Even if people aren’t a fan of science fiction, chances are they have seen the 1954 Disney movie, or at least heard of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In my review of Around the World in 80 Days, you probably picked up on the fact I’m only lukewarm on Jules Verne’s writing style. On the other hand, I’ve read a few different Steampunk books that use Captain Nemo as a character, so I wanted to go back to the original source to learn a bit more.
About the Book
It all begins with the mysterious disappearances of various vessels in 1866. Many believe a giant sea creature is behind the attacks. The narrator, a French marine biologist named Pierre Aronnax, is enlisted in the search while visiting New York. He departs from the United States, along with his faithful manservant, Conseil. They join a team of explorers including a Canadian harpooner named Ned Land. Shortly after setting out, the intrepid team encounters the creature, only to find it is in fact an incredibly advanced submarine. It’s captained by none other than the infamous Captain Nemo. The rest of the story details the journey of Aronnax, Ned, and Conseil as they criss-cross the globe as Nemo’s prisoners.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was incredibly well-researched. I used to work at an aquarium, so I probably was able to get a bit more out of it than the average reader. The narrator, Aronnax, goes into exhaustive detail about the different marine animals he encounters while traveling the seven seas with Nemo. I would like to read it again some day, but this time I would make sure to find an illustrated version. When the story was originally published as a serial in Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation from 1869-1870 it did not include any illustrations, but since it was compiled as a novel a few years later there have been several illustrated and even a graphic novel version of the tale.
What I thought 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Unfortunately, this meticulous level of detail can also be a drag. The Mister and I read this one out loud as we often do with the books I review. Even though I have my science background and he is a Roman historian, we both stumbled over the multitude of Latin names. Though of course it makes sense to use the proper scientific names of species, it can make the actual reading a bit tedious. We were about halfway through when my brain was just begging for a giant squid to attack. This bit of action comes very late in the book. Plus, it gets a lot more attention in movie adaptations than Verne gave it in the text. I’ve talked to others who read a different translation than I did, and also attribute some of my complaints to a poor transition from the original French to English. So if you are going to tackle this one on your own, do some research into which translation you’ve got.
Unlike Around the World in 80 Days, there is no comedic relief in 20,000 Leagues. Nemo is an interesting and enigmatic character to be sure, but I think overall it makes for pretty dry reading. The science in this book is sound, so it holds up to time better than Journey to the Center of the Earth. But for me it wasn’t really entertaining enough for the slog through over 300 pages.
Do you have a favorite work by Verne I should review next? Do you have a favorite adaptation of this story? Leave a comment!