A mission to rid the seas of a monster becomes a nightmare for Professor Aronnax, Conseil and harpooner Ned Land when they become prisoners of the "monster" itself - a spectacular submarine ship commanded by Captain Nemo. But the marvels of their underwater journey soon distract them from their worries - the Professor, at least, wouldn't have missed this voyage for the world!
The title refers to the distance travelled under the sea and not to a depth, as 20,000 leagues is over 12 times the radius of the earth. The greatest depth mentioned in the book is four leagues. A literal translation of the French title would end in the plural "seas", thus implying the "seven seas" through which the characters of the novel travel. However the regular English translation of the title uses "sea", meaning the ocean in general, as in "going to sea".
The word leagues in the English title is a literal translation of lieues, but refers to French leagues. The French league had been a variable unit but in the metric era was standardized as 4 km. Thus the title distance is equivalent to 80,000 km (twice around the Earth) or roundly 50,000 statute miles. In common English usage 1 league equals 3 statute miles.
As the story begins in 1866, a mysterious sea monster, theorized by some to be a giant narwhal, is sighted by ships of several nations; an ocean liner is also damaged by the creature. The United States government finally assembles an expedition in New York City to track down and destroy the menace. Professor Pierre Aronnax is a noted French marine biologist and narrator of the story; as he happens to be in New York at the time and is a recognized expert in his field, he is issued a last-minute invitation to join the expedition, and he accepts. Canadian master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax's faithful assistant Conseil are also brought on board.
The expedition sets sail from Long Island aboard a naval ship, the Abraham Lincoln, which travels down around the tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. After much fruitless searching, the monster is found, and the ship charges into battle. During the fight, the ship's steering is damaged, and the three protagonists are thrown overboard. They find themselves stranded on the "hide" of the creature, only to discover to their surprise that it is a large metal construct. They are quickly captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo (a name meaning "no man" or "no-body" in Latin).
The rest of the story follows the adventures of the protagonists aboard the submarine, the Nautilus, which was built in secrecy and now roams the seas free of any land-based government. The story was written decades before submarines of such size and utility became a reality, so it was science fiction when it was written, even though it does not sound so impossible now. Captain Nemo's motivation is implied to be both a scientific thirst for knowledge and a desire for revenge on (and self-imposed exile from) civilization. Captain Nemo explains that the submarine is electrically powered, and equipped to carry out cutting-edge marine biology research; he also tells his new passengers that while he appreciates having an expert such as Aronnax with whom to converse, they can never leave because he is afraid they will betray his existence to the world. Aronnax is enthralled by the vistas he is seeing, but Land constantly plots to escape.
An excellent book, full of interest, and fascinating for all the science fiction parts. Through adventures including fighting giant squid and going under the Ice Sheet of Antartica, Verne creates a fascinating description of what the bottom of the sea might be like. Although we now know (mostly, anyway) what the ocean surface looks like, when the book was written they had no idea. It's pretty realistic in this book. Amazing that Verne could think up ideas, which, mostly, are true!
I've read many books by Verne as a child and a teenager (in their translations to Hebrew), and kept feeling disappointed, not because Verne lacked imagination (which he doesn't) but because the storyline and the characters were too simplistic. I naturally heard of this book, which is considered one of his best books, and for once, I was amazed by Verne's great writing skills as reflected in this novel. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a positively wonderful book, in part due to Verne's tantalising description of Captain Nemo, a true "Criminal Mind" who mistrusts the world at large, basks in his self-righteousness, is very needy, won't share his findings with the world for further scrutiny, improvement and enlightenment, and is actually destructive and incompetent.
As the journey goes on, we find that the Nautilus, while being a fine piece of engineering, is not perfect, as it cannot outrun the American battleship, and also its crew is lost one by one, which Nemo pretends to be saddened from. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remember Nemo vividly and it's a striking metaphor for the destructive people of today. -- User:Shlomif, 1977 born (34 as of writing this review).
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- Reading Age: 13+
- Reading Aloud Age: 12+
The friends fight squid, and kill several underwater creatures for food.
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