Book Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Posted on: November 21, 2018.

For this week’s review, I felt I would choose, for our parents and young readers, the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by French author Jules Verne, whose other science-fiction thriller books—Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Mysterious Island, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and From the Earth to the Moon—are equally enjoyable. They belong to the “Great Illustrated Classics”, a collection of English Fiction novels loved by children, youngsters, and adults alike. This book is one of those types that you’d read and re-read and enjoy better each time.

The book had vivid sketches of sea creatures and seascapes, and of fearless adventurers who travelled with Captain Nemo in his spacious submarine, the Nautilus. Turning pages, seasoned readers would admire the narrator—a French professor named Pierre Arronax—and his manservant Conseil—portrayed in all his handsomeness—while the pictures of the narwhale and the kelp forest, would be best loved and favourited by children and youngsters.

It is year 1866 AD and newspapers around the world are reporting a “strange thing” being sighted in the ocean—“a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.” “Phosphorescent” meant that it glowed—like a light bulb. Amidst various hypotheses, some speculate that it is a moving reef, while some reckon it could be a sea serpent.

A year later, sometime in 1867, papers report that the strange thing has menaced a couple of seafaring vessels and put a hole in one of them. Even as the State and its people are considering the consequences, frequent accidents are reported, following the mysterious disappearance of several ships. In a bid to end speculations and further loss to life and property, the United States government commissions a sea expedition to discover and confirm what the “strange thing” is.

Pierre Arronax, Professor of Natural History at the Museum of Paris and author of the book Mysteries of the Great Submarine Grounds, who lives in New York, is invited to join the expedition, and he accepts. The French professor feels that the strange thing could be a giant narwhale.  He is accompanied by his manservant Conseil, and a Canadian harpooner, Ned Land. They set sail as a group onboard the Abraham Lincoln, a ship named after the President of the United States.

After searching for quite some time, the group eventually discovers the strange thing. Ned Land, an expert harpooner fires his harpoon at the object. The harpoon hits the target but bounces off its surface. Instantly, the strange object expels a massive spray of water which hits hard on the Abraham Lincoln. Arronax is thrown overboard and his faithful servant Conseil also leaps after him. They swim to the object and find Ned Lank landing on top of it.

It is nothing of what they had expected it to be, and definite no animal. The object is metallic—made of solid metal. Professor Arronax identifies it to be a submarine. The Abraham Lincoln’s rudder is broken, and the vessel begin to sink. The trio—Arronax, Conseil and Ned Land—swim around the object. They find a hatch and knock on it. It is opened by the submarine’s operator, Captain Nemo. “Nemo” is Spanish for “nobody”. Captain Nemo welcomes the trio into the submarine.

Captain Nemo intends to take them captive for the rest of their lives, for he fears that they would reveal his secret to the world. While Professor Arronax takes a liking for submarine life—as he can watch his favourite sea animals up close in their natural habitat—and Conseil the faithful servant decides to stay with his master and serve him lifelong, Ned Land despises being taken prisoner and plans to escape. Meantime, they continue to travel the oceans with Captain Nemo in his submarine, eventually travelling 43,200 miles!

It is at this point that readers realize that “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” does not mean a measure of depth—it is the distance travelled underwater. This book is one that would make its readers fall in love with the world underwater and might even inspire children to consider a career in oceanography or marine biology—with some scientific encouragement at school. Readers would be entranced by the flying fish and sharks and the Giant Squid in Verne’s novel.

Captain Nemo is eccentric, unpredictable, and dangerous. What drives Nemo restlessly round the oceans of the world, with his great library, his art treasures, and his grand piano?

Will Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land be able to escape his vicious clutches?

Wouldn’t you yearn to know?

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