Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Review

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Rating: 2 Stars **

This book was first published in 1870 and can be read for free online.


The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.

The Plot

Something mysterious haunts the oceans, damaging ships. Convinced it is an enormous aquatic animal, a ship is send out to kill it. On board are the renowned harpooner Ned Land and expert in sea-life, Professor Aronnax and his trusty servant, Conseil. During their encounter with the animal, they get thrown overboard and find themselves saved by the very thing they hunted: The Nautilus, an enormous submarine led by the mysterious Captain Nemo, who has renounced dry land forever. Trapped on board the Nautilus, they start on an extraordinary voyage through the oceans of the world.

The Good

I love adventure books and despite its shortcomings, the novel had some good things to offer. Just the sheer imagination that went into the Nautilus made me want to go on board and join the travels through the oceans. I also loved it when they went out on adventures, like a walk on the bottom of the ocean, looking for pearls, or going hunting in underwater forests. That was the times Jules Verne really shone.

Above me was the calm surface of the sea. We were walking on fine, even sand, not wrinkled, as on a flat shore, which retains the impression of the billows.

Really, anytime something actually happened and they were not just sitting there looking at the sea or going over history and geography of the area they were in, the book was interesting and enthralling. Furthermore, it really picked up towards the end and the last chapters were gripping.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the book reads a lot like a textbook, both on biology and on history and geography.

Yes, they are travelling underwater and yes, Professor Aronnax, by his very nature, is fascinated by the species he encounters, but it gets incredibly difficult to read when these species are listed for what feels like hours. Especially if you have no clue what these species look like. I’m not an expert in fish, so I couldn’t even imagine them. In my head, they all looked like tuna.

For two whole hours an aquatic army escorted the Nautilus. During their games, their bounds, while rivalling each other in beauty, brightness and velocity, I distinguished the green labre; the banded mullet, marked by a double line of black; the round-tailed goby, of a white colour, with violet spots on the back; the Japanese scombrus, a beautiful mackerel of these seas, with a blue body and silversy head; the brilliant azurors, whose name alone defies description; some banded spares, with variegated fins of blue and yellow; the woodcocks of th seas, some specimens of which attain a yard in lenght; [… etc, etc]

There is an entire chapter called “Some Figures” dedicated to describing the lenght and breadth of different chambers in  the Nautilus and the word cetacean is used so often that by the end I was ready to scream every time it appeared again.

Also, the main characters never really developed a deep relationship. On the Nautilus, Professor Aronnax slept away from his companions Ned Land and Conseil and spent time with Captain Nemo that the others had not. He and Conseil did not know Ned Land before their trip to hunt the sea-monster, but we never get to see the relationship develop or deepen. It is just there all of a sudden.

I was also a bit annoyed by the relationship between Professor Aronnax and his servant, Conseil. Despite being together for years and Conseil being the most loyal person ever, he treats him like… a little child. Reading it, you’d think Conseil was 16 or something and not 30.

Conseil was my servant, a true, devoted Flemish boy, who had accompanied me in all my travels. I liked him, and he returned the liking well. He was quiet by nature, regular from principle, zealous from habit, evincing little disturbance at the different surprises of life, very quick with his hands, and apt at any service required of him; and, despite his name, never giving advice -even when asked for it.

Conseil, throughout the book, remains flat. His only purpose is to follow his master like a puppy and make him look better in comparison. He is also there for comic relief, making stupid comments that are supposed to be humorous but fell flat for me.

The Conclusion

The beginning and especially the ending were fascinating and enthralling. However, in the middle the narrative sometimes stretched out too much, focussing on descriptions and very little happened.

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2 thoughts on “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: Review

  1. Awesome! I just shared this book and a bio of Jules Verne with my students today. We were talking about engineering, models, and design and just how far ahead the nuclear powered submarine and scuba divers in the book. Incredible!

    • Yes, the imagination that went into this book is incredible. And in the context of the time it is understandable why he described everything in so much detail.

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