20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Author: Jules Verne
Series: Captain Nemo, #1
Length: 15 hours
Narrator: James Frain
Publisher: Listening Library
Original Publication Date: 1869
Genre(s): Classics, Science fiction, Adventure
It’s 1866, and the world is convinced that a monster terrorizes the seas. Professor Pierre Aronnax is not entirely sure this is the case, but accepts an invitation aboard the Abraham Lincoln to track down this sea creature out of curiosity. As a professor of natural history and an expert on the subject of marine life, he felt it his duty. But when the frigate encounters this ship-destroying monster, they see it for what it truly is: a submarine far ahead of its time, captained by a man who’s cut all ties with humanity—Captain Nemo. Though he just destroyed their ship, Captain Nemo rescues Professor Aronnax, his assistatn Conseil, and Canandian harpooner Ned Land. Now that these men know the truth, they must choose between death or life below the sea, never to return to civilization. Thus begins their journey across the world, under the seas, with the mysterious Captain Nemo.
Let me start by saying that I truly didn’t think I’d be writing a review of this novel. Though I’ve been wanting to read 20,000 Leagues for years now, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. I also have a hard time reviewing classic literature, so even as I got into the novel and began to love it, I told myself I wouldn’t review it. However, now that I’m at the end of my reading experience, I feel like I have to review this novel, because I was so surprised at how much I loved it that hopefully I can inspire others to give it a shot.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is written in first-person POV from Professor Aronnax’s perspective. Early on, we realize this novel is the professor’s after-the-fact account of what happened to him during his journey. But even though we know he is safe at the end of the story, our fear throughout isn’t lessened a bit. This is an adventure novel through and through. The crazy things that happen to the professor and his companions are so fantastical and out of this world. The action is intense and pushes the story along. Some may call this novel boring due to the explicit scientific analyses of marine life, categorical nature of the main characters, and the long lists of things such as writers, shells, fish, and so forth, but I found it far more impressive and interesting rather than dull. I can understand why contemporary readers may put this down, especially if they’re in a rush, but if you love classic sci-fi and a good old fashioned adventure novel, you’ll feel right at home here.
As far as narrators go, Professor Aronnax is a stellar one. He’s incredibly analytical and detailed, and he recounts his experience with precision. He’s also quite humorous, especially in his interactions with his fellow prisoners Conseil, his assistant (manservant?), and Ned Land, the harpooner aboard the Abraham Lincoln. First I’d like to talk about Conseil. What. A. Character. This guy deserves a medal for being the most selfless individual in the universe. He’s absolutely ridiculous. But above all, he’s 110% dedicated to the professor. He only refers to him in the third-person as “monsieur,” and literally does everything for him. When the professor is thrown into the sea after the Nautilus‘ attack on the Abraham Lincoln, Conseil jumps in after him to save him. He helps him swim to the Nautilus. When the crew is about to suffocate to death aboard the Nautilus, Conseil gives him some of the last clean oxygen. He even says to the professor at one point, “If only I could stop breathing in order to leave more air for monsieur.” Like, wow. I know modern audiences may want to see it as Conseil being in love with the professor, but I didn’t see it like that. I just saw it as a man with allegiance to his master. Platonic love, more than anything.
Another relationship that confused me was that of the professor and Captain Nemo. Captain Nemo is meant to be this tortured genius/billionaire who loves the ocean and hates humanity. But there’s so much more to him that I’d want to explore in a research paper rather than this review. However, what I found most interesting was his relationship with the professor. Captain Nemo seemed like he was just showing off for the professor throughout the entirety of the novel. He literally showed the professor the world, and throughout it all these amazing secrets of history. Things the professor has only read about. It just seemed like a giant show-off party. Why was Captain Nemo so intent on impressing Professor Aronnax? I’m sure there’s research on this that I could read, and I probably will, but I just found their dynamic so fascinating. You could tell the professor truly had love for Captain Nemo. But he also recognized the evil in him, the destructive side. And also the fact that Nemo was literally keeping the men as prisoners. Nemo is 100% an anti-villain.
Jules Verne was so ahead of his time. This French daddy of sci-fi has seriously impressed and surprised me. The writing is so readable yet beautiful. The plot was fascinating. The characters complex and unique. I literally couldn’t find a single thing wrong with this novel. I’ve already added Verne’s other popular novels to my TBR and can’t wait to delve into them. I really felt like I was on this adventure with the professor and his companions, and I hope you too will embark on the journey. It’s truly remarkable for its time and an experience well worth a read.
***Also, can we just talk about how annoying it is when English translations get things wrong? All this time I thought the ocean was 20,000 leagues (80,000 km, or 69046.7 miles) deep?? Which makes no sense and is obviously untrue. The real translation of the title should have read 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. Yes, that’s seas plural. As in, 20,000 leagues across the world while underneath the water. Come on, America…