One of my favorite authors is Jules Verne in my childhood and even now also. I had already mentioned this in my review of Around the World in 80 Days . Another Verne favorite of mine is 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea . If Around the World dealt with circumnavigation of the world, 20 K Leagues Under the Sea deals with under water travel. What is remarkable is Verne conceptualized the submarine, long before the idea even came into existence.
The book starts off in the year 1866 A.D. where ships sailing across the world encounter an ”enormous thing “ , which is a long spindle shaped object and phosporent. Many different theories abound, some say it’s a huge whale, some say it’s a sea monster, none has any idea about it. A year later the “thing” takes on a more alarming tone, when many ships have been struck by it. And a huge public outcry goes up to destroy this “thing”.
The novel then starts off with a narration by it’s protagonist Prof M Arronax who is an Asst Professor in Museum of Natural History in Paris. During the course of his trip to New York and US, he is asked to join an expedition on the ship Abraham Lincoln which is promoted by the Governments of US and France to uncover the mysterious creature in the oceans. Along with his assistant Conseil boards the ship. Also giving them company is Ned Land a Canadian harpooner who has a rough no nonsense demeanor about him. Soon one night, the mysterious creature attacks the ship and inspite of best efforts, the crew cannot prevent the ship from sinking. Prof Arronax, Ned and Conseil are the only survivors of the incident. And as they drift Ned discovers that the beast is made up of iron. And when they knock on it, they are taken prisoners by men coming out.
Its here that the book enters its most fascinating part. The “beast” is nothing but Nautlius a submarine that is shaped to look like a fish with a large metal fin on top used to ram and sink the ships. And its commanded by Capt Nemo an eccentric royal and inventor. And then starts their incredible journey 20K Leagues Under the Sea . They encounter giant squids, ice bergs, ocean ridges, sharks in a fascinating journey. While Arronax is enthralled by the beauty of the under sea world, and Capt Nemo’s vision, Ned feels restless and yearns for his care free life as a harpooner. Who is Capt Nemo and why does he go around sinking ships? Will Ned, Arronax and Conseil be able to escape from his clutches ?
20 K Leagues Under the Sea has some fascinating moments which grip you, even if you are not enthralled by submarines:
• The submarines attack on the frigate Lincoln .
• The battle with the giant squids
• The deadly encounters with the sharks in the Persian Gulf
• The trip through an ice pack in the Arctic .
And for the scientifically minded, the way Nemo explains the concept of the submarine, how it was built, how it works. As also the way Nemo tells us about the treasures of the ocean world is awesome.
20 K Leagues Under the Sea is not just a routine adventure story, it also deals with a world, most of us know so much of and so little of. The wide ocean and what lies under neath it. It’s a novel that needs to be read, and if you have kids, read this to them also.
And the characters are fascinating too.
Arronax the serious academic who is fascinated by the ocean world.
Conseil his some what dim witted servant who provides the comic relief.
Ned Land the impulsive, free spirited harpooner who yearns to return back to his native land.
And above all Capt Nemo one of the most fascinating literary characters. He is neither good nor bad. He is in effect more like a hero with serious flaws. We admire him for his independence, his vision, his genius and his intelligence. We feel sorry for his troubled past. And yet we find it difficult to empathize with his cruel ways, and the way he goes around killing innocent people to satisfy his revenge.