Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth Summary and Analysis of Chapters 28-35

Chapter 28

Axel wakes up and realizes that he has lost a lot of blood. He regrets his madness and begins to slip back into unconsciousness. Suddenly he hears a loud noise that he cannot decipher. He then hears murmuring voices but cannot make them out. To his relief, he finally recognizes the voices as those of his uncle and Hans.

Axel speaks along the side of the gallery because, in this manner, his voice will carry. He and Lidenbrock connect with this acoustic effect, but there are long stretches between speaking and hearing. They figure out that they are about four miles apart. Lidenbrock instructs Axel to head down. The slope is so steep that he falls.

Chapter 29

When Axel awakens, Hans and Lidenbrock are there. Lidenbrock tells Axel to sleep, and Axel gratefully does so. When he finally regains his consciousness definitively, he is confused because he appears to discern daylight and the sounds of waves and wind. He wonders whether the explorers have returned to the surface and becomes extremely happy.

Axel's uncle prepares food for him and smilingly entertains his nephew’s questions. He mentions that their route will involve a crossing; Axel is astonished and wonders if there is a lake, a river, or a sea ahead of him.

Chapter 30

Now somewhat renewed, Axel cannot believe his eyes. Before him stretches a vast sea, with waves breaking on the shore. There is a light wind and spray hits his face. The light seems to be of electrical origin and is “like an aurora borealis, a continuous cosmic phenomenon, filling this cavern big enough to hold an ocean” (138). The sky seems filled with clouds but there is no sun, of course. Axel wonders what kind of geological event could explain this hollow. He cannot find the words to express his wonderment.

Lidenbrock asks Axel to walk a bit and Axel sees that the Hans-Bach is melting into the sea.

Axel also sees in the distance a huge forest comprised of massive mushrooms, which have grown large due to heat and humidity. Other vegetation reveals itself as Axel and Lidenbrock walk. It is the flora of the Secondary Period, the Transition Era. Axel calls this environment a hothouse and Lidenbrock adds that it is a menagerie on account of all the bones of animals scattered on the ground. Axel finds the lower jawbone of a mastodon, wondering how quadrupeds came to be under the Earth. Lidenbrock replies that the soil they have found is sedimentary. Axel becomes unnerved because he suspects that one of these animals might still be around. After a time, though, it becomes clear that the men are the only living creatures in this subterranean world.

Chapter 31

Axel asks if the influences of the sun and moon can be felt as far under the Earth as he is, and Lidenbrock replies that these influences can. He also wonders how far they are from Iceland and learns that they are 880 miles away, roughly 87 miles under the surface. There is a point of magnetic attraction that lies between the surface of the Earth and point that the expedition has reached.

Axel inquires whether his uncle plans to go back up to the surface. The older man laughs and says that the exploration must go on; there will no doubt be an exit from under the ocean on the opposite shore. Lidenbrock estimates that he is facing an eighty mile-wide sea.

Hans is building a raft from the petrified wood that lies in the forest. It is ten feet long and five feet across, bound tightly with rope.

Chapter 32

The provisions are loaded onto the raft and the men embark. Lidenbrock decides to call their location “Port Grauben,” a gesture which touches Axel deeply.

The coastline disappears. Voluminous clouds fill the air, manifesting a silvery light. Massive, thousand-foot long algae formations cover the surface of the water.

Axel is in charge of the ship’s log and writes down the day’s occurrences and observations. On Friday, August 14th, he notes that the adventurers found a fish for the first time. It looked like a sturgeon but was completely blind. They realize that the sea may well be full of fossil species.

Axel wonders if he may come across more fantastic saurian creatures. His mind begins to wander and he fashions a dreamscape of extinct animals and immense birds. The world is hot, full of vegetation. The centuries pass quickly in his mind as evolution occurs. Waters flow and boil, vapor covers the Earth, and heat bakes the planet. He grows feverish and hears his uncle’s voice telling him not to fall overboard. As it turns out, Axel's hallucination had made him unconscious of time and space.

Chapter 33

On Saturday, August 15th, everything is dull and monotonous. Axel’s head smarts from his dream of the day before. His uncle seems fretful, annoyed. The sea is much larger than the men had anticipated and Lidenbrock has no interest in wondering whether or not Saknussemm made it along this way.

The next day, Axel continues to marvel at the infinite stretch of the sea; it could be as wide as the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, he muses. His uncle tries to sound the water; to their discomfort they see the sounding device emerge with the teeth marks of some huge creature indented in it.

One day after this event, Axel ruminates on the antediluvian animals of the Secondary Period, remembering how giant reptiles held sway in the sea. He shudders, thinking of the skeleton specimens in museums. He wishes that his uncle had not sounded the sea because it seems that they might have disturbed a powerful creature.

On Tuesday the raft finds itself in the middle of a terrifying fight between two of these very creatures: an ichthyosaurus, which resembles a whale, and a plesiosaurus, which looks like a serpent. The massive aquatic animals thrash and fight while the men on the raft try to keep stable. Finally, the ichthyosaurus is victorious, and the water quiets as this creature dives back into the depths.

Chapter 34

The voyage is once again dull and unchanging, until the men see a massive creature with a blowhole in the distance. This animal is stunningly large, massive beyond all comprehension. Finally, though, they realize that they have actually spotted an island and laugh in relief. The blowhole is a geyser, spewing out water of intense heat. Lidenbrock and his companions have covered 1,550 miles from Iceland and are now under Britain.

After a brief sojourn on the island, the explorers decide that it is time to depart again.

Chapter 35

Axel begins to intuit that the weather is changing. The clouds are fat and fluffy, but as they go higher they become darker. The air is full of moisture and electricity; Axel's hair even stands on end. There is a deep silence and the wind falls, as though Nature herself is dead. The sails on the raft are loose, but Lidenbrock advises not to take them down because wind may propel the raft forward.

Suddenly, the air swirls into a vacuum created by the condensation and a storm shatters the silence. It becomes dark and the waves rise and fall, the raft hurtling up and down. The clouds explode open, hail falls, and lightning and thunder rend the sky.

The storm does not calm down all night. The noise is unceasing; the men cannot manage to talk to each other. The air only grows hotter.

Fatigue plagues Axel and the other adventurers as the storm continues unabated. They lash down all their provisions, and secure themselves. A massive disc of fire appears by the raft and destroys the mast and sail. The electric globe almost breaks on the men but they are spared. It does, however, magnetize everything on board. Moments later it bursts and flames cover the raft. The raft is sent speeding along. Axel believes that their route must have gone under Britain and France. A noise of the sea breaking on rocks is heard.


It is fair to say that in these chapters Verne is, to use a colloquialism, firing on all cylinders. The account of Axel’s solitary, frightened wanderings in the bowels of the Earth is a paragon of adventure writing, as is the mood of taut terror Verne fashions in order to set up and then unleash the storm upon our unwitting travelers. The perils that Lidenbrock, Axel, and Hans have faced prior to this point pale in comparison with being lost in dark tunnels without a lamp, sailing close to two monstrous prehistoric sea monsters fighting to the death, and enduring an otherworldly storm of unfathomable intensity. While the lack of water that presented itself as the primary obstacle in earlier stages was certainly dire, this danger was a result of Lidenbrock’s stubbornness; here, the perils are fully a part of the environment itself and are thus arguably more dangerous and terrifying.

These chapters include a few interesting allusions to the prevailing 19th century views on evolution and creation. In his notes to the text, scholar William Butcher provides analysis of a few of Verne’s comments. First, as Axel muses in his daydream, “The whole fossil world relives in my imagination. I am going back to the biblical ages of the Creation, long before man was born, when the incomplete Earth was not yet ready for him (154-55). Butcher explains that “this is the clearest indication of Verne’s (and the mid-19th century’s) last-ditch attempt to reconcile science and the literal truth of Genesis: by admitting that the Earth existed long before man, but with each of the six ‘days’ of Creation being in fact an ‘age’.”

This topic arises again when Axel says, “It now seems very probably that this sea contains only fossil species—in which both fish and reptiles alike are more perfect the longer ago they were created” (151); modern creatures are “but feeble reductions of their fathers of the first age” (156). Butcher explains that these remarks espouse “the creationist view held that positive evolution was not possible, only comparatively minor degradations or regressions: psychologically, this may be interpreted as consonant with a pre-Freudian inferiority complex with respect to one’s forefathers.”

Journey is a work, then, that straddles many different worlds. Critic Timothy Unwin notes that this text’s claim to fiction is complicated by its profusion of scientific detail: “This may not be science fiction in the sense of speculative, futuristic writing, but it is scientific fiction, in other words fiction that is accompanied by, and sometimes overtaken by, science.” Verne is willing to convey knowledge without concern for the narrative; some of his information is extraneous, tangential. The author himself was quoted in an interview in 1902 as saying that “Novels are no longer necessary, and even now their worth and their interest are on the decline.” He saw journalism as better able to convey the realities of the world, but what is interesting about this perspective (according to Unwin) is that Verne places little emphasis on the novel’s role in terms of developing character; he always conceives of it as a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge.

Of course, Verne still wanted his work to be seen as literature, a motive which no doubt explains why he peppered his work with multiple references to Virgil and Shakespeare, and borrowed liberally and conspicuously from writers closer to his own era. Unwin notes that there is the sense that “this author is hobnobbing with the great writers of history and modernity, but also the impression that he is consciously weaving his individual path through the intertexts of literary history, and like his near contemporary Flaubert, making a modernist statement about the collapsing relationship between writing and rewriting.”