Quite A Fish Story – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea


I really wanted my last entry for 2012 to be a rip-roaring adventure. I have virtuously wound my way through serious literature – I mean serious literature. I have, at times, been depressed, but I will get to that tomorrow. Today, I must take exception to the scurrilous trick played on me by Classics Illustrated Comics in 1972. Gracing the pages of the graphic novel was a rousing adventure under the sea, led by this man:



captain nemo

Captain Nemo.

Ah, no. Such was not the case. The creator of the science fiction novel, Jules Verne, concentrated entirely too much on the science and not nearly enough on the fiction.

I read this on a Kindle, so I have no real clue as to how long this book is. It reads like it’s about 500 pages. And parts of it can be traced back to my Classics Illustrated experience. The battle with the giant squids is not to be missed. I mean, really – the dude is out there, slashing off tentacles with an ax. Truly the stuff of adventure!

The adventure part of the book, including the exposition, rising, and falling action, can easily be relayed in 200 really solid pages. The other 300 pages, however, are an author fancying himself a taxonomist, listing every fish, eel, whale, seal, penguin, starfish, and all flora in long, long passages full of scientific terminology. Our hero, Professor Aronnax is a chronicler of the first order and his mission is to catalog all the species of flora and fauna he encounters in his 20,000 league adventure. Sears and Roebuck actually stole this idea for their early advertising, I am pretty sure. This catalog experience blew the promise of adventure out of the water, until I learned to recognize when Verne was about to start listing, at which point I started skipping.

I was also disappointed in the lack of characters. In effect, there were four characters:

Our good Professor, with whose every thought the reader becomes intimately acquainted;

Captain Nemo, about whom we learn little, if anything, other than he has a dastardly side that only reveals itself at 99% finished;

Conseil, the professor’s servant who serves only as an echo and refers to his employer as “Master” – ‘Nuf said;

And finally –

Ned Land, an energetic harpooner who happens to be dragged along for the ride.

500 pages. Fish. And four characters.

No wonder it took me a month to finish it! (I do claim a slight reprieve for having the ‘flu and the holiday season.)

I am not sorry I read it. It is an interesting side trip into the genre that ultimately yielded the disturbing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But it does explain a lot about why they invented Classics Illustrated.

So, while I cannot love this book, nor will I be anxious to venture into Verne again, I must give it 6/10 hearts. If they had ruthless editors in Verne’s time, this would have been a much better story.


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