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Science Fiction

A Bonus Classic: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

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Back when I polled you guys for my Fall classic book read, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea came in a near second to Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. There were multiple buddy read offers too.  Seeing as one stood out more than the rest, here I am having read two classics this Fall 😅

If you want to read something more academic on Verne, skip to the end.

Verne needs little introduction as one of the founding fathers of sci-fi.  His series of very sciency travelogue type novels are dubbed The Extraordinary Adventures and I have to say I enjoyed the trip around the world’s seas in Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.  That said, I didn’t realize there were more Nemo novels and I’m curious now.

These are the things I learned while reading, and my general thoughts in no specific order.

20k  was originally published as a serial in 1869-1870.  I’ve got a gorgeous box set edition of Verne’s classic adventure novels and as much as I enjoyed reading this relatively short one, it took me a while because small print slows me down and classic sci-fi books are notoriously small printed!

Like someone on my blog pointed out with Lovecraft and aviation, here with Verne and exploration & travel, classic sci-fi took the science of the time and made it accessible to the general public.  I think Verne really succeeded here because despite all the hard facts and science and navigation, it felt a lot more readable and accessible than some of the classic Sci-fi that I’ve read.  I’m paraphrasing here but apparently, Very wanted people to actually be able to learn about geography, history, biology, and other natural sciences by reading his books and I can see where this would have been wildly popular at the time.

As well as informational, there’s the fictional part: it was interesting to see Verne extrapolating on the uses for submarines when the sub seemed to have been a mere prototype he was shown, and even making plausible electricity undersea when most homes still had (idk, what, gas lamps? I know electric wasn’t a common household utility in the late 1800s.)

I also never realized that Arronax and friends were essentially prisoners! While Nemo was gracious enough to take them on a tour of the world underwater, I guess I didn’t recall the mai plot of the book from my childhood read.  I did enjoy the dialogue and Stockholm syndrome esque worship of Nemo during the professor’s captivity.

Overall – I did like reading this one.  There was plenty of danger and action among the science.  I liked the prose well enough for the 1800s without being bored, but some of this could be the translator. I did read though that this is accepted as a more literal translation than those done by the guy who changed all the names in Journey to the Center of the Earth, for example. (Google that, there’s some interesting literature on various Verne translations).

At the end of the day I think it’s interesting to read these classics and just see where so many modern novels take inspiration from.  I also like how a lot of these classic novels are character studies and spend a bit of time taking a look at the nature of man and applying it to, say, the nature of scientific discovery.

Here are some more random thoughts that may make more sense for people who have read it and want to discuss the book:

  • If I was Nemo, I wouldn’t have shown them how the escape boat worked 🤣
  • Nemo is like Batman or Tony Stark or Elon Musk even – a rich guy doing rich person things.  Iron Man, Batmobile, Space X rocketship – I ask my readers, if you were rich: what stupidly cool thing would you build?
  • I learned a lot about the timeline of electricity becoming mainstream because I got curious and found an article
  • I also learned about ocean currents and such, I assume these are still pretty currently valid observations
  • Underwater libraries and museums sound like a good plan! I did like how studious both Nemo and Arronax were, even if they knew there was a chance of never making outside contact.
  • I wish the editor had left in Nemo’s backstory, the gaping hole where it was cut out is obvious
  • The French really love to write hyper dramatic men.  I thought Nemo felt a lot like Hugo’s villain in Notre Dame, without the back story but equally dramatic. Verne and Hugo did work together so maybe they rubbed off on each other
  • Did anyone else wonder at the Arronax and Conseil relationship? I don’t know how devoted typical manservants were but it felt like a too close for comfort father & son relationship 😅

In closing, if anyone ever wants to Buddy read a classic novel with me, I am always willing. I have a little mini series called Struggling Through the Classics but I didn’t really feel like this one was a struggle at all.   Also I want to mote that this article makes me feel stupid 🤣 but here’s a much more academic look at the novel, Verne, and the foundation of sci-fi on general from the reading buddy!