The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Without delving into the actual plot, let me introduce you to the characters:
Professor Aronnax - the narrator is a Professor at the Museum of Paris with a specialist interest in ichthyology. He is a man of science and principle (and to some extent, it would seem, a man of God, though this is shown more in his appreciation of creation and his moral principles than in any particular ideology). When he is to an extent imprisoned on the submarine "Nautilous" by Captain Nemo, his indignation is considerably tempered by the amazing possibilities of research in this vessel that were previously unimaginable to him.
Conseil - Aronnax's imperturbable servant (the Professor puts it down to his being Flemish), his stoical reply to practically anything thrown at him, any incredible circumstance or seemingly unfathomable request, is simply "Just as Monsier wishes".
Ned Land - a Canadian Harpooner, called in when it was thought that the strange creature causing havoc in the shipping lanes was in fact a giant sea monster. He feels the improsonment hardest of all, and is forever planning how to escape.
Captain Nemo - a genius, an enigma. He designed the Nautilous, has more money than the whole nation of France, and has more priceless artistic and natural treasures than the Louvre. He is also fiercely proud, hates humanity in general yet clearly feels a deep attachment to his crew, and knows more about the secrets of the watery deep than any man alive - perhaps than every other person to have ever lived - yet does not seem to find the peace that he seeks. He is one of the most mysterious and enigmatic figures in all literary history, and in a way I felt that by the end of reading the book I knew little more about his secrets than when I started. This left me feeling slightly disappointed at the conclusion of the book but in a way it was the only possible ending. (No, I'm not going to tell you what actually happened!)
There are no other characters of significance in the book, but it doesn't lose anything for concentrating on only the four characters - in truth, it actually focuses almost entirely on Nemo and Arronax, with Conseil and Ned Land being fairly two-dimensional characters. These two, however, are so interesting that you don't really notice as you go through the book.
I'm not unhappy to have read the unabridged version, but it really could have done with some editing! So much detail is included that reading some passages feels more like reading the transcript from a science lesson than part of a novel! On the other hand, I defy anyone to read this book without learning something they didn't know before! (Verne himself does admit to the extensively detailed nature of the book in one of Arronax's concluding statements: "It is perfectly accurate. Not a fact has been omitted, not a detail exagerrated. It is the faithful account of an incredible expedition in an element as yet inaccessible to man, but which progress will, no doubt, one day reveal to him."
In line with that last sentence, Verne's incredible imagination and ability to extract the most relevant aspects of what to him was modern or speculative technology produced not only a great book but also a template for scientists to follow. Indeed, it is said that almost every aspect of Verne's view of underwater life has been made a reality, and that no-one has influenced submarine vessel designers as much as he did! For someone who never had any formal training in science or engineering, that's quite an amazing feat.
Despite sometimes going into far too much detail for my liking, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea is a compelling read, partly because of the environment that is so close but so far from all of us, but mainly due to the eternal mystery surrounding Captain Nemo. The gentle humour that puts in an appearance from time to time (usually in the form of Conseil) adds a light touch to the proceedings, and the plentiful action set pieces are well written as you'd expect. Younger ones or those who don't read much may find the unabridged version slightly hard going at times, but for avid readers it's a must-read. Not quite 5 stars in my opinion, though maybe the abridged version would be. For anyone interested in the sea or early science fiction, it is of course absolutely required reading.
I can't make out from the details here if this is the unabridged version of not. The cover shown here is certainly different to the cover of my book, but that's not always a reliable guide. So to avoid any confusion, he version I am reviewing here is the Penguin Popular Classics, which is complete and unabridged, translated (with footnotes) into English by Mendor T. Brunetti. ISBN: 0-14-062118-0. For some reason no RRP is listed on the back, neither do Amazon.co.uk list an RRP for it though they have it listed for £1.50 new. It consists of 382 pages (the story itself being divided into 24 chapters), including a breif 2-page author biography and a conversion table for the various lengths and measurements used, such as league, fathom, cable, etc.