Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 7, 2010

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne

Thirteen people gathered at the North Village library to discuss Jules Verne’s classic undersea adventure. Eleven of us had read Verne before. Eleven attendees started this book, and eight finished.

The book was originally written in French, and several of us read different translations. Overall we read four different versions. The one we most commonly read was the 1990s version from Naval Institute Press, which restored much previously-missing material and provided numerous interesting footnotes and illustrations.

One reader was impressed by the book. He could tell by its episodic nature that it was written for serialization. He felt Verne’s science was accurate for its time. He liked the buildup of dramatic tension as the Nautilus headed for the South Pole, but felt the ending fizzled. He said that it’s clear from reading this book that Verne is the father of science fiction writing.

Another had originally read and enjoyed this book in her youth, when she appreciated the science and teaching aspects of the story. Upon rereading it as an adult, she wished it had followed more of the “show, not tell” approach to storytelling. She still enjoyed the book.

A few people familiar with submarines were impressed by how much Verne got right in the book.

Several readers had fun with the footnotes in the Naval Institute Press edition. The explanations of the book’s references to then-current events provided useful context. One reader said that the footnotes were almost too much fun, since they kept prompting him to consult the Internet for more information. He also was shocked by the realization that the use of electricity was cutting-edge science fiction at the time.

One reader said this book demonstrated Verne’s idea that technology can improve people’s lives. He felt the submarine technology was not predicting but rather foretelling. He also noted the book had three main characters with different personality types, a device later used in fiction and television such as Star Trek.

Another liked Verne’s prose style and science but found the book’s episodic nature made it too easy to put down. She thought Verne did a great job at conveying a sense of wonder.

One person said that she just wasn’t interested in reading a Victorian travelogue.

Another commented that it’s impossible for her to comment objectively on Verne, since he was one of her first sf authors.

A few people compared this book to Moby Dick, which was written a little earlier. There was disagreement about which was better.

After the meeting, many of us went to dinner at Sherlock’s Pub.

–A. T. Campbell, III