A classic work of science fiction, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, first put forward the idea of submarines. The author, Frenchman Jules Verne, also accurately predicted the invention of aeroplanes, space satellites, guided missiles and diving suits with self-contained oxygen, none of which was invented in his lifetime. His first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon was published in 1863, followed by Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. The first submarine invented was named Nautilus in Verne’s honour.
The book under review tells the story of Monsieur Arronax, the narrator; Conseil, Aronnax’s servant and faithful companion; Ned Land, a Canadian harpooner; and Captain Nemo of the mighty Nautilus.
An expert oceanic naturalist, Arronax is asked to join a hunting expedition whose aim is to snare the elusive giant of the deep — the narwhal. For weeks, Arronax and the rest of the crew restlessly scan the sea. At last they spy it — it is as immense as reports have said, but no cannon volley or harpoon seems to damage it, and it slides maddeningly out of their grasp.
A storm whips up suddenly, at night, and Arronax and two crewmen are swept into the sea. They find refuge — on the back of the beast they have been hunting — no beast at all, but an immense submarine called Nautilus! Their astonishment is short-lived, as the submarine begins diving. Desperately, they pound on its hull as the waters rise around them. Their signal is heard, and they are brought below and introduced to the Nautilus’ mysterious captain, Nemo, who invites them to tour the wonders of the deep.
The submarine is a technological, self-sustaining wonder, enabling its crew to investigate the sea hundreds of fathoms beneath the surface — strange creatures, shipwrecks, the Antarctic, even fabled Atlantis. However, the Nautilus is also the newcomers’ prison, for Nemo has renounced civilization and decreed the three must remain aboard forever...
An excerpt from the last chapter of the book, when the Nautilus is sucked into a maelstrom or whirlpool.
What a predicament! We were rocking frightfully. The Nautilus defended itself like a human being. Its steel muscles were cracking. Sometimes it stood on end, the three of us along with it!
“We’ve got to hold on tight,” Ned said, “and screw the nuts down again! If we can stay attached to the Nautilus, we can still make it . . . !”
He hadn’t finished speaking when a cracking sound occurred. The nuts gave way, and ripped out of its socket, the skiff was hurled like a stone from a sling into the midst of the vortex.
My head struck against an iron timber, and with this violent shock I lost consciousness.