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    I am a huge fan of Jules Verne, an extremely prolific French writer of the nineteenth century, known for his science fiction/adventure/scientific/futuristic novels, futuristic in the sense that they often incorporate future technology while being set in his present time. This one is no exception. Filled with pages and pages of actual scientific data on marine life, (at least what was known and understood at the time it was written, (1869-70), the adventurers travel in a highly modernized submarine named the Nautilus. It is one of Verne's most famous and well-loved novels.
    But not mine, I am disappointed to say, and for one specific reason: the wanton slaughter of all the beautiful creatures. Verne spent so much effort to describe the unique animal life encountered throughout the story, only to have it killed and eaten. Yuk. Disgusting.
     And one more issue I have with this novel, although through my research with Wikipedia, this one is solved: the book is a mystery of sorts, because we do not know who the elusive Captain Nemo really is. Nor do we find out at the end, making it the worst kind of mystery, most often encountered when the author dies before revealing the solution. However, Wikipedia supplies more information, including a sequel which supplies us with a solution to the mystery. (I will be reading that one ASAP.) However, that was not even Verne's original disclosure. The first one was deemed politically incorrect, and a change was requested by Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, not unusual for this publisher. And last of all, this novel has been adapted for film at least twice, once by Disney (1954), and once for a European miniseries, starring Omar Sharif as Captain Nemo, (1973).
    But other than that, I really did enjoy the book, even if it wasn't my favorite. Our main character, Pierre Aronnax is a French marine biologist currently in the United States. When several ships encounter close calls, and even damage by what is believed to be a monster narwhal, or some other sea monster, an expedition to destroy it sets off from New York on the Abraham Lincoln. Aronnax is asked to join, along with his loyal servant "boy," Conseil, who is actually thirty years old. At the last minute, they are also joined by a French-Canadian harpoonist, Ned Land.
    After an extended voyage, the crew loses hope that they will encounter the elusive cetacean. But suddenly, there it is. When they attempt to attack it, it attacks the ship, plunging Aronnax into the sea, followed by his faithful servant who jumps in to save him. Ned ends up in the water, too, but as they are struggling to be rescued by the ship, which has been damaged, they are pulled into the belly of a . . . submarine! They are locked in a room in darkness, and quickly understand they are prisoners.
    When they are visited, it is by men who speak a gibberish language, then finally by the captain of the vessel, who, after they make attempts in French, English, German and Latin to communicate to no avail, eventually admits he speaks French perfectly. His name is Captain Nemo, and he has built this submarine. He lives upon and under the sea, and has forsaken contact with the civilized world because of something terrible that has happened. And yes, he is also a fugitive, and because no one may know of his undersea existence, Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are now prisoners.
    But their imprisonment is not confinement, other than the fact that they are stuck on a submarine. They have basically free reign to go wherever they wish on the vessel. It contains a huge library, art, and even an organ which the Captain plays. The cook creates a fascinating cuisine from the sea life they encounter.
    Aronnax quickly adjusts, and finds a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the creatures and plants in which he specializes. Conseil is by his side as his loyal assistant, but poor Ned is dead bored. Not an intellectual, his whole life has consisted in harpooning. There is little for him to do. And the seafood cuisine is dreadful to this meat and potatoes sort of guy.
    Let me begin a quick synopsis of their adventures by supplying a quote, actually from the very end of the book as Aronnax looks back on all that happened, then I will elucidate each:

My nerves grew somewhat calmer, but still in my excited brain I saw reviewed my whole existence on board the "Nautilus." Every incident, happy or sad, that had happened since my disappearance from the "Abraham Lincoln" recurred to me: the submarine hunt; Torres Straits; the savages at Papua; the coral cemetery; the passage at Suez; the island of Santorin; the Cretan diver; Vigo Bay; Atlantis; the iceberg; the South Pole; imprisonment in the ice; fight with the poulps; the storm in the Gulf Stream; the "Avenger"; horrible scene of the vessel sunk with all her crew.

    To elaborate, now, in the submarine hunt, the Captain, one of his crew, Conseil and Aronnax go exploring an undersea forest. They don clothing, nothing like modern wetsuits, but with heavy boots with lead bottoms. They do not swim in their underwater explorations, but walk. They have helmets with tanks to supply air, and during their long trek, they even take an undersea nap!
    Next, they navigate the treacherous Torres Straits between Australia and Papua New Guinea. There, the three prisoners are allowed to go on land without being a threat to Captain Nemo's secrecy because the island is inhabited by cannibals. But first, Ned kills every animal in sight, upon which they gorge themselves, and pack the rest up to take on board the vessel. After describing the gorgeous birds and interesting creatures, Verne seems nonchalant in describing their wanton slaughter. I think it is this part of the story that I found most repulsive.
    They are eventually discovered by the natives who attempt to board the submarine, which, by the way, spends much of its time above water, where the inhabitants may relax in the open air. (They also must come up periodically to replenish their air supply.) When the natives attempt to board and attack, however, they are surprised by a little device, (shocked, actually; the Nautilus is run by electricity), that prohibits them from entering the vessel.
    After that, something very disturbing happens to the three prisoners. Something is going on on the horizon, and when Aronnax grabs a telescope to see, it is grabbed out of his hands. The Captain orders the three into confinement. When they are given their meal, they discover very quickly it has been drugged, and so they sleep. When Aronnax awakens, he finds his head clear and discovers he has been placed back in his cabin. Later the Captain, very disturbed, asks him if he is a medical doctor, and requests his help. One of the crew suffers such a serious head wound that Aronnax declares he has only a couple hours to live.
    After he passes, yet another fascinating mystery is revealed. The Nautilus, travels to an enormous coral reef, and they don their underwater exploration apparel. In due time, they realize that the oblong object being transported by Nemo's men is the dead body of the crew member, and the coral garden a graveyard. With a pickax, they dig a hole and bury their friend. We never find out the rest of the story on how the man died.
    Next they travel the Indian Ocean, and round the island of Ceylon, (which is now called Sri Lanka). They go pearl diving, but are warned that the waters are shark infested. While they are examining an unbelievable cache of pearls, they see a native diver, gathering his living. A shark chases and assaults him, but Captain Nemo steps in. After a frightful battle, the shark is finally killed. Captain Nemo grabs the unconscious Cingalese man, and they embark upon his boat. They rub him back to life, after which the Captain hands him a pouch of pearls. This is one of the many instances where Captain Nemo reveals his compassion for the poor and downtrodden.
    They then enter the Red Sea, and to the surprise of the three captives, learn that the Nautilus shall travel an underground passage where the Suez Canal is being built. (The canal officially opened in 1872, but was under construction from 1859-69.)
    The Nautilus is now in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, sailing towards Crete. It is here that Aronnax witnesses another act of generosity for an oppressed race, when Nemo delivers a chest of gold ingots to the island. (Incidentally, Captain Nemo is extraordinarily wealthy.) Following that, Aronnax learns they are travelling in the realms of a subterranean volcano. The Nautilus becomes unbearably hot and the sea milky white.
    Soon our three travelers discover the source of Nemo's wealth, as they explore the Spanish galleons sunk during the battle of October 22, 1702 in Vigo Bay:

For half a mile around the "Nautilus" the waters were bathed in electric light. The sandy bottom in front of us was clean and bright. Some of the ship's crew in their diving dresses were already engaged in clearing away half rotted barrels and empty chests from the midst of the blackened hulks of wreckage. From these cases and barrels tumbled ingots of gold and silver, cascades of piastres and jewels. The sand was heaped with them. Loaded down with their inexpressibly precious booty, the men were returning to our submarine, disposing of their burdens, and streaming back to this strange fishing ground of fabulous riches.

    And that is all I will tell you. You must read the book yourself to discover the lost continent of Atlantis; the South Pole, and how our friends almost died, trapped in an iceberg; the famous battle with the giant squids; a terrible storm in the Gulf Stream; and finally a brutal act of revenge taken by Captain Nemo upon a certain ship, killing, most likely, all on board. From that point on, the three prisoners have no doubt they must escape this hell-prison, even though Aronnax and Conseil have gathered an incalculable amount of scientific data for their research. But do they all escape?
    A couple more points about this novel. I, and probably most people who are unfamiliar with the measurement "league" and/or do not know the diameter of the earth may think that "twenty thousand leagues" is the depth to which our travelers descended. No way! It took me about a third of the way through to realize that that was the distance they traveled around the planet while in the submarine. According to the Wikipedia article linked above, that number of leagues would be six times the diameter of the planet, and twice the circumference. (The diameter of earth is 7,917.5 miles and the circumference is 24,901 miles, to put it in more familiar terms.) I know Verne's novels were considered science fiction, but he still mostly stuck to scientific facts, at least what was deemed to be true in his era. And finally, there have been numerous translations of this work from the French. This Dover Edition is a reprint of a 1922 Rand McNally & Company edition, translated by Philip Schuyler Allen.
    OK, so there were things in this novel that repulsed me and made it one of my less favorite Verne books. But do I recommend reading it. Absolutely! For all the Jules Verne books I have reviewed so far, please visit the Jules Verne Index Page.

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