Sunday, July 17, 2011

40. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I have read that the popular english translations of Jules Verne's work were quite badly done, with large chunks taken out of them that were not deemed of interest to the english-speaking audience, or possibly even prejudicial.  Nonetheless, I couldn't resist picking up this beautiful old paperback version two summers ago at an antique shop (where I found also The Black Arrow amidst an entire set of these Airmont classics that I felt a bit guilty for splitting up).  It has sat on my shelf for a year and I finally thought our long vacation in the Maritimes would be a good time to read it.

The trip turned out to be perfect as 20,000 Leagues is extremely nautical, as are the Maritimes.  So while I was reading about a fantastical voyage through the world's oceans, I was also visiting seafaring museums, passing famous historical maritime locations and dragging my feet through beautiful tide pools of the southern Prince Edward Island shore.  You can see why Verne's books were so popular among the boys of his time and later. They are true speculative, escapist adventures, but based on what fact they had at the time and more or less reasonable theories of the way things might be.  20,000 Leagues is basically the answer to "what would it be like if we could explore the oceans of the world in an awesome submarine."  There are all kinds of cool explorations and neat little adventures.  They get stuck under the South Pole, get into a battle with giant squids.  They get to look at fantastic ranges of sealife and plants (these sections, done in that 19th century style of science that was mainly concerned with categorizing stuffs, are kind of tedious) as well as cool locations under the water.

There is a more psychological and political theme lurking under the surface of this colonialist adventure and that is Captain Nemo's fierce hatred for the rest of the world.  It frames the book, but is really only touched upon.  I wonder if some of that text is what was lost in these translations?  Ecology is also a bit of a muddle here, where sometimes Verne seems to delight in the wholesale slaughter of creatures and believes the earth's abundance is limitless and other times he laments man's excessive consumption of certain types of species.

I'm glad I've finally read some Verne.  I would like, at some point in the future, to read a proper translation of whatever is considered either his most interesting or most representative work.


Matthew Asprey said...


OlmanFeelyus said...

Thanks for that link. It confirms some of the stuff I had heard references to. If books are worth anything these days, it seems like a new, proper translation of Verne's work could be a decent seller. I guess the translation costs would be quite high.