Monday, June 13, 2016

One Year, 25 Books: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Captain Nemo sailed away...

First off: A league equals 3 nautical miles.

I have wasted precious time by not reading this quite sooner. I did remember that "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea," the movie, was a bit alarming and unappealing to me as a wee girl because of the visions imprinted in my mind of those giant squids and the behemoths under the ocean, I thought, what a fright to be close to it with just the glass to separate man and beast, what if it broke? But this is quite a must read. Very educational although some events written here are inconceivable. That said, the voyages of the Nautilus, that fantastic submarine with Captain Nemo at the helm is a treat of a lifetime for our adventurous inner teenager.


Professor Pierre Aronnax, a curious, well mannered and enterprising biologist who heads the Les Jardin de Plantes in the Museum of Natural History in Paris is commissioned to investigate a sea creature being hunted in many oceans known as the "Narwhal.” Tales of this “beast" became taller and taller as men related it to the next one and so on; though it was discovered early on that this behemoth is none other than the formidable and wonderful submarine itself, the "Nautilus."

Prof. Aronnax with his companions Conseil, his assistant and Ned Land, a blood-thirsty harpooner first embark at the ship called the Abraham Lincoln for the hunt of the famed Narwhal. A battle takes place between the Lincoln and the "Narwhal" wherein the former gets discomfited and the three men find themselves captured by Captain Nemo inside what they have known to be a monster whale but was in fact, a submarine. Seen as enemy combatants at first, they were informed that they could choose to be executed or be treated as guests inside the vessel where they will explore the depths of the ocean, learn about marine wildlife but with the caveat of never going back to live in terra firma. For the moment, the men chose to stay. 

Their expedition takes them to very many parts of the earth’s hydrographic realm such as the Asiatic seas, the Artic and  Antarctic, Vigo Bay in Spain where treasures are found in sunken galleons, the Sagrasso Sea where there’s a higher concentration of salt compared to the other seas, the Red Sea, the same one which Moses parted, the Atlantic where they trace that mythical fallen continent Atlantis. On to spend harrowing days at the South Pole, interesting events at the Indian Ocean and even on the shores of Papua, New Guinea.  Indeed it’s quite the voyage around the world, underwater. The marine species are very vividly described here, like the zoophytes, various fishes, mollusks, crustaceans and cetaceans/whales,  all manner of corals, fucus or that seaweed with thick leathery stalks and the episode with "Bouguer’s Cuttlefish” is the one that gave me nightmares as a child though today, the case isn’t the same. Only this, I will not look at the cuttlefish the same way again. 

Transparent in this book is Verne’s fascination with the various phenomena of the sea, like  the phosphorescence,  a.k.a. St. Elmo’s fire wherein a bright translucent plasma is created by a discharge from a pointed object in a strong electrical field in the atmosphere caused by thunder and lightning storms. Navigational and nautical terms too are abundant, the Nautilus sub which was a very modern and self-sustaining vessel harnessing energy from the electrolytes of the sea has made me wonder if Verne may not have been a time traveler himself, being privy to something very advanced for the time frame when he wrote this book. I have read that many submarine makers have gleaned from and took notes from this book when making new ones in these modern times, fictitious it may be.

Just read the book why don’t you? Your sense of adventure will be awakened, encourage your children, loved ones to read it and their imagination will delve into the ocean depths. Because of it, now more than ever I have the desire to be friends with the sea, something I both fear and am awed by. 

Last, allusions overflow about this mysterious underwater genius named Captain Nemo, from anime/manga, Disney movies, TV shows, rock bands and that Sarah Brightman song and that is telltale of the mystique of this book. There is more from Jules Verne about Capt. Nemo in "The Mysterious Island," and I'm looking forward to that. El Capitan himself is left as a conundrum even after the book ends, much like his fate. Was he a madman? An executioner or a brilliant scientist that the world needed? We shall see, in my view there can never be enough spinoffs about him and I wished, this book didn't end. 

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