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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Title page of the original illustrated edition
Author Jules Verne
Original title Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
Illustrator Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou
Country France
Language French
Series Voyages Extraordinaires
Genre Science fiction, adventure novel
Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date
Preceded by In Search of the Castaways
Followed by Around the Moon

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (French: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin, literally Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: An Underwater Tour of the World) is a classic science fiction novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870. It tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus, as seen from the perspective of Professor Pierre Aronnax after he, his servant Conseil, and Canadian whaler Ned Land wash up on their ship. On the Nautilus, the three embark on a journey which has them going all around the world.

The novel was originally serialized from March 1869 through June 1870 in Pierre-Jules Hetzel's periodical, the Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation. The deluxe illustrated edition, published by Hetzel in November 1871, included 111 illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou.[1] The book was highly acclaimed when released and still is now; it is regarded as one of the premiere adventure novels and one of Verne's greatest works, along with Around the World in Eighty Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The description of Nemo's ship, the Nautilus, was considered ahead of its time, as it accurately describes features on submarines, which at the time were very primitive vessels. Thus, the book has been able to age well because of its scientific theories, unlike some other of Verne's works, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, which are not scientifically accurate and serve more simply as adventure novels.


The title refers to the distance traveled while under the sea and not to a depth, as 20,000 leagues is over six times the diameter of Earth.[2] The greatest depth mentioned in the book is four leagues. (The book uses metric leagues, which are four kilometres each.[3]) A literal translation of the French title would end in the plural "seas", thus implying the "seven seas" through which the characters of the novel travel; however, the early English translations of the title used "sea", meaning the ocean in general.


In the year 1866, ships of several nations spot a mysterious sea monster, which some suggest to be a giant narwhal. The United States government assembles an expedition in New York City to find and destroy the monster. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist and narrator of the story, who happens to be in New York at the time, receives a last-minute invitation to join the expedition which he accepts. Canadian whaler and master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax's faithful servant Conseil are also brought aboard.

Title page (1871)

The expedition departs Brooklyn aboard the United States Navy frigate Abraham Lincoln and travels south around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. The ship finds the monster after a long search and then attacks the beast, which damages the ship's rudder. The three protagonists are then hurled into the water and grasp hold of the "hide" of the creature, which they find, to their surprise, to be a submarine very far ahead of its era. They are quickly captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo.

The rest of the story follows the adventures of the protagonists aboard the creature—the submarine, the Nautiluswhich was built in secrecy and now roams the seas free from any land-based government. Captain Nemo's motivation is implied to be both a scientific thirst for knowledge and a desire for revenge on (and self-imposed exile from) civilization. Nemo explains that his submarine is electrically powered and can perform advanced marine biology research; he also tells his new passengers that although he appreciates conversing with such an expert as Aronnax, maintaining the secrecy of his existence requires never letting them leave. Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea vistas, but Land constantly plans to escape.

They visit many places in the world's oceans, some known to Jules Verne from real travelers' descriptions and speculation, while others are completely fictional. Thus, the travelers witness the real corals of the Red Sea, the wrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves, the Transatlantic telegraph cable and the fictional submerged land of Atlantis. The travelers also use diving suits to hunt sharks and other marine life with air-guns and have an underwater funeral for a crew member who died when an accident occurred under mysterious—and unknown to the reader—conditions inside the Nautilus. When the Nautilus returns to the Atlantic Ocean, a pack of "poulpes" (usually translated as a giant squid, although in French "poulpe" means "octopus") attacks the vessel and kills a crew member.

Throughout the story Captain Nemo is suggested to have exiled himself from the world after an encounter with the forces that occupied his country that had devastating effects on his family. Near the end of the book, the Nautilus is attacked by a warship of that nation. Nemo ignores Aronnax's pleas for mercy. Nemo—nicknamed angel of hatred by Aronnax—attacks the ship, ramming it just below the waterline, sending it to the bottom of the ocean, much to the horror of Aronnax who watches in awe from the saloon glass as the ship plunges to the depths. Nemo bows before the pictures of his wife and children and is plunged into deep depression after this encounter, and "voluntarily or involuntarily" allows the submarine to wander into an encounter with the Moskenstraumen, more commonly known as the "Maelstrom", a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. The three prisoners seize this opportunity to escape. They manage to escape the danger and find refuge on a nearby island off the coast of Norway, but the fate of Nautilus is unknown.

Themes and subtext

Nautilus's route through the Pacific
Nautilus's route through the Atlantic

Captain Nemo's name is a subtle allusion to Homer's Odyssey, a Greek epic poem. In The Odyssey, Odysseus meets the monstrous cyclops Polyphemus during the course of his wanderings. Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name, and Odysseus replies that his name is "Utis" (ουτις), which translates as "No-man" or "No-body". In the Latin translation of the Odyssey, this pseudonym is rendered as "Nemo", which in Latin also translates as "No-man" or "No-body". Similarly to Nemo, Odysseus must wander the seas in exile (though only for 10 years) and is tormented by the deaths of his ship's crew.

Jules Verne several times mentions Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, "Captain Maury" in Verne's book, a real-life oceanographer who explored the winds, seas, currents, and collected samples of the bottom of the seas and charted all of these things. Verne would have known of Matthew Maury's international fame and perhaps Maury's French ancestry.

References are made to other such Frenchmen as Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, a famous explorer who was lost while circumnavigating the globe; Dumont D'Urville, the explorer who found the remains of Lapérouse's ship; and Ferdinand Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal and the nephew of the sole survivor of Lapérouse's expedition. The Nautilus seems to follow the footsteps of these men: she visits the waters where Lapérouse was lost; she sails to Antarctic waters and becomes stranded there, just like D'Urville's ship, the Astrolabe; and she passes through an underwater tunnel from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean.

The most famous part of the novel, the battle against a school of giant cuttlefish, begins when a crewman opens the hatch of the boat and gets caught by one of the monsters. As the tentacle that has grabbed him pulls him away, he yells "Help!" in French. At the beginning of the next chapter, concerning the battle, Aronnax states, "To convey such sights, one would take the pen of our most famous poet, Victor Hugo, author of The Toilers of the Sea." The Toilers of the Sea also contains an episode where a worker fights a giant octopus, wherein the octopus symbolizes the Industrial Revolution. It is probable that Verne borrowed the symbol, but used it to allude to the Revolutions of 1848 as well, in that the first man to stand against the "monster" and the first to be defeated by it is a Frenchman.

In several parts of the book, Captain Nemo is depicted as a champion of the world's underdogs and downtrodden. In one passage, Captain Nemo is mentioned as providing some help to Greeks rebelling against Ottoman rule during the Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869, proving to Arronax that he had not completely severed all relations with mankind outside the Nautilus after all. In another passage, Nemo takes pity on a poor Indian pearl diver who must do his diving without the sophisticated diving suit available to the submarine's crew, and who is doomed to die young due to the cumulative effect of diving on his lungs. Nemo approaches him underwater and gives him a whole pouch full of pearls, more than he could have acquired in years of his dangerous work. Nemo remarks that the diver as an inhabitant of British Colonial India, "is an inhabitant of an oppressed country".

Model of the 1863 French Navy submarine Plongeur at the Musée de la Marine, Paris.
The Nautilus as imagined by Jules Verne.

Verne took the name "Nautilus" from one of the earliest successful submarines, built in 1800 by Robert Fulton, who later invented the first commercially successful steamboat. Fulton's submarine was named after the paper nautilus because it had a sail. Three years before writing his novel, Jules Verne also studied a model of the newly developed French Navy submarine Plongeur at the 1867 Exposition Universelle, which inspired him for his definition of the Nautilus.[4]

The breathing apparatus used by Nautilus divers is depicted as an untethered version of underwater breathing apparatus designed by Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze in 1865. They designed a diving set with a backpack spherical air tank that supplied air through the first known demand regulator.[5][6] The diver still walked on the seabed and did not swim.[5] This set was called an aérophore (Greek for "air-carrier"). Air pressure tanks made with the technology of the time could only hold 30 atmospheres, and the diver had to be surface supplied; the tank was for bailout.[5] The durations of 6 to 8 hours on a tankful without external supply recorded for the Rouquayrol set in the book are greatly exaggerated.

No less significant, though more rarely commented on, is the very bold political vision (indeed, revolutionary for its time) represented by the character of Captain Nemo. As revealed in the later Verne book The Mysterious Island, Captain Nemo is a descendant of Tipu Sultan, a Muslim ruler of Mysore who resisted the expansionism of the British East India Company. Nemo took to the underwater life after the suppression of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, in which his close family members were killed by the British. This change was made at the request of Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who is known to be responsible for many serious changes in Verne's books. In the original text the mysterious captain was a Polish nobleman, avenging his family who were killed by the Russians in retaliation for the captain's taking part in the Polish January Uprising of 1863. As France was at the time allied with the Russian Empire, the target for Nemo's wrath was changed to France's old enemy, the British Empire, to avoid political trouble. It is no wonder that Professor Pierre Aronnax does not suspect Nemo's origins, as these were explained only later, in Verne's next book. What remained in the book from the initial concept is a portrait of Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish national hero, leader of the uprising against Russia in 1794, with an inscription in Latin: "Finis Poloniae!" ("The end of Poland!").

The national origin of Captain Nemo was changed again in most movie realizations; in nearly all picture-based works following the book Nemo was made into a European. However, he was represented as an Indian by Omar Sharif in the 1973 European miniseries The Mysterious Island. Nemo is also depicted as Indian in a silent film version of the story released in 1916 and later in both the graphic novel and the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), a live-action Technicolor film version of the novel, Captain Nemo is a European, bitter because his wife and son were tortured to death by those in power in the fictional prison camp of Rura Penthe, in an effort to get Nemo to reveal his scientific secrets. This is Nemo's motivation for sinking warships in the film. He is played in this version by the British actor James Mason, with an English accent. No mention is made of any Indians in the film.

Margaret Drabble argues that Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea anticipated the ecology movement and shaped the French avant-garde.[7]

Recurring themes in later books

Jules Verne wrote a sequel to this book: L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island, 1874), which concludes the stories begun by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and In Search of the Castaways. While The Mysterious Island seems to give more information about Nemo (or Prince Dakkar), it is muddied by the presence of several irreconcilable chronological contradictions between the two books and even within The Mysterious Island.

Verne returned to the theme of an outlaw submarine captain in his much later Facing the Flag. That book's main villain, Ker Karraje, is a completely unscrupulous pirate acting purely and simply for gain, completely devoid of all the saving graces which gave Nemo—for all that he, too, was capable of ruthless killings—some nobility of character.

Like Nemo, Ker Karraje plays "host" to unwilling French guests—but unlike Nemo, who manages to elude all pursuers, Karraje's career of outlawry is decisively ended by the combination of an international task force and the rebellion of his French captives. Though also widely published and translated, it never attained the lasting popularity of Twenty Thousand Leagues.

More similar to the original Nemo, though with a less finely worked-out character, is Robur in Robur the Conqueror—a dark and flamboyant outlaw rebel using an aircraft instead of a submarine—later used as a basis for the movie Master of the World.

English translations

The novel was first translated into English in 1873 by Reverend Lewis Page Mercier (aka "Mercier Lewis"). Mercier cut nearly a quarter of Verne's original text and made hundreds of translation errors, sometimes dramatically changing the meaning of Verne's original intent (including uniformly mistranslating French scaphandre (properly "diving apparatus") as "cork-jacket", following a long-obsolete meaning as "a type of lifejacket"). Some of these bowdlerizations may have been done for political reasons, such as Nemo's identity and the nationality of the two warships he sinks, or the portraits of freedom fighters on the wall of his cabin which originally included Daniel O'Connell.[8] Nonetheless, it became the standard English translation for more than a hundred years, while other translations continued to draw from it and its mistakes (especially the mistranslation of the title; the French title actually means Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas).

In the Argyle Press/Hurst and Company 1892 Arlington Edition, the translation and editing mistakes attributed to Mercier are missing. Scaphandre is correctly translated as "diving apparatus" and not as "cork jackets". Although the book cover gives the title as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the title page titles the book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas; Or, The Marvelous and Exciting Adventures of Pierre Arronax, Conseil His Servant, and Ned Land a Canadian Harpooner.

A modern translation was produced in 1966 by Walter James Miller and published by Washington Square Press.[9] Many of Mercier's changes were addressed in the translator's preface, and most of Verne's text was restored.

In the 1960s, Anthony Bonner published a translation of the novel for Bantam Classics. A specially written introduction by Ray Bradbury, comparing Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab of Moby Dick, was also included.

Many of Mercier's errors were again corrected in a from-the-ground-up re-examination of the sources and an entirely new translation by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, published in 1993 by Naval Institute Press in a "completely restored and annotated edition."[10] It was based on Walter's own 1991 public-domain translation, which is available from a number of sources, notably a recent edition with the title Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (ISBN 978-1-904808-28-2). In 2010 Walter released a fully revised, newly researched translation with the title 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas—part of an omnibus of five of his Verne translations titled Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics and published by State University of New York Press.

In 1998 William Butcher issued a new, annotated translation from the French original, published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-953927-8, with the title Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas. He includes detailed notes, an extensive bibliography, appendices and a wide-ranging introduction studying the novel from a literary perspective. In particular, his original research on the two manuscripts studies the radical changes to the plot and to the character of Nemo forced on Verne by the first publisher, Jules Hetzel.

Adaptations and variations

The Nautilus as envisioned in the 1954 Walt Disney film.

Comic book and graphic adaptations

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea has been adapted into comic book format numerous times.

  • In 1954, the newspaper strip Walt Disney's Treasury Of Classic Tales published a comic based on the 1954 film, which ran from August 1-December 26, 1954. This was translated into many languages worldwide. Adaptation was by Frank Reilly, with art by Jesse Marsh.
  • In 1955, Dell Comics published a comic based on the 1954 film in issue #614 of their Four Color anthology series called Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.[15] This was reprinted by Hjemmet in Norway in 1955 & 1976, by Gold Key in 1963, and in 1977 was serialized in several issues of Western's The New Micky Mouse Club Funbook, beginning with issue #11190. Art was by Frank Thorne.
  • In 1963, in conjunction with the first nationwide re-release of the film, Gold Key published a comic based on the 1954 film called Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.[16] This reprinted the Frank Thorne version.
  • In 1963, Gold Key published Walt Disney's World Of Adventure, which featured The Adventures Of Captain Nemo, a prequel to the Disney film. Story & art were by Dan Spiegle, who eventually did 6 episodes of the series between 1963-1972.
  • In 1972, IPC in England published Donald And Mickey. The first 12 issues featured The Adventures Of Captain Nemo, with art by Sam Fair.
  • In 1973, Vince Fago's Pendulum Press published a hardcover illustrated book.[17] This collected a new version which had been previously serialized in Weekly Reader magazine. Adaptation was by Otto Binder, with art by Romy Gaboa & Ernie Patricio. This was reprinted in 1976 by Marvel Comics in issue #4 of their Marvel Classics Comics series; in 1984 by Academic Industries, Inc. as issue #C12 of their Classics Illustrated paperback book series; in 1990 again by Pendulum Press, with a new painted cover; and again, using the same cover, in 2010 by Saddleback Publishing, Inc., this time in color.
  • In 1974, Power Records published a comic and record set, PR-42.[18] Art was by Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano.
  • In 1975, Look And Learn Ltd. in England published an adaptation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea as 11 chapters in issues 707-717 of their Look And Learn magazine. This version was reprinted in late 1980 by Fleetway in their Lion Annual 1981.
  • In 1976, Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation via issue #4 of their Marvel Classics Comics line.[19] This was a reprint of the Pendulum Press version.
  • In 1990, Pendulum Press published another comic based on the novel via issue #4 of their Illustrated Stories line.[20] This was a reprint of the Pendulum Press version, with a new painted cover.
  • In 1992, Dark Horse Comics published a one shot comic called Dark Horse Classics.[21] This was originally announced as part of the Berkeley/First Comics Classics Illustrated series, as a full-color "prestige format" book, but was delayed when the company went bankrupt. The Dark Horse version was scaled back to a standard comic-book format with B&W interiors. It was reprinted in 2001 by Hieronymous Press as a limited-edition of 50 copies available only from the artist's website, and more recently, in 2008 from Flesk Publications as an expensive full-color book, as originally intended. Adaptation & art by Gary Gianni.
  • In 2001, Hieronymus Press published a reprint of the Dark Horse Comics version, with a new cover, as a limited-edition of 50 copies, available only from Gary Ginanni's website.
  • In 2008, Sterling Graphics published a pop-up graphic book.[23]
  • In 2008, Capstone Publishers / Stone Arch Books published a graphic novel called Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. The adaptation was by Carl Bowen, the cartoon-style art by Jose Alfonso Ocampo Ruiz, and the coloring by Benny Fuentes.
  • In 2009, Flesk Publications published a graphic novel called Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.[24] This was a reprint, in color for the first time, of the Gary Gianni version.
  • In 2010, Saddleback Publishing, Inc. published a new reprint of the Pendulum Press version, this time in color, and reusing the 1990 cover painting.
  • In 2010, Campfire Classics, a company in India, published a new version. Adaptation was by Dan Rafter, with art by Bhupendra Ahluwalia.
  • In 2011, Campfire Classic published a trade paperback.[25]

References in popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Dehs, Volker; Jean-Michel Margot, Zvi Har’El, "The Complete Jules Verne Bibliography: I. Voyages Extraordinaires", Jules Verne Collection (Zvi Har’El), retrieved 6 September 2012 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Part 2, Chapter 7 "Accordingly, our speed was 25 miles (that is, twelve four–kilometer leagues) per hour. Needless to say, Ned Land had to give up his escape plans, much to his distress. Swept along would have been like jumping off a train racing at this speed, a rash move if there ever was one."
  4. ^ Notice at the Musée de la Marine, Rochefort
  5. ^ a b c  
  6. ^ Acott, C. (1999). "A brief history of diving and decompression illness.". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 29 (2).  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ "How Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King brought you Jules Verne". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  9. ^ Jules Verne (author), Walter James Miller (trans). Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Washington Square Press, 1966. Standard book number 671-46557-0; Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 65-25245.
  10. ^ Jules Verne (author), Walter James Miller (trans), Frederick Paul Walter (trans). Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A Completely Restored and Annotated Edition, Naval Institute Press, 1993. ISBN 1-55750-877-1
  11. ^
  12. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Classics Illustrated #47 [O]". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  13. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Classics Illustrated #47 [HRN128]". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  14. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Classics Illustrated #47 [HRN166]". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Walt Disney 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea [Movie Comics] #[nn]". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Marvel Classics Comics #4". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "GCD :: Cover :: Dark Horse Classics: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea #1". Retrieved 2013-11-15. 
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^ [3]
  24. ^ [4]
  25. ^ [5]
  26. ^ 20,000 Leaks Under the CityNinjaturtles -
  27. ^ Nickelodeon. """Jimmy Neutron: "The Evil Beneath/Carl Wheezer, Boy Genius. Nicktoons. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  28. ^ "Jules Verne's 183rd Birthday". Google. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 

External links

  • 20,000 Leagues under the Sea at Project Gutenberg, trans. by Lewis Mercier, 1872
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, p.d. trans. by F. P. Walter prepared in 1991.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, full text of the Oxford University Press edition and translation by Verne scholar, William Butcher (with an introduction, notes and appendices)
  • (French) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, audio version
  • Map the trajectory of Nautilus
  • in gallica.bnf.frTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the SeaManuscripts of
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Original French version
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