Review by Steven DiFiore, LPMeck Chair
Published in 1870, a time when Ironclads were new technology and the seas were as mysterious a realm as the depths of space are to us today, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea burst onto bookshelves and into libraries the world over.
Written by French novelist and playwright Jules Verne, this novel has gone on to become one of the most widely translated works in history and is a staple of the science fiction adventure genre. It tells a tale of the mysterious Captain Nemo, his crew, and a marvel of technology, "The Nautilus." The story is more than just one of madness, obsession, and the dangers of unchecked technology, though it is all those things as well.
Written in the first person with Pierre Aronnax as the narrator, Verne writes an epic adventure as Aronnax and fellow travelers Conseil and Ned Land are rescued, then taken prisoner, by Captain Nemo. A great many themes are explored in its pages while enthralling the reader with a story of high adventure and fantastical locations. The Nautilus, a super science machine of the 19th century, roams the oceans far beyond the reach of any of the world's governments and themes of freedom and oppression are peppered throughout. Captain Nemo and his crew are all men from oppressed nations and seek a life of freedom far from their would-be oppressor's clutches. In this the narrator observes that Nemo champions the downtrodden and persecuted. In one chapter, after rescuing an Indian pearl diver the man is gifted a bag of pearls, representing a lifetime of work and Nemo remarks that the pearl diver "lives in the land of the oppressed."
Nemo is no saint however, and his crusade against the oppressive governments of the world cost a great many seamen their lives as he destroys naval warships of every flag wherever he can. Indeed, a main point of contention between the protagonists and antagonists is the very fact that Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned are themselves prisoners who wish to be free in spite of the wonders the Nautilus and the world of the deep sea have to offer.
These themes of freedom, liberty, and self-determination often get missed among the adventure and science fiction aspects but they are integral to the tale and weave a complex tapestry of characters and motivations that add to the depths of story telling to be enjoyed by the reader. I encourage everyone to read this grand classic at least once, and then re-visit it again a few years later. After all, there is a reason why Verne is considered among the greatest authors of western literature.