Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea [Annotated]

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Separate different tags with a comma. To include a comma in your tag, surround the tag with double quotes. Please enable cookies in your browser to get the full Trove experience. Skip to content Skip to search. Published New York : Crowell, c Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. Physical Description xxii, p. Subjects Verne, Jules, Notes "The only completely restored and annotated edition.

Book Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

View online Borrow Buy Freely available Show 0 more links Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"? Eddie Koiki Mabo Library. Monash University Library. Open to the public ; That Indian, doctor, is the inhabitant of an oppressed country, I am his compatriot, and shall remain so to my very last breath!

So, maybe Nemo's not a terrorist. Maybe he's a freedom fighter. What's the difference , you ask? That's the thing: it's hard to say, really. Perhaps Nemo is truly fighting the good fight, battling hard for liberty and justice for all. Perhaps he's taking out his own personal anger in all the wrong ways. By now, we're guessing you know why we think this book is important to read today. This novel draws attention to the messiness of people's motivations for war. Nemo's enemy remains anonymous throughout the text, and the reasons behind his vengeance are always vague. So Verne intentionally muddies the waters haha, we're funny surrounding the potentially justifiable use of violence in the war s against oppression.

All rights reserved. How else do you think such leaders recruit people to fight for them? Cite This Page. Logging out…. Logging out You've been inactive for a while, logging you out in a few seconds I'm Still Here! W hy's T his F unny? In adapting the novel to the film medium, Disney, Fleischer, and their creative staff compressed and changed the tone of the incidents of the story as well as the characters and their relationships to each other.

These changes are often minute, but they accumulate to weaken Nemo's character, to strip away his science of its power. Verne's original plot is a counterpoint between two elements: first, wonder over the natural world from a scientist's point of view; and, second, the strange incidents of Nemo's underwater travels during which his individualist philosophy is revealed.

Behind these overt themes is also a story of four men thrown together in extraordinary circumstances, the juxtaposition of their characters and their affections for each other. The director vaguely blames this perceived flaw on the translations, which is partly true, as Walter James Miller has argued. Nevertheless, I would suggest that each episode in Verne's plot was carefully positioned and paced.

The scenes of natural wonder, reverie, emotion, and the escalation of violence and natural catastrophe support the slow unfolding of the characters and their personal dilemmas. From the standpoint of plot, the episodes may seem loose, but from the standpoint of symbolism, the action builds in a careful, contrapuntal structure to Nemo's ultimate crisis of soul and Aronnax's decision to leave him in its grip. The desire to improve on Verne's story led Fleischer and Felton to focus on the escape plot.

Ethical subtlety is reduced to a Hollywood mythos of macho heroism. This is further complicated by Nemo's own ambivalent position as a defender of freedom who keeps prisoners. He is a father who has lost ordinary domestic and social ties and replaced them with a hierarchy of perfectly loyal and subservient crewmen.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A Novel (Illustrated and annotated)

The Disney Leagues emphasizes the emotional appeal of these aspects of the story, but Nemo's power as an archetypal father is undermined as his uncanny infallibility is turned into accident-prone aimlessness. The attraction between Aronnax and Nemo is still there, but the emphasis on Ned Land and actor Paul Lucas' age make Aronnax look like one of the symbolic fathers. Power is thus shifted from the fathers to the son who is rebelling against them and their scientific value system.

Part of the weakening of Nemo's character comes from taking away most of his ferocity.

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Such an interpretation is not based in careful reading, nor does it even represent the film Nemo's actions. He is never on the defensive in the book except against natural forces and the cannibals who are represented as no serious threat. In the novel, Nemo always has the advantage over his human opponents. Captain Nemo is not, however, simply a pirate.


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One learns in Mysterious Island that he is a prince, which gives him a reason to see himself as a sovereign will. The film masks his regal origins. Instead of focusing on Nemo's dilemma, the film shifts the emphasis onto Ned Land as the hero of individual freedom, a freedom to be asserted at the expense of—rather than by means of —scientific knowledge and technological genius. Freedom and science are no longer united but are opposed. Worse still, Ned's push for personal liberation directly results in the killing of Nemo and his crew through Ned's complicity with what is represented as a brutal regime of colonial slavers and arms merchants.

There is an interesting blurring in that near-final scene where the khaki-clad troops storm Nemo's volcanic crater. Intended or not, Disney's film carries with it American doubts about the use of military force and its relationship to technoscientific miracles. Submarines and Symbolic Phalluses.

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Nemo's infallible scientific knowl-edge, his mathematical skills, and his hardened exterior all symbolize the power of the symbolic phallus. This power is vested in Nemo as a man of genius and is thrown into relief by the relatively few glimpses the novel affords us of his more tender side. When he lovingly regards the sea and cooks a gourmet meal from the fruits of the body of that Great Mother, one sees the Dionysian eros and pleasure usually hidden behind his cold, Apollonian control. Captain Nemo's oscillation between the poles of Eros and Logos is what ultimately leads to his despair.

Even the Nautilus herself is both instrument of war and a luxuriant domestic space. In the film's abbreviation of character development one can lose this subtlety, but it is still played out by James Mason in non-verbal ways that enhance the emotional tensions of the story. Symbolically, it is as if the clinical gaze of the scientist witnesses its own destructive power with abject horror. The technician, whose ocularity consumes Nature and alienates him from others by reifying the world, is visually consumed himself, disappearing into that omnivorous eye, and so into the viewer's eye.

This moment of the film is a fascinating commentary on the character of Captain Nemo. In the novel, one never gets a description to match this scene. The terror and strain on Mason's face as he anticipates the collision, makes him seem less cold and ruthless than the man described in the novel—which is to say weaker in the value system of machismo. The eye and the perspiration might be read sympathetically, making him more human, but it might also be read simply as the sign of madness.

Unlike the scientists of Verne's novel, whose objective gaze is always a source of wonder, the s' scientist sometimes experiences his own rationalized and mechanized self and its acts of destruction with horror and a sense of alienation. The extreme close-up used in this climactic scene renders a glimpse of Nemo's subjectivity while keeping him and his point of view an object, a mystery. The instrumental reason of mechanized warfare haunts the film, troped as both liberating power and consuming madness. The relative emphasis in the film on Nemo's passion and luxuriance is especially evident as his desire to form a homosocial bond3 with Professor Aronnax is brought to the fore.

The attraction between the two scientists is accented, in part, because Aronnax is made to side more angrily with Nemo against Ned and Conseil something unnecessary in the book because of Conseil's self-effacing loyalty to his master. In part, this marriage of minds is also accented because Nemo is not absent for long stretches of time as he is in the book. At the same time, the bonding between Ned Land and Conseil is heightened as they are rendered more visible than in the book.

The interplay of the three men vying for the love and loyalty of Professor Aronnax can be read as the cultural play of gender surrounding the figure of the scientist-engineer as an icon of male power. Aronnax is not manly in a physical sense he doesn't, for example, help in the fight against the squid as he does in the novel , but he represents the modern locus of power in scientific institutions such as the Paris Museum.


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As his interview by the reporters at the opening of the film points out, he is an authority because of his knowledge. The figure of the ship's captain is a familiar trope a metonym as well as a metaphor for patriarchal power based in military and hierarchic institutions. Nemo, as a renegade captain, transports that power outside of an institutional structure. In the Disney film, Ned Land's machismo is accentuated and adapted to a Hollywood stereotype that counterbalances the luxuriant masculinity of Nemo.

In other words, the original Ned is revised to suit the need for a proper Hollywood hero—headstrong and muscular, ready for a brawl—while Nemo is robbed of most of his heroic moments. By contrast, in the novel, Ned's physical prowess is clearly subordinated to the much greater cerebral prowess of the two scientists. He is, along with Conseil, treated in the background as a member of the working class, subservient to the gentlemen of the elite and always highly respectful, however much he dislikes being kept prisoner aboard a submarine. The contrast is between two versions of masculinity neatly split along the Cartesian division between Body and Mind.

The Enigma of Enclosure. If the symbolic phallus is present in film and novel in the images of the submarine, the fist, and the penetrating gaze of the scientist, the maternal womb is equally present in the multiple symbols of enclosure. From beginning to end of the novel, Captain Nemo and the Nautilus constitute an enigma to Aronnax and most of the suspense of the plot derives from the professor struggling to penetrate their captor's secrets.

One of the most intriguing elements of the book—which the Disney writers might have maintained, but didn't—is the secret language of Nemo and his crew. It is part of the way they cut themselves off from the rest of the world, and it is crucial for the atmosphere of helpless isolation that surrounds Professor Aronnax and his companions.

He is a scientist whose own power comes from an identity constructed within a discursive community and its international institutions. When we see him in the film, he is often writing. Nemo, too, shares this worldly power, as exemplified by his multi-lingual library of technical and scientific treatises including, significantly, Professor Aronnax's own book on the sea. When James Mason takes down a huge folio edition of Aronnax and peruses it in the opening moments after discovering the professor aboard his ship, he conveys the mastery Nemo asserts over his captive colleague.

His scientific knowledge of the seas is far greater than Aronnax's or that of any other scientist of the time. But what one loses with the omission of the secret language is the sense that Nemo has achieved a discursive superiority over the whole institution of Western science, by, as it were, containing it inside his own language. Ned Land's voracious appetite for red meat and his classification of the fishes only into those that are good to eat and those that aren't contrasts comically with the desire of Nemo and Aronnax to consume the natural world through naming and classifying according to the discourses of science.

The film retains something of Aronnax's quest to know Nemo and Nemo's sporadic courtship of his brother- savant , but undermines the seduction by having Nemo rush to explain himself and demand the professor's love. Instead of the gradually developing attraction between Nemo and Aronnax, in which the Captain shares his secrets and stages acts of technical prowess to impress his new companion, the film presents us with the full flowering of the relationship moments after the characters have met.

Instead of the long quarantine of the castaways and Nemo's deliberation over what he should do with them, the film presents a rash and callous tyrant who immediately orders Conseil and Ned thrown into the sea and tells Aronnax that he alone may stay. Nemo tries to woo him by announcing that he has penetrated all the secrets of the seas. You'll have to choose between them and me. This line from the film points toward the obvious homosocial triangles present in Verne's narrative.

Nemo wishes to exchange the feminine body of la mer , the Mother Sea, as the container of love. Jealously, the film's Nemo wishes to eliminate the other men, his rivals for the professor's love. These changes depart from the representation of cool rationality and careful political philosophy originally presented by Verne.

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In the novel, Nemo keeps his prisoners confined for some time, considering what to do with them, finally deciding that he must not throw them overboard, even though, as a self-proclaimed sovereign, he can claim the right to such an execution. In his script, Felton did include the important moment when Aronnax accuses Nemo of being a savage rather than a civilized man, but note the difference. I have broken with society entirely, for reasons which I alone have the right to assess.

I, therefore, do not obey its laws, and I advise you never to allude to them before me again! The film's Nemo, by contrast, tosses the professor out on deck with the others, submerges, then surfaces after Aronnax and Conseil have been washed off the deck. The dunking episode in the film is presented as a test of Aronnax's mettle. Will he betray his friends to save his life? The scene is designed to focus attention on the contrast between the violent Ned Land and a Nemo who is more concerned with the power of personal loyalties.

The Annotated Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea

In the novel, the captain is less harsh, more philosophical, and more concerned with containing the castaways. They pose no threat to his power, except insofar as they might reveal his secret existence. In the film, we are lead to believe that Nemo is thinking of using Aronnax as his emissary to the world. The result of this revision of the story is to make Nemo less closed, less self-sufficient, and at the same time, less decisive.

The subtle change in the balance of power between the castaways and the captain is figured even earlier in the way Aronnax and the others come on board the Nautilus. In the novel, Aronnax is nearly drowned, saved only by Conseil's valiance.


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The scene subtly signals the body-intimacy that exists between the professor and his man: Conseil has to cut away the professor's clothes, as well as his own, so that they can swim. The nakedness of the two men in this scene signifies their reduction to an abject state—thrown down from the ship into the hostile sea, they sink towards a world that is at once death and wonder. Like Nemo, they cast off society and are reduced to their common humanity despite Conseil's insistence on remaining the servant to the bitter end.

When they encounter the mysterious submarine at the last moment, they find Ned Land already resident on the silent, closed hull. They are unable to gain admittance until, rapping on the iron plates, they rouse Nemo and his crew. The castaways are violently drawn down into the submarine by masked crewmen and thrown, cold and soon starving, into a dark, doorless chamber.

This image of entombment, imprisonment, and the return to the womb of the Great Mother Sea foreshadows everything that follows: their desire to remain, their desire to escape, Aronnax's dream of becoming a mollusk, and a complex symbolism of devouring and uterine enclosure. In the film, on the other hand, Nemo not only leaves the hatches open, but leaves the Nautilus completely unmanned while he and his crew perform undersea burial rites for one of their fellows.

The inclusion of the burial scene here, at the beginning of the story, provides a beautiful sequence of underwater photography to get us quickly into the wonders of Cinemascope, but it ignores the character development which unfolds through Verne's plotting. In the novel, the burial in the coral graveyard occurs in chapter twenty-four, the very center of the novel and the end of its first part. In this position it is the culmination of the development of Nemo's character. His rational scientific power and engineering genius, and his seeming lack of human compassion, have been developed through many displays of technical prowess.

This sequence climaxes when he uses the Nautilus to kill, ramming an enemy warship.



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