Off the Shelf - "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"

by Marcus Pan

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20,000 Leagues Under the SeaVerne was a master of his work, bringing the art of science fiction back to the natural world around us. While others were off exploring the ever-present outer space, alien cultures, evolution, time travel and things like this, Verne stayed home. From his hand spun classic tales, some brought to the silver screen. But all of them remained steeped in the natural world rather than gallivanting about "out there."

Verne's strength was his research and fact gathering. He spent huge amounts of time studying the smallest details concerning the landscape and places that his next novel was going to go. Within 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea you are reading from the viewpoint of Monsieur Pierre Aronnax, a naturalist who not only found himself fascinated by the wonders of the ocean, he wrote a book about it. And therefore Verne's prime character had to be well-read and knowledgeable, and therefore the writer did as well.

Ships and steamers of the civilized countries of the world find themselves terrified by a huge beast that has the ability to puncture throw the bellies of their ships. On a search and destroy mission, the Abraham Lincoln loses three companions from its decks and these men; Aronnax, Conseil and harpooner Ned Land; find themselves on a submarine, not a beast as was originally thought. Unfortunately the ship's captain, Nemo, is rather mad - even if he is a genius (most geniuses are, they say). What follows is the adventure of these men on Nemo's ship, the Nautilus, the first high-depth submarine of its kind in a time when they haven't been built yet.

Nemo takes Aronax by hand to show him some of the wonders beneath the sea. The adventures are quite riveting, from reaching the South Pole by way of sailing beneath the great ice barrier and getting trapped inside walls of ice on the way out. A battle with giant squids off the coast of the Bahamas, underwater hunting expeditions in the forests off Crespo Island and many more. Throughout the novel however there is the nagging question of where Nemo comes from and why did he sever ties with mankind to make the ocean his home? You're given hints, clues and a glimpse into his madness culminating in a battle at sea, but you never do find out the full story.

A downside to the novel is it isn't quite as swift as some would like. Verne uses his research to great aplomb throughout the book, lauding the reader with details on underwater life and creatures. While I applaud his efforts at fact checking, research and using it all, I must say that slogging through pages of natural science can get tedious. Especially when Aronnax's associate, Conseil, gets involved. Conseil is a master at classification, so you are filled with information regarding what family and what genus, subspecies, etc. this particular fish belongs to, peppered with Aronnax's knowledge of the life cycles and Ned Land knowing whether or not they're yummy. So there will be parts of the novel that will just simply drag; unless of course you're studying marine biology on the side.

But of course, 20,000 Leagues is nonetheless an excellent novel. It is a classic and always will be, and shows us that science fiction can be just as exciting when you're still standing on Earth.

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"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne
Published by Bantam Books, Inc.
Copyright © 1962 by Bantam Books, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card: 64-23657

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