Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reflections: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Adam C. Zern offers a few thoughts on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

"I wanted to like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I really, really did.  I burned through the first few dozen pages because I was so intrigued, so interested, so eager to know what would happen within Jules Verne's story and what he would do with his characters.  The main protagonist, whose personal account is the actual book, Scientist and Naturalist Pierre Aronnax, and his two companions then end up as passengers/captives on Captain Nemo's famous Nautilus submarine and Verne effectively murders his story.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a surprisingly dull and meandering book.  Each and every time Verne creates any kind of tension, suspense, and interest in his stories and characters he smothers it by pages and pages of pointless and excessive exposition and cataloguing of sea animals and the environments they inhabit-pages, and pages, and pages of it.  I would repeatedly close the book in frustration after reading a particularly interesting part because Verne would inevitably return to Aronnax and his obnoxious cataloguing.  In fact, Verne seems aware of what he's doing and how annoying it is.  Take, for example, the following thought from Verne's protagonist:

"I here end this somewhat dry, perhaps, but very exact catalogue, with the series of bony fish I observed . . ."

I wish I could recommend reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea simply because it's considered a classic and one of the first of its kind.  Those facts are all fine, and I'm willing to give credit where credit is due.  However, those achievements do not make Verne's book any good.  The saddest part of it all is that the book could have been great!  Captain Nemo is a wonderful character to read about and to try and decipher.  In fact, he is probably the most wasted literary character I have ever come across.  The setting is exciting and there were moments in the book when I genuinely felt a sense of grandeur and a feeling of awe for the living seas.  But, as I said before, it all gets pummeled under the heavy burden of superflous garbage.

Unless you have a goal to read all or as many of the classics as you can, I would not recommend 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I, of course, understand that the book was written before the information age and authors wrote differently because of it, but I don't think that makes the chore that is reading the book anymore worth it or enjoyable.  It was definitely one of the least enjoyable books I have read this year."

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