Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, 1870, Book Review

20,000 leaguesJules Verne’s undersea adventure classic is a smooth blend of science and fantasy, so smooth I had to do a little research to verify where the line blurs. Written as a first person account (the narrator is a scientist), it contains many facts and figures “proving” observations with natural law. Many facts and figures. And lists of species. And detailed descriptions. Parts of it come almost like a science journal and remind me of Wells’ War of the Worlds. I did a lot of skimming in these sections, because they get a little tedious, but they sure add veracity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia!

Aside from naturalist moments, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a great adventure! It’s very readable 140 years later, and Verne is an early master of suspense. Each scene builds uncertainty, pushing you on to the end of each chapter. Then the peril begins anew. Among its many quests, the Nautilus (submarine) finds sunken treasure, travels through a hurricane, is attacked by giant squid, gets trapped between icebergs, and transports our narrator on a non-stop, seven-month journey of discovery.

And speaking of discovery, I was amazed with Verne’s portrayal of Antarctica. He must have undertaken an amazing amount of research to create all the undersea settings and creatures, and even to design the Nautilus, but educating himself about Antarctica must have been a killer challenge. No exploration took place on the continent till twenty-two years AFTER this publication! Yet Verne describes it beautifully (with some minor inaccuracies). Amazing!

I very much appreciate the interplay between  four vastly different main characters. Pierre Aronnax, the naturalist; his servant, Conseil; and a harpooner by the name of Ned Land are all aboard the Nautilus accidently and against their will. Aronnax is educated, thoughtful, and cautious. He’s perfectly happy to wile away the hours taking notes and improving his life’s work featuring the ocean. Conseil is steady and devoted. Land, on the other hand, seethes at his confinement. He’d rather be out hunting, or cursing, or slamming drinks at a portside tavern than sitting on his hands looking out the window.

But the intriguing, paradoxical figure of Captain Nemo is the diamond in this crown. Strong, brooding, cultured, rebellious, ingenious, reclusive, Nemo disdains the evils of civilization. In fact, he has created the Nautilus to escape from society altogether. Yet we’re never sure exactly why he harbors such hatred and vengeance toward mankind. At the same time, he is restrained in his decision regarding the three castaways. And he’s generous, merciful, even heroic toward weaker characters. He is the main reason I’m curious about Verne’s lesser-known sequel, The Mysterious Island. (There is also a third entitled In Search of the Castaways.) I may have to keep reading.

Appropriate for all ages, but best for readers 12+ because of some tough vocabulary.

Free Kindle edition in title link.

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One thought on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, 1870, Book Review

  1. I agree that some of the sience parts could be a little shorter, but I do like the descriptions of how some of the gadgets work. I am still reading this one so I agree with you that the language is hard for younger kids, but the story is AWESOME! This book is harder than Around the World in 80 Days. I kind of like the challenge 🙂 Once I get done reading it we are going to have a book club meeting and rent the movie to see it (the older one from 1954, Mom says that one is better). Then we compare the book to the movie. Have you ever seen the movie?

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