Friday, April 27, 2018

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - ABB Review

This is my first ABB for a classic. So here's to hoping I don't incite the masses.

This is not the first classic that I've failed to love or that's brought on some extreme emotions worthy of ABB notice. It's simply the first that got me so darn ranty on so many points that I NEED TO EXPRESS.

 First though, the details. 

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a classic science fiction novel by French writer Jules Verne published in 1870. It tells the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus as seen from the perspective of Professor Pierre Aronnax.

After hunting what he thinks is some giant narwhale, Aronnax goes overboard and is picked up by the Nautilus. What follows is the Professor's observations of his 20,000 league voyage.

Sounds interesting, right? To be fair I read an abridged version as a child and looooved this story. I got my hands on what professes to be as close of a translation as possible. So now I have the original to chew on.

Now, credit has to be given for this being written in 1870. I completely get that some things do not date well and as time has gone on, obviously we have more accurate information as well as easier means of accessing it. I get that . . . really. Verne can't help that his novel didn't age well in some aspects. But it doesn't mean I didn't have some eye twitching and sputtering at points.

Since I managed to get through the whole thing, I'm now going to have my rant.

Leagues starts out well enough and the bit of dragging as we wait to find the elusive "prey" can be excused as building up to that moment.

Once inside the sub though, things went downhill. In an attempt to either wow his audience with a ton of information or attempting to legitimize his tale by spewing "facts", Verne bogs his novel down with the most BORING crap ever.

I don't know what he was thinking, but uh yeah, I did not need to know the exact location of every single island that they passed(didn't stop at, but just passed in the distance.) Just tell me what ocean you're in or what island it is. I get the picture. Keep your meridians and long/lat info. And it was ALL THE FREAKING TIME!

Also on unnecessary and boring novel bogging bits, we had Conseil. Conseil was the man child of the novel. He's called a boy but is in his 30's and his entire life is dedicated to serving Aronnax and having no opinion whatsoever. He constantly refers to Aronnax in third person kind of like hmm... oh yeah, that other person with no sense of individuality.

Hmm, maybe Tolkien was annoyed by Conseil and used him as inspiration! When he's not doing the whole "does master need anything?" routine(it went hand-in-hand with the "If master wishes, that's what we'll do. I have no wishes except for what those of master are.") he had this GREAT habit of classifying everything to death.

Conseil's not a smart person and couldn't tell you the difference between a penguin and a puffer fish. But if you tell him the names of those animals he'll sit there and run down the entire taxonomy of them. And he does it frequently! And with great gusto!

I wanted to throw him overboard many times. Seriously though!! Who wants to hear the taxonomy of every freaking thing we see on this trip? Not me!!!

Next on the docket for "ways I attempted to amaze my readers and failed" we have GIANT paragraphs that contain lists of marine plant and animal life. Pages of it sometimes. I mean . . . I can just see it now. 

"Mr. Verne, we see here you have a new book. What do you think is your great selling point?"

"I'm so glad you asked, Mr. Publisher. I figured I would open up an encyclopedia and list every mollusk name I found to fill up pages 45-50. And then I repeated that process with fish, mammals, seaweed, coral, etc. I do try to break up these giant lists with show of movement from place to place, which I prove by constantly updating my character's exact coordinates."

"And you think this will fascinate readers?"

"Who doesn't love an over abundance of details and lists so long that they lose their impact by the end?"

"Good point. You have a deal then."

This is so not something I can blame time for. No, I'm sorry, but this is not a matter of lack of information. This is just plain crazy!!! I mean, paragraphs and paragraphs of stuff fit for a Dr. Seuss book.

"We opened the window and saw red fish, blue fish, green fish, spiked fish, fish with spots, fish with dots. girl fish, boy fish, twenty-four fish! Fish from down deep and fish that like to leap! Fish with long hoses and fish that smell like roses. Fish from the Pacific, but this list is short and not too specific. Fish that swim upside down and fish that can only swim around and around. Fish that smile and fish that sing. Fish that can sprint a mile in spring!"

And finally we finish with fish and move onto a different animal/plant group. It got to the point where I hailed my fellow sufferer(ie. my friend who was reading this at the same time) and said, "I'm just going to start skipping the paragraphs of classifications, long/lat, and lists of everything out our window."

In this case, less would've been more. A few key examples of what they were seeing and really bring those to life. Instead by the time I got to the end of a list I couldn't tell you what was on it but "clams". It was a list of clams. Hang what kind! Heck, normally I'd go look up something new and interesting but these were just . . . 

Even excluding the slow points of boring, overly done details, the first half of the journey was soooo boring. Very little happened and the one sorta interesting part was where they were temporarily locked up and then drugged. It's quickly over and forgotten so holds very little tension.

Eventually events start to pick up and there's some interesting trips and excursions. I think they would've stood out better had their been less clutter. But I now found a new issue . . . FACTS. Yes, this is Science FICTION, but the premise seems to be, "Here be a fantastical underwater ship with sci-fi stuff to explain how that's possible. And then here's it in our real world with everything else as it truly is."

Therefore I feel at least partially justified in my reaction to events and descriptions of certain things. While at the same time I acknowledge that I have access to way more information than Verne did. So I have him at a disadvantage there. I don't know if he was too lazy to do research or simply got his hands on bad information(I suspect the latter), but either results in a book that didn't age well.

(My knowledge on below matters stems mostly from a natural love of water that has led to having collected a few facts on oceans and diving and such. While SCUBA certified, my diving experience is limited and no, I don't have any sort of specialized degree. But you're welcome to check my facts here.)
  1. Seaweed. Yes, I'm going to grouse about seaweed. Seaweed comes in three groups. Greens, browns, and reds. Greens need the most sunlight, reds the least.

    It's like algae on your fish tank or in your pond. It likes warmth and light. Most seaweed is going to grow above 100 meters. And logically if 100 is about the max then that means there's not much growing at that depth and because of lack of sunlight . . . IT'S GOING TO BE RED.

    Verne plants an entire freaking forest of the stuff AT 100 meters and oh wow, it comes in all three shades. *facepalm* This happens in contemporary novels too. People, seaweed needs sunlight. Stop planting it so deep!
  2. Oxygen and diving. There's a lot of technical stuff that goes on here. But I'll stick to the basics. One tank of air is normal for diving. Deep diving usually involves two. One tank of air at 30 feet gives you approx an hour of dive time. (experienced divers can go a little longer and exertion also weighs in, but we'll stick with an hour)

    ONE hour. At 30 feet(10 meters). Now you cannot sell me on a scuba tank from 1865 that holds 8-9 hours of air(as stated by Captain Nemo) when they don't exist in 2018. I'm not buying whatever Verne was on. That stuff was potent.
    This only gets more ludicrous when you realize that a lot of these dive trips are at depths much greater than 10 meters. The deeper you go, the less time you get on your tank of air. It is NOT recommended to dive past 130 feet(40 meters). Firstly you're only getting a few minutes of air at that depth. Secondly, it's not healthy. Again, this gets a bit technical for me, but basically something about the nitrogen and oxygen in your blood. It makes you wonky after a certain depth. Basically toxic.

     I distinctly remember my dive instructor telling me a story of how he was friends with a guy who went too deep and thought the crabs were talking to him. Deeper you go, the more your brain chemistry goes crazy and it's not good. So these strolls at 100+ meters that the book characters are doing(HOURS of diving at that depth) is insane on so many levels.

    Despite Aronnax talking about pressure, they never seem to really experience it. At the depths they're diving I can't even imagine how bad the pressure would be. Even if oxygen wasn't an issue, the pressure would be. Not once do we see the characters feeling the effects of pressure or even equalizing(though granted, I don't know how one equalizes with a glass dome on their head).
  3. The getaway boat. Our intrepid sub is equipped with a boat on the top that is covered and sealed tight. Supposedly you can climb in while underwater(from the sub) and then release it and shoot up to the surface and roll back the top and you're all set! Now, let's just assume for a minute that you're NOT down so far that the pressure would keep that boat from going up(air in boat won't matter if the pressure is great enough) and the boat does shoot up to the surface. Um, the closer that boat gets to the surface the faster it's going to go and you'll be rising too fast. You are definitely NOT supposed to come up to the surface that fast. You have to decompress coming up.
  4. But you know, Verne just had water issues all over the place. The concept of being heavier the deeper you went didn't seem to occur to him. Poor Aronnax was wracking his brain over the "how to get the sub to sink when all that pressure would be pushing you upwards!!" and I'm shaking my head. He seemed to think the deeper you went, the harder it was to stay down because all that pressure would be pushing you up.

    Nooooope. Divers have to stick weights on their equipment to sink at first, but as they go deeper, they get heavier. So then you put air into your "jacket" to balance out your weight. The deeper you go, the more air you have to add. And if you don't add air, you drop faster and faster because you only get heavier. The sub would be the same thing. Deeper it went, the heavier it'd be.
    Reverse is also true. When you're coming up you have to slowly dump the air as you get lighter to maintain a balance, or yeah, you will shoot to the surface like a rocket. Then you're again rising too fast and you don't properly decompress.
  5. The South Pole. Nemo seems to be on a quest to explore ever part of the ocean as fast as he can, and yet seems to take very little happiness from it. At one point there is an excursion to the South Pole and I eventually just shut down mentally thinking about it.

    The most obvious flaw is that they go under the ice and up into a mysterious open lake in the center of the ice and take a reading on a hill near the lake to find that yes, they are right at the South Pole. The South Pole is of course a continent. There's ice on it, and around it, but if you wanted to get to the center, you'd have to start tunneling through dirt. It's impossible to reach the South Pole in the manner they did.
    Also, to have an unfrozen lake in the center there is probably also impossible. I imagine it's never warm enough at the pole for there to be an unfrozen lake. I can't say 100% that's true, but that's my guess.

    Next, we have whales that swam under the ice to reach this lake. Now, this is a huge dive for the Nautilus and it takes at least 36 hours for them from the time they had to dive under the ice until the time they came up. (The last point of time they gave me referenced about that long and shortly after is when they found the lake.)

    Now, whales can't stay underwater that long. You're looking at about 2 hours for an impressive whale breath holding contest. Even the most intense OP whale wouldn't make that trip without stops along the way for air. Not even close.

    While at this fascinating fantasy pole, Aronnax encounters walruses(which are ARCTIC animals. They are not found in Antarctica.) I got about 3-5 pages that day because I was suspicious about some walrus facts as it was. Aronnax says their tusks are made of pure ivory and harder than an elephants. I really don't trust the author at this point, so I stopped to do some digging.
    I didn't find an answer on the hardness of the tusks(it'd be interesting if true), but I did on the ivory bit. I thought for sure ivory was an elephant only thing. It is. Sort of. True ivory only comes from elephant tusks. So saying it was made of pure ivory is a bit of a fudge. Often tusks from any animals are called ivory though. Not a big deal(placing them on the wrong side of the planet is), but I found it interesting.

    Aronnax is also remarkably resilient to the cold. Or it's just not that cold. Warmest temps in Antarctic are -15 degrees, but this guy trots around like it's a beach holiday! It's probably even colder since it's at the end of the daylight time for the region! But he goes on hikes and wanders around and just doesn't seem to exhibit any signs of being in a supremely cold place. I can't stand when authors forget their climate and fail to show the reality of living in that climate. Cold weather is not the same as temperate!
    Overall, I was very very unimpressed with Verne's take on the South Pole.
  6. Animals. Back up to the sperm/baleen whale situation. Sperm whales do NOT eat baleen whales!!! They eat fish and squid. If you wanted a hunter, he should've picked on orcas, and even then, they like fish and seals. They might pick on a dolphin. But even they don't hunt other whales that I know of. Which made the whole senseless slaughter of them all the more frustrating.

    We have a shark attack a diver in the Indian Ocean at one point in the novel. Unprovoked, outright shark attack. Nemo ends up going for the shark after the diver gets knocked out and a bloody battle ensues. The shark . . . is a blacktip reef shark.

    Blacktip are famous for being cowards. They do NOT just attack people. Unless they were lured in because you tied a bag of dead fish to your waist or something, they're probably not going to attack. Most people who swim in areas with these sharks make it a point to outright swim in shallow water rather than wade so that the sharks can see that they're human. It lessens the chance of an attack.
    For one of these sharks to attack in the manner shown in the novel(and not flee when it's getting a heavy beating) is very far-fetched. It doesn't help that Aronnax labels the shark as an evil man-eater. Clearly Verne had his issues with a few large sea animals.

    Earlier on, they see two sharks on their way back from an underwater stroll. This is how they're viewed, "My blood turned cold in my veins! I saw that we were under threat from a fearsome pair of sharks. They were blue sharks, dreadful man–eaters with enormous tails, dull, glassy stares, and phosphorescent matter oozing from holes around their snouts. "

    Ahh, clearly some deadly killers! Only . . . how do you explain that in over 400 years there's only record of 13 incidents (as of 2013)where blue sharks even BIT someone! Duh, they must just be so dangerous they devour their human prey every time and those 13 are just lucky they escaped!!

    With all the sharks in the world that are way more likely to attack humans, couldn't Verne have thrown them in there?

    Also, the whole thing about sharks having to flip upside down to bite people . . . where did he come up with that!!
Now maybe you're wondering why the above bothers me so much. Part of it is simply the fact that it's wrong. I don't like errors. It has me shouting at the book that whatever it said wasn't true. In the case of 20k Leagues, there's another 2 reasons why it bugs me.

Firstly, people didn't have the luxury of researching things with ease like we do when this book came out. And they didn't for a long time after. When there's a book selling facts that aren't true, they would believe them. That's really too bad that someone with that much influence cluttered up a book with false information. His chance to educate people on the wonders of the world they didn't get to hear about or see was wasted when he riddled it with false facts.

Secondly, as a reader who can(and will!) look up things I find interesting in books(factual things. You can make your unicorns do whatever you want) and who happens to know some basic marine life and diving snippets, I spent way too much of this book being annoyed with errors. And when I came across something that I didn't know was true or false, I started assuming false.

Verne had made so many wrong statements at that point that I couldn't bring myself to trust him. An author I trust could tell me a fun fact and I'd be like oohh, that's so cool! Verne would say something and I'd be like, yeah right, idiot. There were too many things to look up and if I wasn't drawn to research an aspect, I just read it like it was someone describing the grinding of wheat. I couldn't believe him and I refused to be awed by something that in all likely was probably not true. I also wasn't going to go running to family/friends and say, "Hey, did you know . . . " and share my new knowledge because HA, it probably wasn't right!

There were areas not related to misinformation that bothered me too.  One of the points I hated was the hunting of animals. The words, "These animals have been over-hunted" from Nemo was a sure sign that he was then going to go hunt that very animal. Oh, the poor otters, they're being over-hunted . . . okay let's kill some.

Not even joking. Nemo spouts these things about how he's so much better than everyone else because he feels for the pour endangered animals. AND THEN HE KILLS THEM! Does he wake up every morning and have conversations with himself where he denies being part of the problem?

And it's not even like he needs to kill them! (I'll get to food in point 6) And sometimes, he just gets on this moral high horse and mass slaughters vulnerable species!

The worst case of this is definitely the whale massacre. Nemo lectures Ned, a harpooner who also got trapped on this sub, about wanting to kill a baleen whale for sport. I agree. But . . . a short few lines later, Nemo sees a pod of sperm whales(he says something about them traveling in pods of 300-400 *eye roll*) and they are EVIL. He thinks THEY should be wiped off the face of the Earth. Every last one should be slaughtered because . . . they hunt and eat baleen whales.

Waiiiiit. So let's stop for a second. Does that mean every apex predator should be eliminated? What would happen to that delicate balance if we wiped out every animal that ate an animal we like? What's the criteria for evil? Because if it's eating a mammal then uh, we have a lot of work to do. Let's start killing!

They climb back into the sub . . . and Nemo proceeds to kill the entire pod of sperm whales with the spur on the sub. They come back to the surface and there's nothing but bloody water for miles around. They just slaughtered who knows how many sperm whales(just as vulnerable as baleen whales I might add) and they did so not even for sport! Ned can't kill one whale for sport, but Nemo can kill an uncountable amount because he's decided the world is better off without them. They don't even keep the mutilated bodies for food or oil. They just swim off with the water tainted by all that death. (I bet some evil sharks came and cleaned up.)

At least Ned is a character that is honestly just wanting to hunt animals and doesn't profess to hold some higher code. I prefer a straightforward character with a trait that fits that time period than one that does the same stuff, but acts like he's somehow different.

The same pattern of "oh, this animal is going extinct. Okay, dinner time!" was repeated way too often. Aronnax talks about the manatees being hunted to the point where it was causing a negative reaction on land. I don't know if that was true, but if it was it was sure a good reason to leave them be. Immediately Nemo goes out and kills half a dozen, which Aronnax claims is all right and good because after all, it was merely a matter of stocking the pantry.
Right after that, they go and catch several loggerhead turtles as well. Most of the animals they make a special note of hunting are on the vulnerable side of the list, but these turtles are actually endangered. And here we are hunting them! Live off the freaking masses of fish you're catching! I don't see why this wide variety in diet is needed under the sea. I don't eat lions and elephants just for variety! I don't go after every land animal to put in my fridge, so I don't see why Nemo needs ever sea creature for his.

And then there's the food hoarding. Aronnax guesses the population of the sub to be under 65 people. The most seen though is around 10. So let's just meet him at 30 and say that's how many people are there. I don't know how a bunch of people who wander around/sit on a sub almost every day--all day--manage to EAT so much but . . . they constantly are hauling in nets full of fish, hunting animals(overhunted ones!!! But hey, we NEED them), and it's insane! At one point they go out and kill "hundreds" of penguins to eat.

Now tell me . . . where are they stashing all this food? Why do we need that much food for that few people? We don't. It just makes the whole sermon on how Nemo isn't evil like other hunters because he only hunts for survival all the more ludicrous. HUNDREDS of penguins in one stop!

There's also some issues with the lack of resolution. By the end of the book, too many things are left a mystery. Something my fellow victim, Elise, also felt was a problem. Nemo's name, origins, purpose are all gone unanswered. We don't know why he feels driven to attack certain ships, or even what country these ships originate from. There's also the fact that regardless of what happened to upset him, the chances of the people on those ships being involved is slim.

Nemo eventually suicides(or attempts it) by steering his sub into a maelstrom. Which I accepted as a child would indeed be enough to take out even the infamous Nautilus. Research shows that the power of such whirlpools is greatly exaggerated and even the big one Nemo hit isn't a problem for large ships. I can't imagine a submarine would encounter that much trouble.
But what causes this decline? For most of the voyage, Aronnax is almost in awe of Nemo. They get to be pretty buddy buddy and Aronnax is okay with his imprisonment. Ned is seen as a loose cannon because he for some inexplicable reason wants his freedom. Nemo almost hits like a deity status for Aronnax which is super annoying. But after the South Pole trip, something changes.

Nemo becomes even more reclusive and sullen. He lashes out in anger a few times at the prisoners and loses that cool, aloof manner he's known for. This causes Aronnax to shift his opinion of the man and finally want his freedom.

But what causes the change, we're not told. A man who's been all over the oceans to explore suddenly decides not only to end his life, but that of his crew and prisoners. Everything he's collected and the drive to see all the things no longer matters. That's a huge shift. I wanted to know the root cause of it.

Just as I wanted to know what caused <65 men to join this escapade. How did Nemo find that many people willing to give up a life outside of a submarine? What language do they speak? How did they fluently train everyone in a different language, or invent and train everyone in a made up language?
Why are the crew simply cutout figures? They have no names, no personalities, and somehow Aronnax and his friends only meet them under circumstances where they're simply props. They're hunting, chopping ice, whatever.

Theodore L.  Thomas wrote an essay on 20k Leagues around 60 years ago. A lot of what he said is no longer considered valid since it was on a poor translation. But I feel like he actually was on the right track, even if he'd had his hands on an accurate copy.

He says that the book is full of elementary mistakes and the depictions of several things are pretty bad. He claims that Verne did not take advantage of information and knowledge that would've been available to him at the time.
This makes me lean all the more heavily towards lazy writing. I can't help thinking that so many of the errors could've been cleared up with some research on Verne's part.

I was so happy to hit the end of this book(which I gave 1 star) and will never pick up Verne's work again. I only stuck out this book because it's part of my classics challenge for the year and I try very hard to stick with them.

In review, my main points for hating this book:

  • Misinformation/lack of research
  • Overly detailed/descriptive sections on marine life, boat mechanics, and positions
  • Too many questions left unanswered
  • Pointless killing of vulnerable species
The truly sad thing is this has a lot of potential. I thought about giving it 2 stars for potential. But potential means nothing if you don't reach for it. With some major editing and research, this could've shown out as a book worthy of being deemed a classic. Instead I'm left wondering how something so lacking made it into that category.

Well played whoever is responsible for this books addition to that list. I salute your genius.

For anyone curious as to what my co-conspirator thought of the book, you can catch her review on her blog.

Examples. I'm sharing bits of the info heavy sections to highlight what I meant at the beginning of the post. I'm putting them here so that if you don't want to read them or get all glassy-eyed over it, you can just close this post when your eyes start bleeding instead of scrolling to find where the awful content ends. (There's really nothing hiding after this. xD It's not like credits in a movie!)

"In 1600, sir, the Dutchman Gheritk was swept by storms and currents, reaching latitude 64° south and discovering the South Shetland Islands. On January 17, 1773, the famous Captain Cook went along the 38th meridian, arriving at latitude 67° 30'; and on January 30, 1774, along the 109th meridian, he reached latitude 71° 15'. In 1819 the Russian Bellinghausen lay on the 69th parallel, and in 1821 on the 66th at longitude 111° west. In 1820 the Englishman Bransfield stopped at 65°. That same year the American Morrel, whose reports are dubious, went along the 42nd meridian, finding open sea at latitude 70° 14'. In 1825 the Englishman Powell was unable to get beyond 62°. That same year a humble seal fisherman, the Englishman Weddell, went as far as latitude 72° 14' on the 35th meridian, and as far as 74° 15' on the 36th. In 1829 the Englishman Forster, commander of the Chanticleer, laid claim to the Antarctic continent in latitude 63° 26' and longitude 66° 26'. On February 1, 1831, the Englishman Biscoe discovered Enderby Land at latitude 68° 50', Adelaide Land at latitude 67° on February 5, 1832, and Graham Land at latitude 64° 45' on February 21. In 1838 the Frenchman Dumont d'Urville stopped at the Ice Bank in latitude 62° 57', sighting the Louis–Philippe Peninsula; on January 21 two years later, at a new southerly position of 66° 30', he named the Adélie Coast and eight days later, the Clarie Coast at 64° 40'. In 1838 the American Wilkes advanced as far as the 69th parallel on the 100th meridian. In 1839 the Englishman Balleny discovered the Sabrina Coast at the edge of the polar circle. Lastly, on January 12, 1842, with his ships, the Erebus and the Terror, the Englishman Sir James Clark Ross found Victoria Land in latitude 70° 56' and longitude 171° 7' east; on the 23rd of that same month, he reached the 74th parallel, a position denoting the Farthest South attained until then; on the 27th he lay at 76° 8'; on the 28th at 77° 32'; on February 2 at 78° 4'; and late in 1842 he returned to 71° but couldn't get beyond it. Well now! In 1868, on this 21st day of March, I myself, Captain Nemo, have reached the South Pole at 90°, and I hereby claim this entire part of the globe, equal to one–sixth of the known continents."

*looks that over* Mhmm. Yeah, at least this showed up in the "okay I'm skimming bogus crap" stage.

Some thirty pictures by the masters, uniformly framed and separated by gleaming panoplies of arms, adorned walls on which were stretched tapestries of austere design. There I saw canvases of the highest value, the likes of which I had marveled at in private European collections and art exhibitions. The various schools of the old masters were represented by a Raphael Madonna, a Virgin by Leonardo da Vinci, a nymph by Correggio, a woman by Titian, an adoration of the Magi by Veronese, an assumption of the Virgin by Murillo, a Holbein portrait, a monk by Velazquez, a martyr by Ribera, a village fair by Rubens, two Flemish landscapes by Teniers, three little genre paintings by Gerard Dow, Metsu, and Paul Potter, two canvases by Gericault and Prud'hon, plus seascapes by Backhuysen and Vernet. Among the works of modern art were pictures signed by Delacroix, Ingres, Decamps, Troyon, Meissonier, Daubigny, etc., and some wonderful miniature statues in marble or bronze, modeled after antiquity's finest originals, stood on their pedestals in the corners of this magnificent museum. As the Nautilus's commander had predicted, my mind was already starting to fall into that promised state of stunned amazement.

Because we couldn't just be told "He had a bunch of awesome paintings. Here's an example of say two of them." Likewise, below, we meet the same issue when Aronnax gives us a "brief" summary of what Nemo has in his glass showcases.

An excitable conchologist would surely have fainted dead away before other, more numerous glass cases in which were classified specimens from the mollusk branch. There I saw a collection of incalculable value that I haven't time to describe completely. Among these exhibits I'll mention, just for the record: an elegant royal hammer shell from the Indian Ocean, whose evenly spaced white spots stood out sharply against a base of red and brown; an imperial spiny oyster, brightly colored, bristling with thorns, a specimen rare to European museums, whose value I estimated at ₣20,000; a common hammer shell from the seas near Queensland, very hard to come by; exotic cockles from Senegal, fragile white bivalve shells that a single breath could pop like a soap bubble; several varieties of watering–pot shell from Java, a sort of limestone tube fringed with leafy folds and much fought over by collectors; a whole series of top–shell snails—greenish yellow ones fished up from American seas, others colored reddish brown that patronize the waters off Queensland, the former coming from the Gulf of Mexico and notable for their overlapping shells, the latter some sun–carrier shells found in the southernmost seas, finally and rarest of all, the magnificent spurred–star shell from New Zealand; then some wonderful peppery–furrow shells; several valuable species of cythera clams and venus clams; the trellis wentletrap snail from Tranquebar on India's eastern shore; a marbled turban snail gleaming with mother–of–pearl; green parrot shells from the seas of China; the virtually unknown cone snail from the genus Coenodullus; every variety of cowry used as money in India and Africa; a "glory–of–the–seas," the most valuable shell in the East Indies; finally, common periwinkles, delphinula snails, turret snails, violet snails, European cowries, volute snails, olive shells, miter shells, helmet shells, murex snails, whelks, harp shells, spiky periwinkles, triton snails, horn shells, spindle shells, conch shells, spider conchs, limpets, glass snails, sea butterflies—every kind of delicate, fragile seashell that science has baptized with its most delightful names.

I hear you pleading enough! So I'll leave you with one more piece of torture and then let you down from the rack.

"Here, Professor Aronnax, are the different dimensions of this boat now transporting you. It's a very long cylinder with conical ends. It noticeably takes the shape of a cigar, a shape already adopted in London for several projects of the same kind. The length of this cylinder from end to end is exactly seventy meters, and its maximum breadth of beam is eight meters. So it isn't quite built on the ten–to–one ratio of your high–speed steamers; but its lines are sufficiently long, and their tapering gradual enough, so that the displaced water easily slips past and poses no obstacle to the ship's movements.

"These two dimensions allow you to obtain, via a simple calculation, the surface area and volume of the Nautilus. Its surface area totals 1,011.45 square meters, its volume 1,507.2 cubic meters—which is tantamount to saying that when it's completely submerged, it displaces 1,500 cubic meters of water, or weighs 1,500 metric tons.
"In drawing up plans for a ship meant to navigate underwater, I wanted it, when floating on the waves, to lie nine–tenths below the surface and to emerge only one–tenth. Consequently, under these conditions it needed to displace only nine–tenths of its volume, hence 1,356.48 cubic meters; in other words, it was to weigh only that same number of metric tons. So I was obliged not to exceed this weight while building it to the aforesaid dimensions.

"The Nautilus is made up of two hulls, one inside the other; between them, joining them together, are iron T–bars that give this ship the utmost rigidity. In fact, thanks to this cellular arrangement, it has the resistance of a stone block, as if it were completely solid. Its plating can't give way; it's self–adhering and not dependent on the tightness of its rivets; and due to the perfect union of its materials, the solidarity of its construction allows it to defy the most violent seas.

"The two hulls are manufactured from boilerplate steel, whose relative density is 7.8 times that of water. The first hull has a thickness of no less than five centimeters and weighs 394.96 metric tons. My second hull, the outer cover, includes a keel fifty centimeters high by twenty–five wide, which by itself weighs 62 metric tons; this hull, the engine, the ballast, the various accessories and accommodations, plus the bulkheads and interior braces, have a combined weight of 961.52 metric tons, which when added to 394.96 metric tons, gives us the desired total of 1,356.48 metric tons. Clear?"
"So," the captain went on, "when the Nautilus lies on the waves under these conditions, one–tenth of it does emerge above water. Now then, if I provide some ballast tanks equal in capacity to that one–tenth, hence able to hold 150.72 metric tons, and if I fill them with water, the boat then displaces 1,507.2 metric tons—or it weighs that much—and it would be completely submerged. That's what comes about, professor. These ballast tanks exist within easy access in the lower reaches of the Nautilus. I open some stopcocks, the tanks fill, the boat sinks, and it's exactly flush with the surface of the water."


  1. Awesome review! I am so glad we've finished it.

  2. Excellent memes, as always. And I really liked the personal insight on how not-gonna-happen the diving scenes were--I had no frame of reference for that when reading the book, so that's good to know.