20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Rating: +

Jules Verne

I had resisted reading this classic for years, because the edition of it that my mother bought me as a young girl had a creepy picture of an octopus on the cover and I thought the book was going to be about people in a submarine hunting sea monsters. Having gotten over that prejudice enough to read the book, I was pleased to find out that there was much more to it than hunting sea creatures. Overall, it warrants a '+' from me.

The book is mostly about an intellectual man (a professor, it seems, though it is unclear of what, and also a doctor) who ends up on a voyage in a submarine captained by a mysterious man. The circumstances of the voyage are part of the mystery of the plot, but the professor is given an opportunity to explore the underwater world that he has written about and satisfy his intellectual curiosity. While the captain of the submarine also participates in these pursuits, he also seems to have other motives for his underwater voyage that are not clear at first but gradually come to light in the course of the book. The professor is accompanied by his assistant, who also shares his intellectual curiosity, and a whaler, who adds tension to the situation by not having a purpose when on the submarine.

I don't know much about submarines, but this book was written before submarines existed that were able to be extensively and they still seem to have a very true ring to them, from the little I know about modern submarines. Verne didn't predict the problems for people that would come up if they dove or rose too quickly, but he was able to describe what seemed like very plausible solutions to the problems of having air to breathe, navigation, and heating. I'm sure that submarines don't actually operate in the way he describes, but his theories don't sound ridiculous even in modern times.

Even more interesting, I thought, was the use Verne made of the submarine as a location where an independent commune of men, entirely separated from the rest of the world, could be created. We slowly learn how this type of community could be maintained, as the professor tries to learn more about his surroundings. The ocean is able to provide all of the submarine's needs. so long as they know how to extract their needs from it. It also provides their entertainment, their intellectual pursuits, their adventures, and their spiritual center. I liked this reversal where the land became foreign and the water was the people's native land. It was also interesting to see what types of things would compel the residents of the submarine to go onto land.

The writing of the book is simple and sounds old fashioned today, but mostly I found it unobtrusive; this was the type of book that you read for the plot, not for the writing. The structure of the plot was mostly a series of adventures, so it moved along pretty quickly. At the end, the book didn't so much portray an event but was more of a sketch of a community and its leader, with the plot being present to show different sides of them. Both the community and its captain were interesting, though, and I ended up enjoying the book.


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