Journey to the Center of the Earth Online

Jules Verne, author of Journey to the Center of the Earth, wrote 54 novels altogether as well as many other short stories and plays, but few if any of these have remained in contemporary consciousness so well as Journey. Growing up in France, Verne’s imagination was sparked by the constant presence of ships navigating the Loire River. Even during his childhood, Verne had a particular affinity for exploration and travel, concepts which would limit certain areas of his life and, to the benefit of a worldwide literary community, enhance others. At 34, Verne would write Journey to the Center of the Earth, one of his most successful tomes, and would continue to write with great success until his death at the age of 77.

Journey to the Center of the Earth begins in Hamburg, Germany, and features Professor Lidenbrock, who, along with his nephew Axel, finds and translates a hidden message in a newly purchased book. The message tells the reader that by descending into a particular Icelandic volcano, one will be able to reach the center of the earth. Professor Lidenbrock takes the reluctant Axel with him to Iceland and, with the help of their guide Hans Bjelke, they find the crater into which they are supposed to descend. What follows is a series of events ranging from the discovery of prehistoric life, such as dinosaurs and gigantic insects, still alive and well this deep underground, large caverns full of combustible gas, and a great underground ocean. Overcoming this and more, including two instances during which Axel almost dies, the group is unexpectedly swept by the sea up and out of the center of the Earth, expelled out of the side vent of a volcano in Sicily.

The most common interpretation of the book is that it is an allegory for going deep within the unconscious self. Within this line of thought, there are certain conclusions which can be made about the human psyche according to Verne. The way to the center of the Earth was revealed when, after several days of cloud cover, the sun appeared from behind them to shed light upon the situation, perhaps a metaphor for the difficulty of gaining access to the unconscious self. Then, as the men made their way deeper below the surface, danger upon danger was thrown at them, and only deep thought and decisive action could overcome these obstacles. Finally coming to conclusions about the beginning of Man (which can be read as the origin of the self) they are expelled from the most inner reaches of Earth and escape as better men. 

Journey to the Center of the Earth is, unlike some of Verne’s other famous works, based on fundamentally flawed science and therefore has not done as much as his other works to advance his undeniable reputation as a visionary. Whereas works like From the Earth to the Moon saw, along with understandably mistaken notions of the future, some remarkably visionary concepts and calculations, the same cannot be said for Journey to the Center of Earth, though it was and still remains one of his most read works for its literary value. 

Verne wrote during a time when geologists had just begun rejecting the Biblical account of the creation of Earth, and were positing theories as to what might be at the Earth’s center. Much of his science reflected the Hollow Earth hypothesis, which suggested the center of the Earth was surrounded by a shell 800 km in diameter, and Edmund Halley, an English astronomer and geophysicist, suggested that this large core (approximately the diameter of Venus, Mars, and Mercury) was separated by individual atmospheres, illuminated, and possibly inhabited. Journey to the Center of the Earth was also inspired by the work of Charles Lyell, who posited that the origins of human existence extended back beyond the end of the last Ice Age.

In reality, the Hollow Earth hypothesis, according to modern science, was fundamentally though not entirely wrong. The inner Earth is made of different layers, but that is basically the only similarity between the hypothesis and the actual structure of the earth, as these layers are actually composed of either solid or molten materials and are entirely uninhabitable. It is today believed that the Earth is made of the crust (0-40 km), upper mantle (40-400 km), transition region (400-650 km), lower mantle (650-2700 km), D layer (2700-2890 km), outer core (2890-5150 km), and inner core (5150-6378 km). It is believed that every layer above the outer core is solid, and that the inner core is a place of such intense pressure as to turn molten rock solid.

Further Information

Teacher's Guide (PDF) – A guide to teaching the Signet edition of Journey.

Summary and Pre-Reading Questions – Get students ready to read this classic.

A Virtual Journey to the Center of the Earth – What if you actually could travel to the Earth’s core?

Lesson Plans – A complete resource to help you teach the book chapter by chapter.

Jules Verne: The Father of Science Fiction? – What is Jules Verne’s legacy in contemporary fiction?

The North American Jules Verne Society – Check out what work is still being done to spread understanding of Verne’s work.

Jules Verne FAQ (PDF) – Answers to the most frequently asked questions about Jules Verne.

Online Text (PDF) – A complete edition of Journey online.

The Impact of Verne – A pictorial guide through eight modern inventions first conceived of by Verne.

PART 2 - Journey to the Center of the Earth Online

Jules Verne’s vision of the center of the Earth in Journey to the Center of the Earth was, we now know, based on fundamentally flawed science. Rather than the Earth being hollow, illuminated, and inhabited, modern science has concluded that the Earth is comprised of molten (liquid) and solid materials and is patently uninhabitable. But how exactly is the Earth constructed?

The Earth is made of many distinct layers, each with its own set of characteristics separating it from the other layers. These layers are, from the innermost to the outermost:

  • Inner Core
  • Outer Core
  • D Layer
  • Lower Mantle
  • Transition Region
  • Upper Mantle
  • Crust

The Crust

The Earth’s crust is like the skin of the Earth. It is extremely thin when compared to other layers at only 3-5 miles (8 km) beneath the oceans and 25 miles (32 km) under land masses. There is great variation within the Earth’s crust concerning temperature, as at the outermost layer, the layer upon which we stand, is at air temperature whereas at its deepest depths the crust is believed to measure somewhere around 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. The crust is made up of many different plates which float atop the mantle, and these plates usually float and move slowly and smoothly, but every once in a while, the pressure builds up and the resulting event is felt as an earthquake at the surface.

Don't Eat the Crust! – More information about the layer of the Earth we live on.

The Upper Mantle

The upper mantle is a relatively large sheet of material found about between 25 miles (32 km) and 254 miles (410 km) below the Earth’s crust. Based on volcanic expeditions and monitoring seismic activity (meaning how much the Earth at this layer moves and shakes) it is believed that this layer is made of mostly rigid rock, though it is believed that the deepest depths of this layer features molten rock as well.

Science Monster – A cool site with tons of information about science! This page is about the upper and lower mantle, and even has information about the Earth’s core.

Transition Region

From about 250-400 miles (400-650 km) below the surface, the transition region, or mesosphere, makes up 7.5 percent of the Earth’s mass. It is made of mostly calcium, aluminum, and garnet, and is dense when cold and light when hot.

Lower Mantle

Not as much is known about the lower mantle as the upper because we have not yet come close to being able to take physical measurements of the region. It is thought to be made up of mostly silicon, oxygen, and magnesium, and can be found 406 to 1806 miles (650 to 2890 km) below the surface. That means, if you wanted to walk from where you are to the bottom of the Earth’s lower mantle, it would take you almost 2 weeks! And that’s if you never stopped walking! The way scientists come to any conclusions about the Earth’s layers this far in actually by studying things in outer space, like the sun and meteorites.

A River of Rock – How does what happens in the mantle affect what we feel on the crust?

The D Layer

The D layer is a relatively thin part of the mantle-crust that is about 125 to 188 miles (200-300 km) thick and makes up about 3 percent of the Earth’s mass, or weight. Scientists are unsure yet whether this layer is actually its own layer or part of the lower mantle, but based on their research, the general thought is that it is chemically different from the lower mantle.

The Outer Core

Found about 1800 miles (2,890 km) below the surface of the Earth, the outer core is made of liquid iron and nickel. The temperature in the outer core range from 7952 degrees Fahrenheit (4400 Celsius) to 11,012 degrees Fahrenheit (6100 Celsius). To put that into some perspective, sword makers get steel to a piping hot about 1500 degrees Fahrenheit before they could form it! This is the layer of the Earth that creates our magnetic field, which is the only reason we are protected from most of the sun’s harmful UV rays, which are the kinds of rays that give you sunburn. Some scientists even think the loss of the liquid outer core is what happened to Mars, which they say might have looked a lot like Earth trillions of years ago.

Visit the Outer Core – What is it like this deep below the surface?

The Inner Core

The Earth’s inner core is the deepest layer of the planet, and is actually a solid, which might need some explanation because it is almost as hot as the sun at 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit (5505 Celsius). Usually, anything that hot will either melt down to liquid or vaporize (turn into a gas) immediately. That’s not the case, though, with the iron-nickel alloy that makes up most of the Earth’s core, because there is so much pressure this deep below ground that the core cannot melt. Pressure this great does not allow things to melt, which is why scientists believe that even the sun has a solid core. 

How do Scientists Know What is in the Core? – They’ve never been there, so how can scientists say they know what’s in the Earth’s core?

More Information

Virtual Journey to the Center of the Earth – People have already mined as deep into the Earth as human beings can go, but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to know more.
The Earth's Structure – From the core to the sun and moon, learn how everything works together to make our home!
See Inside the Earth – Just click a button to take a chunk out of our planet and see how it works.
Plates on the Move – The Earth’s crust actually floats. Find out how.
What is an Earthquake? – Where do earthquakes start, and what causes them?