Sunday, October 23, 2016

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Extraordinary Voyages, #6)Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an interesting novel because it both has and has not aged well.  On one hand, Verne really nailed down the scientific aspects of the book.  The Nautilus is, of course, a submarine that was beyond its time and is still remarkable in our own for how well it pinned down features of subs that hadn't actually been developed yet.  And then there's the stuff like the pseudo-scuba equipment, and the portable lights for under water, and the deep sea exploration in general.  These are things that are still very much in use and relevant even if their form isn't exactly as Verne portrayed it in his book.

At the same time, though, this book dates back to a time when serials for the masses were the craze and when many people couldn't afford to travel, and things like aquariums weren't really accessible to the general populace.  The endless descriptions of every fish that Aronnax (our narrator) sees really wore on my patience, though they probably would have been remarkable to people who couldn't go to an aquarium or turn on a seven-hour nature documentary series about the oceans.  Still, they didn't really age that well and seemed to take up a lot of page space compared to the actual content.  Things like the mysterious passage under the Isthmus of Suez are also total bunk now and really seem like a reach compared to the more finally-wrought pieces of the book.

The actual "adventure" portions of the book also seemed few and far between.  There are two instances here that I think really stand out: the excursion to the ruins of Atlantis and the maelstrom at the end.  Both of these episodes are rather short, disappointingly so amidst the endless fish descriptions, and it's actually a bit surprising that Verne didn't do more with them.  With Atlantis, there's a lot of walking, a couple minutes of standing in one spot and going "Wow!  Atlantis!" and then a lot of walking back to the Nautilus.  With the maelstrom, there's so much drama building up, and then--suddenly--Aronnax wakes up with all the drama glossed over and done with, and with no memories of what actually happened.  For an adventure novel, it's very strange, and it makes it feel very much like Verne was more comfortable with spouting a stream of locations, distances, and fish species than he was with actually writing action.  There are only two big action scenes here that I can think of: when the Abraham Lincoln actually encounters the Nautilus, and the incident with the giant squid.  Even things that are made out to be big events, like the undersea hunting expedition, are mostly a bunch of walking back and forth.

I can definitely see where some of the appeal of Twenty Thousand Leagues comes from, but while it has some cool components that have lingered, I think that the bulk of the book just drags too much for it to be a really riveting read in the modern era.

2 stars out of 5.

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