room which constitutes the interior of the space capsule in From the Earth to the Moon anticipates not so much the realities of NASA space capsules as the psychic space of modern motel chains.

  The Vernian hero creates a private world within the world, of which the supreme example is Nemo's Nautilus, a self-sufficient mobile home equipped with the best in literature and music and art, and invulnerable to penetration from outside. Nemo, its captain and inventor, is at once Verne's supreme creation and a figure standing in dark and singular contrast to his other characters, the isolated genius who will not play ball, the misanthropic freedom fighter almost indifferent to the fate of the humanity he wishes to save. He enjoys perfect freedom under the sign of his slogan "Mobilis in Mobili" ("mobile in the mobile element," or, perhaps, "go with the flow"): but his freedom is exacted at the cost of uncompromising isolation.

  Verne's favorite books were Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson, novels in which castaways create micro-societies superior in many ways to the larger society from which they have been separated. The fascination this theme exerted on him finds its fullest expression in The Mysterious Island, a primal epic enabling him to plot a rebuilding of the world from scratch. It is symbolically appropriate that Lincoln Island's settlers, who devote all their efforts to outward expansion in a spirit of teamwork, should find their destiny linked ultimately with that of the dying Captain Nemo, whose life has been dedicated to the creation of a miniaturized, solitary, hermetically sealed universe. The gulf between the hearty cameraderie of the pioneers and the isolated superiority of the embittered genius is the geography that The Mysterious Island seeks to chart with its fictional coordinates. The island here is far more than setting; it is an entity far more alive than the people who inhabit it, because it incorporates all their contradictory energies and impulses. Its peaks and caves and subterranean channels exist to provide a unified resolution for human turbulence.

  For a writer whose ostensible theme is human mastery over the planet, Verne's characters are dwarfed to a large degree by their surroundings. The real protagonist of Journey to the Center of the Earth (and this is the book's originality) is the geological substratum. The professor and his associates are not so much characters as fellow readers; we advance through the book's prose as if it embodied the rock through which they thread their path. Likewise, in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the very pages seem steeped in water; from page to page we glide through a teeming natural paradise which Verne's prose represents as a subaqueous jungle of scientific nomenclature, a kind of concrete poetry. His planet is language: it's in the primal material of prose that he goes digging for his lost worlds.

  The characters can hardly compete with language and geography. They are toy people running mad races in their balloons and railroads, pathetically tiny by comparison with the oceans and mountain ranges they must contend with. They don't have psychology; they have tics, wardrobes, schedules, methods, projects. They have names, and what names: Nemo, Arronax, Gideon Spillett, Phileas Fogg. Yet however helpless they may appear, they are determined to make an impact on their physical surroundings. They are heroic or obsessive: or, not infrequently, heroic through obsession, possessed by the absurd perseverance of the scholar or the explorer or the avenging outlaw.

  Consider only Phileas Fogg of Around the World in 80 Days, that ultimate control freak narrowing space and time down to their minutest units of measurement, reducing the earth itself to a hotel or train station set aside for his convenience. Oddly imperturbable in the heart of his own mania, he moves with the calm of a surrealist through every catastrophe, and of course triumphs in the end through an elegant conjunction of coincidences. Professor Lidenbrock1 in Journey to the Center of the Earth is the absent-minded professor of popular humor, but his fever to descend is anything but a joke; his path leads into visions of horrifying desolation, darkness, silence, culminating in his nephew Axel's dream of immense geological epochs, "the great and wondrous series of terrestrial transformations" in which rocks melt, oceans boil away, and the earth evaporates into a cloud of gas.

  The cozy bourgeois interiors where Verne's characters feel so much at home open onto sudden dizzying perspectives: the geological epochs glimpsed by Axel in his reverie, the undersea Atlantean ruins and polar maelstroms to which the Nautilus provides access, the frenzy of mechanized high-speed travel to which life is reduced by the voyage of Phileas Fogg. If Cyrus Harding of The Mysterious Island is Verne's supreme heroic figure—the engineer as organizer of reality, calm and penetrating—it is because only his sort of phlegmatic practicality can come to grips with a situation of absolute deprivation and abandonment.

  Verne's idealization of Harding could not be more serious; but if he takes pride in delineating the patriarchal and colonizing culture which Harding will plant on Lincoln Island, he is also the barely concealed caricaturist of that culture. Sancho to his own Quixote, he undermines the monuments he so conscientiously erects. There is no certainty that is not undermined, no note of strident grandiloquence that does not have its ironic or sardonic counterpoint. The heroic scientist and the mad scientist stare each other down; the clownish servants cast the pretensions of their masters in a ridiculous light; the sweet humor of the happy endings curdles under the influence of apocalyptic forebodings.

  Phileas Fogg's voyage is the trajectory of the industrial West abstracted into farce; only the films of Buster Keaton offer a comparable mix of melancholy and precision and abrupt heartless cataclysm. All the bubbly tricks that Verne acquired from the opera comique serve here, as elsewhere, as a sort of anti-gravity device cushioning the very real brutality implied by his fictions. His reservoirs of optimistic exclamation, his unlimited capacity to enlarge on his faith in progress: these are like the twirled cane or the flower in the lapel, the boulevardier's tokens of good form. The consummate showman, he delivers all that his age expects in the way of grand tour, hall of waxworks, geographical survey of the known universe, cyclorama of scientific marvels. One should not be fooled. Beneath the optimism there are deeper reservoirs of sadness. He knows how badly things can go wrong, understands the power of the machines even before they have been invented. The oceanic creatures observed by the passengers of the Nautilus little suspect how ill Nemo's technology bodes for them, but Verne is already remarking—in the margins, as it were—on the human capacity to provoke extinctions.

  Whatever nostalgia Verne may evoke, it is not simple: his Eden is complex, his desert island already carries within its limits the seeds of a future world. Verne is not so much scientific forecaster—indeed most of the notions he plays with were already in circulation in one form or another—as he is prophet of the future of his own stories: as if, even as he told the tale, it foreshadowed what it would one day become. His structures are so cunningly built that they have room even for what he did not put in them. The toys in his box of marvels are like miniaturized versions of other novels, perhaps
darker and more disturbing, that he did not write but which he makes it possible to imagine. What more can one ask for from any toy?

  —Geoffrey O'Brien


  1 In most English-language editions of Verne's novel, the names of Professor Lidenbrock and Axel have been changed to Professor von Hardwigg and Harry.

  | Go to Contents |

  Journey to the Center of the Earth


  My Uncle Makes a Great Discovery

  Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.

  My uncle was a German, having married my mother's sister, an Englishwoman. Being very much attached to his fatherless nephew, he invited me to study under him in his home in the fatherland. This home was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.

  One day, after passing some hours in the laboratory—my uncle being absent at the time—I suddenly felt the necessity of renovating the tissues—i.e., I was hungry, and was about to rouse up our old French cook, when my uncle, Professor Von Hardwigg, suddenly opened the street door, and came rushing upstairs.

  Now Professor Hardwigg, my worthy uncle, is by no means a bad sort of man; he is, however, choleric and original. To bear with him means to obey; and scarcely had his heavy feet resounded within our joint domicile than he shouted for me to attend upon him.


  I hastened to obey, but before I could reach his room, jumping three steps at a time, he was stamping his right foot upon the landing.

  "Harry!" he cried, in a frantic tone, "are you coming up?"