I must admit that I was originally drawn to this book by its most peculiar and fascinating title. A world at the center of the celestial sphere, reached only through some secret way, piqued my imagination. Also, I consider Jules Verne to be an excellent author, and I have been trying to read every book I could find by him, so it was a natural choice.
The book is presented in a first-person narrative form, from the perspective of a young man named Henry. He begins his tale by describing his uncle, who is very eccentric and has the queerest habits. He is extremely impatient and can come across as gruff at times, although he is, in reality, very kind and devoted to his nephew. This uncle is a great scientist and professor, and he loves old books.
The Uncle has just found a scrap of paper, engraved with Icelandic runes. The uncle immediately attempts to translate it. He enlists the help of his nephew in this task, who, after several hours spent on this task, finally cracks it. They find the name Arne Saknussemm on it, as well as these words: "Descend into the crater of Yocul of Sneffels, which the shade of Scartaris caresses, before the kalends of July, audacious traveler, and you will reach the center of the earth. I did it."
Because of his uncle's personality, Henry is at first afraid to show these words to his uncle, lest he decide to attempt such a voyage himself. Eventually, however, he does show them to him, and his fears are realized.
They start at once, leaving for Iceland the very next day. They spend several weeks traveling, and as these weeks are almost completely uneventful, I will skip ahead to when they reach Mt. Sneffels.
They have since hired a guide, to lead them to Mt. Sneffels, and this guide descends into the crater with them. His name is Hans, and the only peculiar or interesting thing about him is that he is extremely unemotional.
These three climb down the inner face of the crater, finally reaching the bottom. There they find several tunnels. The uncle chooses the tunnel he thinks best, but want of water drives them to choose another one. The break open an underground stream, which supplies their needs for some time.
Even just thinking about reading the chapters detailing their underground trip wearies me, as it was rather dry.
Finally they have reached a vast underground ocean, where they build a raft of semi- petrified wood, and begin a long sea voyage. They witness a fight between two vast sea monsters, and are caught in a gigantic storm which sends them back to where they started. Harry and his uncle are greatly discouraged at this, until they find the fossils and skeletons of many creatures, including, to their great surprise, the remains of a human.
The uncle finds the way by which Arne Saknussemm reached the center of the earth, but it is now blocked by a great boulder. They attempt to blow it up using the supply of gun-cotton that was brought with them, but the blast accidentally initiates an earthquake. The vast underwater sea is drained out through a hole caused by the earthquake, and they go down with it. Eventually, all three people(and their raft) are blown up a volcanic shaft on the island of Stromboli, where they return to civilization.
The professor and Henry are hailed as scientific heroes after they tell their fantastic story. Henry gets happily married. Hans goes home to Iceland. Everybody's happy.
I personally was slightly disappointed with the outcome of everything, especially the implausibility of being blown up a volcano and surviving, but it is faster paced than some of Verne's other books, and I would highly recommend it. It might not be up to the level of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it is definitely a classic.