20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Jules Verne)

jules verneLord, would I love my own private Nautilus. (Sigh) Maybe next Christmas…Captain Nemo is every bit as deep and unfathomable as the oceans he commands. Of course, submarines are something which we tend to take for granted nowadays, but the atmosphere Jules Verne weaves had me just as mesmerized as the professor, when he’s shown around the Nautilus for the first time. I would recommend buying a suitably edited version for pre-teens and would recommend the original for adults, who will get more out of the complex central character, while enjoying a good adventure story. Just don’t expect a fast pace. It takes its time.

The success of the book when it was written, in my opinion, owed much more to the novelty of the premise than to the execution of the finished product; and today, where submarines and undersea travel are commonplace, that factor doesn’t operate. Mr Verne pays too much detail, at times, to listing and describing flora and fauna, page after page and this often distracted me from the un-ravelling adventure. For these reasons this is not one of my favourite Jules Verne novels, and I tend to prefer watching the 1954 movie or some other visual representation as it is much easier to digest. The audio book version, read by John Carlisle, with his compassionate voice set to sad music, is pretty special too.

Professor Aronmax narrates the story from his perspective as a ten month captive aboard the Nautilus. Alongside him is his faithful servant, Conseil, and Canadian harpooner friend, Ned Land, whose on-going escape plans are continually thwarted within the secretive world of the reclusive Captain Nemo. These supporting characters are not as strong as the situation & some readers can be disappointed by this although I’m willing to overlook it. This is the book that most people point to, not that there aren’t others, as one of the earliest purely science fiction fantasies. And, more importantly, this is loaded with hard science. Some of the conclusions are wrong, but from start to finish this is one scientific observation after another.

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Even when the Nautilus runs aground in a narrow straight, Captain Nemo computes the exact time that they’ll come free based on a myriad of factors, every one of which grounded in scientific principle, from the factoring in the moon, to the salinity of the water and some fairly compulsive details. Verne wrote about the travels under the sea as if it was a travel book chronicling a rather strange vacation to exotic lands in the tradition of the times he lived. Through the course of the book, no ocean goes unexplored. The Nautilus even makes its way under each polar ice cap. All the while, the narrator, gives us a species by species list of every fish known to man, and some never before seen.

It’s this meticulous attention to detail that seems to serve as a blueprint for modern science fiction. Verne’s detailed catalog of the sea included mythical creatures like the famous Giant Squids, or devil fish, and what may have been the last saltwater manatee. It may not be as much the detail after detail of sea life, as the very idea of a ship that could survive underwater, powered by steam and coal which runs a dynamo that charges a battery, that is so amazing. Despite the problems with all the pedantic, monotonous detail, for the late 1800s this book required some very creative and imaginative thinking…Merci Monsieur Verne!

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Comments

  1. Excellent review as always, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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