There is perhaps no book I find more joy in revisiting than Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. I have seen every single film adaptation thereof, including the Brendan Fraser remake (both the regular and 3D version). As a child, I sometimes whispered the name Arne Saknussemm to myself when I was alone, as both a prayer and a talisman. I was bitterly disappointed when I learned in fourth-grade science class that the Hollow Earth Theory had been soundly disproved some hundred years earlier.
Journey has everything a book should have: giant mushroom forests, a ton of trilobytic fossils, dinosaur battles, underground oceans, mysterious chambers of light, boiling rivers, volcanos, a guy named Hans.
One thing that struck me about the book as a child, and continues to strike me now is how often the narrator passes out from hunger or exhaustion or shock. It seemed to me that as I cast my mind over the Victorian- and Regency-era adventure novels of my youth, the delicate male protagonists spent almost as much time drifting into unconsciousness as they did naming new species or describing what remained of their provisions. We may never know why men fainted so often in Victorian novels, but we can at least count how many times it happened. Therefore I have taken it upon myself to go back and record how often the heroes of my favorite science-fiction and adventure books pass out. The winner shall be awarded the Fainter’s Crown. Journey To the Center of the Earth seemed the perfect opening candidate; let us begin.
1. “I found the temperature to be stifling. I was paralyzed with fatigue. More than once I was about to fall insensible to the ground. The whole party then halted, and the worthy Icelander and my excellent uncle did their best to console and comfort me.”
2. “Suddenly I felt a deadly faintness come over me. My eyes could no longer see; my knees shook. I gave one despairing cry—and fell!
“Help, help, I am dying!”
My uncle turned and slowly retraced his steps. He looked at me with folded arms, and then allowed one sentence to escape, in hollow accents, from his lips:
“All is over.”
The last thing I saw was a face fearfully distorted with pain and sorrow; and then my eyes closed.”
3. “The moment at length came when, facing the solid rock, I knew my fate, and fell inanimate on the arid floor!”
4. “Several hours passed in this way. After a long time, having utterly exhausted my strength, I fell a heavy inert mass along the side of the tunnel, and lost consciousness.”
5. “I was first launched into a dark and gloomy void. I then struck against the projecting asperities of a vertical gallery, a perfect well. My head bounded against a pointed rock, and I lost all knowledge of existence. As far as I was concerned, death had claimed me for his own.”
6. “I was, if the truth were told, very weak indeed, and my eyes soon closed involuntarily.”
7. “I have just come out of a long fainting fit.”
8. “I felt myself precipitated violently into the boiling waves, and if I escaped from a certain and cruel death, it was wholly owing to the determination of the faithful Hans, who, clutching me by the arm, saved me from the yawning abyss. The courageous Icelander then carried me in his powerful arms, far out of the reach of the waves, and laid me down upon a burning expanse of sand, where I found myself some time afterwards in the company of my uncle, the Professor.”
9. “Then, like a child, I shut my eyes, that I might not see the darkness.
After a great lapse of time, the rapidity of our journey increased. I could feel it by the rush of air upon my face. The slope of the waters was excessive. I began to feel that we were no longer going down a slope; we were falling. I felt as one does in a dream, going down bodily—falling; falling; falling!…I lay in a stupor, a half dream, during which I saw visions of astounding character.”
10. “It was a harmless lizard, but it appeared to me a loathsome reptile. Again I made the old ruins resound with my cries, and finally so exhausted myself that I fainted.
How long I lay in a kind of trance or sleep I cannot say, but when again I recovered consciousness it was day.”
11. “By degrees my head, utterly overcome by a series of violent emotions, began to give way to hallucination. I was delirious. Had it not been for the powerful arms of Hans, the guide, I should have broken my head against the granite masses of the shaft.”
12. “I have a vague and confused remembrance of continual detonations, of the shaking of the huge granitic mass, and of the raft going round like a spinning top. It floated on the stream of hot lava, amidst a falling cloud of cinders. The huge flames roaring, wrapped us around.
A storm of wind which appeared to be cast forth from an immense ventilator roused up the interior fires of the earth. It was a hot, incandescent blast!
At last I saw the figure of Hans as if enveloped in the huge halo of burning blaze, and no other sense remained to me but that sinister dread which the condemned victim may be supposed to feel when led to the mouth of a cannon, at the supreme moment when the shot is fired and his limbs are dispersed into empty space.”
Number of confirmed fainting spells: Nine
Number of possible fainting spells: Three
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.