The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, by Ludvig Holberg

Ludvig Holberg

Baron of Holberg (December 3, 1684 – January 28, 1754) was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright. He was born in Bergen, Norway, during the time of the Dano-Norwegian double monarchy, but spent most of his adult life in Denmark. Holberg's works about natural and common law were widely read by many Danish law students over two hundred years, from 1736 to 1936.

Today, both Norway and Denmark claim him as theirs.

Bibliography (selected)

Comedies

  • Den Politiske Kandestøber, 1722 (The Political Tinker / The Pewterer turned Politician)
  • Den Vægelsindede, 1722 (The Waverer / The Weathercock)
  • Jeppe paa Bjerget eller den forvandlede Bonde, 1722 (Jeppe of the Hill, or The Transformed Peasant)
  • Mester Gert Westphaler, 1722 (Gert Westphaler)
  • Ulysses von Ithacia, 1723 (Ulysses of Ithaca)
  • Erasmus Montanus eller Rasmus Berg, 1723 (Erasmus Montanus or Rasmus Berg)
  • Den Stundesløse, 1723 (The Fidget)
  • Hexerie eller Blind Allarm, 1723 (Witchcraft or False Alert)
  • Mascarade, 1724 (Masquerade)
  • Diderich Menschenskraek, 1724 (Diderich the Terrible)
  • Henrich og Pernille, 1724-1726 (Henrik and Pernille)
  • Sganarels Rejse til det philosophiske Land, publ. 1754 (Sganarel's Journey to the Land of the Philosophers)

Novels

  • Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum, 1741. (Niels Klims underjordiske Rejse.) (Niels Klim's Underground Travels or Nicolai Klimii's subterranean Journey or The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground)
Ludvig Holberg

The Danish-Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg, (born Bergen, Norway 1684, died Sorø, Denmark 1754) was a prolific and entertaining writer, famous mostly for his extremely amusing, divine comedies (Jeppe on the Hill and Erasmus Montanus are probably the best known). However, he also wrote a story that may be considered one of the first science fiction novels ever, and which made him famous all over Europe upon its publication.

This was The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, originally published in Leipzig in Latin in 1741. The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground is a classic in speculative fiction and was the first fully realized novel set underground in a hollow earth.

It is easy to think that science fictionThe Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, by Ludvig Holberg is a genre of very recent origins, but that is not correct. Just to name a few, in classical literature we have such works as Johannes Kepler's Somnium (The Dream, 1634), Cyrano de Bergerac's Voyages to the Moon and the Sun (New Travellers' Companion Series) (1656), Voltaire's Micromégas (1752), and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classics) (1726), which may all be labeled as science fiction or fantasy. And, of course, Holberg’s The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, which was clearly inspired by Gulliver’s Travels.

The story is set, according to the book, in the Norwegian harbor town Bergen in 1664, after Klim returns from the University in Copenhagen, where he has studied philosophy and theology and graduated magna cum laude. His curiosity drives him to investigate a strange cave hole on the mountain above the town, which sends out regular gusts of warm air. He ends up falling down the hole, and after a while he finds himself floating in free space.

[He] “had fallen through thick darkness and unremitting night for close upon fifteen minutes, so far as I in my confusion could count it, when I finally noticed a glimmer of light, as of twilight, and straight thereafter beheld a clean and shining sky. I thought, in my simplemindedness, that I had, either repelled by the subterranean airs or by some other counterblast of wind, been blown back up again, and that the cavern, by giving up its breath to me, had given me back to the Earth. However, as both the Sun and the sky and the stars that I saw were much smaller than those we generally see, I could not recognize them at all. I concluded, therefore, that this new construction of the heavens must be the result of mental confusion, my rattled brain's imagination, or that I must be dead, and transported to the blessed abodes."

Fantastic adventures at the center of the earth await the penniless Norwegian student after he plunges into a bottomless hole in a cave. Niels Klim discovers worlds within our own—exotic civilizations and fabulous creatures scattered across the underside of the earth's crust and, at the earth's center, a small, inhabited planet orbiting around a miniature sun. In an epic journey, Klim visits countries led by sentient and contemplative trees, a kingdom of intelligent apes preoccupied with fashion and change, a land whose inhabitants don’t speak out of their mouths, neighboring countries of birds locked in an eternal war, and a land where string basses talk musically to one another. Brave, inquisitive, and greedy, Klim faces many challenges, the greatest of which are his own temptations.

This book is as entertaining today as it must have been when it was published. The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground is beautifully written, well thought out, and provides numerous astounding tales and reflections about the nature of societies and social organization.

You may also want to look at Ludvig Holberg's Comedies.

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