Thursday, February 24, 2011

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Of Jules Verne's many classics, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is one of his best known. In it, Verne makes several of his famous predictions, like, for example, predicting that subs would be able to reach the South Pole by going under the ice. In 1958, two U.S. nuclear submarines crossed the Northwest Passage, a band of ice between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, by going under the ice. One of these subs was named the Nautilus, after Verne's famous vessel. It was also the world's first nuclear-powered submarine. But I am getting ahead of myself.
It starts out from the perspective of a Frenchman named Pierre Arronax, a well-known and respected professor of marine biology. Numerous ships have been wrecked or lost at sea, and many of these accidents were attributed to a monster of great size and power. Naturally, as a marine biologist, this interests M. Arronax considerably. When pressed to give his expert opinion on the matter, he says:
"After examining one by one the different hypotheses, rejecting all other suggestions, it becomes necessary to admit the existence of a marine animal of enormous power."
This statement, written by a distinguished professor, excites great controversy and excitement.
M. Aronnax is invited to a voyage on board the battleship Abraham Lincoln by her owner, Captain Farragut. Their goal is to track down this immense creature and kill it. M. Arronax accepts with great pleasure.
They spend several weeks in this way, searching in vain for a giant narwhal. When Captain Farragut finally orders his men to head back to shore, that evening they come upon the monster. They find, to their surprise that it seems to be fluorescent, glowing in the dark like phosphorus. They attack the monster, pursuing it around and around, but it seems capable of great speed without any apparent effort. It then strikes, smashing their rudder and screw-propeller, rendering the Abraham Lincoln incapable of any motion. In the great shock of the impact, M. Arronax is cast overboard. His servant, Conseil, is extraordinarily loyal and jumps overboard with him.
Arronax is rescued by Ned Land, a famous Canadian harpooner, one of the(former) passengers aboard the ship. They find shelter on the back of the "monster", finding, to their surprise, that it is made of steel plates, riveted together. A hatch below them opens, and they are dragged inside my six masked men.
They are locked up inside a room, where they remain for some hours. At last, they are visited by two men, the first of little importance, the second evidently very important. The prisoners tell their story in every language they know, but the two strangers remain silent, until they leave. Although the prisoners are very comfortable, for the room they are in is not a jail cell, and they are well fed, all of them are in an agony of suspense as to what is going to happen to them.
The important person visits them again, introducing himself as Captain Nemo(Nobody). He informs them that although they can never leave his vessel and rejoin the rest of humanity, they are guests aboard the Nautilus. Their alternative is death.
So that is their situation! Read the book yourself to find out what happens to them! I would highly recommend it. Although it leaves you hanging, in some ways, and you need to read the next book, The Mysterious Island, to find out who Captain Nemo truly is, I believe that you will enjoy it. It is the sort of book that needs slow, thoughtful digestion. Some parts you will inevitably find boring, and if you are not mechanically inclined, then there are even more dull sections. But the suspenseful moments make up for it. You will be alternately enchanted and lulled to sleep, drawn into the excitement and tempted to skip over parts.
Take it slowly.