Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea  
20000 title 0a.jpg
Front page of Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
Author(s) Jules Verne
Original title Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
Translator Mercier Lewis
Illustrator Alphonse de Neuville
and Édouard Riou[citation needed]
Country France
Language French
Series The Extraordinary Voyages #6
Genre(s) Science fiction, adventure novel
Publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel
Publication date 1870
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Preceded by In Search of the Castaways
Followed by Around the Moon

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (French: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers) 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. The original edition had no illustrations; the first illustrated edition was published by Hetzel with illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou.



The title refers to the distance traveled while under the sea and not to a depth, as 20,000 leagues is over six times the diameter of Earth. The greatest depth mentioned in the book is four leagues. A literal translation of the French title would end in the plural "seas", thus implying the "seven seas" through which the characters of the novel travel. However, the early English translations of the title used "sea", meaning the ocean in general.


As the story begins in 1866, a mysterious sea monster, theorized by some to be a giant narwhal, is sighted by ships of several nations; an ocean liner is also damaged by the creature. The United States government finally assembles an expedition in New York City to track down and destroy the menace. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a noted French marine biologist and narrator of the story, who happens to be in New York at the time and is a recognized expert in his field, is issued a last-minute invitation to join the expedition, and he accepts. Canadian master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax's faithful assistant Conseil are also brought on board.

Title page (1871)

The expedition sets sail from Brooklyn aboard a naval ship called the Abraham Lincoln, which travels down around the tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. After much fruitless searching, the monster is found, and the ship charges into battle. During the fight, the ship's steering is damaged, and the three protagonists are thrown overboard. They find themselves stranded on the "hide" of the creature, only to discover to their surprise that it is a large metal construct. They are quickly captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo.

The rest of the story follows the adventures of the protagonists aboard the submarine, the Nautilus, which was built in secrecy and now roams the seas free of any land-based government. (As further discussed below, the story was written decades before submarines of such size and utility became a reality.) Captain Nemo's motivation is implied to be both a scientific thirst for knowledge and a desire for revenge on (and self-imposed exile from) civilization. Captain Nemo explains that the submarine is electrically powered, and equipped to carry out cutting-edge marine biology research; he also tells his new passengers that while he appreciates having an expert such as Aronnax with whom to converse, they can never leave because he is afraid they will betray his existence to the world. Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea vistas he is seeing, but Land constantly plots to escape.

Their travels take them to numerous points in the world's oceans, some of which were known to Jules Verne from real travelers' descriptions and guesses, while others are completely fictional. Thus, the travelers witness the real corals of the Red Sea, the wrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves, and the fictional submerged Atlantis. The travelers also don diving suits to go on undersea expeditions away from the ship, where they hunt sharks and other marine life with specially designed guns and have a funeral for a crew member who died when an accident occurred inside the Nautilus. When the Nautilus returns to the Atlantic Ocean, a "poulpe" (usually translated as a giant squid, although the French "poulpe" means "octopus") attacks the vessel and devours a crew member.

Throughout the story it is suggested that Captain Nemo exiled himself from the world after an encounter with his oppressive country somehow affected his family. Near the end of the book, the Nautilus is tracked and attacked by a mysterious ship from that nation. Nemo ignores Aronnax's pleas for amnesty for the boat and attacks. Nemo attacks the ship under the waterline, sending it to the bottom of the ocean with all crew aboard as Aronnax watches from the salon. Nemo bows before the pictures of his wife and children and is plunged into deep depression after this encounter, and "voluntarily or involuntarily" allows the submarine to wander into an encounter with the Moskenstraumen, more commonly known as the "Maelstrom", a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. This gives the three prisoners an opportunity to escape; they make it back to land alive, but the fate of Captain Nemo and his crew is not revealed.

Themes and subtext

Nautilus's route through the Pacific
Nautilus's route through the Atlantic

Captain Nemo's name is a subtle allusion to Homer's Odyssey, a Greek epic poem. In The Odyssey, Odysseus meets the monstrous cyclops Polyphemus during the course of his wanderings. Polyphemus asks Odysseus his name, and Odysseus replies that his name is "Utis" (ουτις), which translates as "No-man" or "No-body". In the Latin translation of the Odyssey, this pseudonym is rendered as "Nemo", which in Latin also translates as "No-man" or "No-body". Similarly to Nemo, Odysseus is forced to wander the seas in exile (though only for 10 years) and is tormented by the deaths of his ship's crew.

The preface of a new English edition[citation needed] of the book has a theory that Nemo's name was in part inspired by Jules Verne visiting Scotland and there coming across Scotland's national motto Nemo me impune lacessit, correctly meaning "No one attacks me with impunity", but reinterpreted by Verne as "Nemo attacks me with impunity".

Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury, "Captain Maury" in Verne's book, a real-life oceanographer who explored the winds, seas, currents, and collected samples of the bottom of the seas and charted all of these things, is mentioned a few times in this work by Jules Verne. Jules Verne certainly would have known of Matthew Maury's international fame and perhaps Maury's French ancestry.

References are made to other Frenchmen. Those include Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, a famous explorer who was lost while circumnavigating the globe; Dumont D'Urville, the explorer who found the remains of the ill-fated ship of the Count; and Ferdinand Lesseps, builder of the French sea level crossing between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean that is known as the Suez Canal and the nephew of the man who was the sole survivor of Lapérouse's expedition. The Nautilus seems to follow the footsteps of these men: She visits the waters where Lapérouse was lost; she sails to Antarctic waters and becomes stranded there, just like D'Urville's ship, the Astrolabe; and she passes through an underwater tunnel from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean.

The most famous part of the novel, the battle against a school of giant cuttlefish, begins when a crewman opens the hatch of the boat and gets caught by one of the monsters. As he is being pulled away by the tentacle that has grabbed him, he yells "Help!" in French. At the beginning of the next chapter, concerning the battle, Aronnax states that: "To convey such sights, one would take the pen of our most famous poet, Victor Hugo, author of The Toilers of the Sea". The Toilers of the Sea also contains an episode where a worker fights a giant octopus, wherein the octopus symbolizes the Industrial Revolution. It is probable that Verne borrowed the symbol, but used it to allude to the Revolutions of 1848 as well, in that the first man to stand against the "monster" and the first to be defeated by it is a Frenchman.

In several parts of the book, Captain Nemo is depicted as a champion of the world's underdogs and downtrodden. In one passage, Captain Nemo is mentioned as providing some help to Greeks rebelling against Ottoman rule during the Cretan Revolt of 1866–1869, proving to Arronax that he had not completely severed all relations with mankind outside the Nautilus after all. In another passage, Nemo takes pity on a poor Indian pearl diver who must do his diving without the sophisticated diving suit available to the submarine's crew, and who is doomed to die young due to the cumulative effect of diving on his lungs. Nemo approaches him underwater and gives him a whole pouch full of pearls, more than he could have acquired in years of his dangerous work.

Some of Verne's ideas about the not-yet-existing submarines which were laid out in this book turned out to be prophetic, such as the high speed and secret conduct of today's nuclear attack submarines, and (with diesel submarines) the need to surface frequently for fresh air. However, Verne evidently had no idea of the problems of water pressure, depicting his submarine as capable of diving freely into even the deepest of ocean depths, where in reality it would likely have been instantly crushed by the weight of water above it, and with humans in diving suits able to emerge and walk along the deep ocean floor where they would likely have died quickly because of physiological effects of depth pressure and their breathing sets not working because of the pressure (see Diving hazards and precautions).

Model of the 1863 French Navy submarine Plongeur at the Musée de la Marine, Paris.
The Nautilus as imagined by Jules Verne.

Verne took the name "Nautilus" from one of the earliest successful submarines, built in 1800 by Robert Fulton, who later invented the first commercially successful steamboat. Fulton's submarine was named after the paper nautilus because it had a sail. Three years before writing his novel, Jules Verne also studied a model of the newly developed French Navy submarine Plongeur at the 1867 Exposition Universelle, which inspired him for his definition of the Nautilus.[1] The world's first operational nuclear-powered submarine, the United States Navy's USS Nautilus (SSN-571) was named for Verne's fictional vessel.[citation needed]

Verne can also be credited with glimpsing the military possibilities of submarines, and specifically the danger which they posed to the naval superiority of the British Navy, composed of surface warships. The fictional sinking of a ship by Nemo's Nautilus was to be enacted again and again in reality, in the same waters where Verne predicted it, by German U-boats in both World Wars.

The breathing apparatus used by Nautilus divers is depicted as an untethered version of underwater breathing apparatus designed by Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouze in 1865. They designed a diving set with a backpack spherical air tank that supplied air through the first known demand regulator.[2][3] The diver still walked on the seabed and did not swim.[2] This set was called an aérophore (Greek for "air-carrier"). Air pressure tanks made with the technology of the time could only hold 30 atmospheres, and the diver had to be surface supplied; the tank was for bailout.[2] The durations of 6 to 8 hours on a tankful without external supply recorded for the Rouquayrol set in the book are greatly exaggerated.

No less significant, though more rarely commented on, is the very bold political vision (indeed, revolutionary for its time) represented by the character of Captain Nemo. As revealed in the later Verne book The Mysterious Island, Captain Nemo is a descendant of Tipu Sultan (a Muslim ruler of Mysore who resisted the British Raj), who took to the underwater life after the suppression of the 1857 Indian Mutiny, in which his close family members were killed by the British.

This change was made on request of Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel (who is known to be responsible for many serious changes in Verne's books), since in the original text the mysterious captain was a Polish nobleman, avenging his family who were killed by Russians. They had been murdered in retaliation for the captain's taking part in the Polish January Uprising (1863). As real France was at the time allied with Tsarist Russia, the target for Nemo's wrath was changed to France's old enemy, the British Empire, to avoid political trouble. It is no wonder that Professor Pierre Aronnax does not suspect Nemo's origins, as these were explained only later, in Verne's next book. What remained in the book from the initial concept is a portrait of Tadeusz Kościuszko (a Polish national hero, leader of the uprising against Russia in 1794) with an inscription in Latin: "Finis Poloniae!" ("This is the end of Poland!").

The national origin of Captain Nemo was changed during most movie realizations; in nearly all picture-based works following the book he was made into a European. Nemo was represented as an Indian by Omar Sharif in the 1973 European miniseries The Mysterious Island. Nemo is also depicted as Indian in a silent film version of the story released in 1916 and later in both the graphic novel and the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, (1954), a live-action Technicolor film version of the novel, Captain Nemo is a European, bitter because his wife and son were tortured to death by those in power in the fictional prison camp of Rura Penthe in an effort to get Nemo to reveal his scientific secrets. This is Nemo's motivation for sinking warships in the film. He is played in this version by the British actor James Mason, with a British accent. No mention is made of any Indians in the film.

Recurring themes in later books

Jules Verne wrote a sequel to this book: L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island, 1874), which concludes the stories begun by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and In Search of the Castaways. While The Mysterious Island seems to give more information about Nemo (or Prince Dakkar), it is muddied by the presence of several irreconcilable chronological contradictions between the two books and even within The Mysterious Island.

Verne returned to the theme of an outlaw submarine captain in his much later Facing the Flag. That book's main villain, Ker Karraje, is a completely unscrupulous pirate acting purely and simply for gain, completely devoid of all the saving graces which gave Nemo — for all that he, too, was capable of ruthless killings — some nobility of character.

Like Nemo, Ker Karraje plays "host" to unwilling French guests — but unlike Nemo, who manages to elude all pursuers, Karraje's career of outlawry is decisively ended by the combination of an international task force and the rebellion of his French captives. Though also widely published and translated, it never attained the lasting popularity of Twenty Thousand Leagues.

More similar to the original Nemo, though with a less finely worked-out character, is Robur in Robur the Conqueror - a dark and flamboyant outlaw rebel using an aircraft instead of a submarine — later used as a basis for the movie Master of the World.


The novel was first translated into English in 1873 by Reverend Lewis Page Mercier (aka "Mercier Lewis"). Mercier cut nearly a quarter of Verne's original text and made hundreds of translation errors, sometimes dramatically changing the meaning of Verne's original intent (including uniformly mistranslating French scaphandre (properly "diving apparatus") as "cork-jacket", following a long-obsolete meaning as "a type of lifejacket"). Some of these bowdlerizations may have been done for political reasons, such as Nemo's identity and the nationality of the two warships he sinks, or the portraits of freedom fighters on the wall of his cabin which originally included Daniel O'Connell.[4] Nonetheless, it became the "standard" English translation for more than a hundred years, while other translations continued to draw from it and its mistakes (especially the mistranslation of the title; the French title actually means Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas).

A modern translation was produced in 1966 by Walter James Miller and published by Washington Square Press.[5] Many of Mercier's changes were addressed in the translator's preface, and most of Verne's text was restored.

In the 1960's, Anthony Bonner published a translation of the novel for Bantam Classics. A specially written introduction by Ray Bradbury, comparing Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab of Moby Dick was also included. This version is still in print.[6]

Many of the "sins" of Mercier were again corrected in a from-the-ground-up re-examination of the sources and an entirely new translation by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, published in 1993 by Naval Institute Press in a "completely restored and annotated edition."[7]

In 1998 William Butcher issued a new, annotated translation from the French original, published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0199539278, with the title Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas. He includes detailed notes, an extensive bibliography, appendices and a wide-ranging introduction studying the novel from a literary perspective. In particular, his original research on the two manuscripts studies the radical changes to the plot and to the character of Nemo forced on Verne by the first publisher, Jules Hetzel.

Frederick Paul Walter’s own 1991 public-domain translation is available from a number of sources, notably a recent edition with the title Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas (ISBN 978-1-904808-28-2). In 2010 Walter released a fully revised, newly researched translation with the title 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas — part of an omnibus of five of his Verne translations entitled Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics and published by State University of New York Press.

B.R. Bhagwat has translated Verne's science fiction stories into Marathi. He named the book that includes a translation of 20,000 Leagues "Sata Samudracha Sultan" in honor of Captain Nemo.

Adaptations and variations

The Nautilus as envisioned in the 1954 Walt Disney film.

Comic book and graphic adaptations

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea has been adapted into comic book format numerous times.

  • In 1948, Gilberton Publishing published a comic adaptation via issue #47 of their Classics Illustrated series.,[8] that was reprinted in 1955,[9] and again in 1968.[10]
  • In 1955, Dell Comics published a comic based on the 1954 film via issue #614 of their Movie Classics line called Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.[11]
  • In 1963, Gold Key published a comic based on the 1954 film called Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.[12]
  • In 1973, Pendulum Press published a hardcover illustrated book.[13]
  • In 1974, Power Records published a comic and record set.[14]
  • In 1976, Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation via issue #4 of their Marvel Classics Comics line.[15]
  • In 1990, Pendulum Press published another comic based on the novel via issue #4 of their Illustrated Stories line.[16]
  • in 1992, Dark Horse Comics published a one shot comic called Dark Horse Classics: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea #1.[17]
  • In 1997, Acclaim/Valiant published CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.[18]
  • In 2008, Sterling Graphics published a pop-up graphic book.[19]
  • In 2009, Flesk Publications published a graphic novel called Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.[20]
  • In 2011, Campfire Classic published a trade paperback.[21]

References in popular culture

  • An episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, entitled "20,000 Koopas Under the Sea", borrows many elements from the original story (including a submarine named the "Koopilus" and King Koopa referring to himself as "Koopa Nemo").
  • In a 1989 episode "20,000 Leaks Under the City" of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series is heavily based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, including a battle with a giant squid. This story takes place in New York City of the 1980s where a flood caused by Krang using a Super Pump has occurred.[22]
  • On the popular children's show Arthur, Arthur's friend Francine names her cat Nemo, later explaining that he resembles the Captain.
  • A SpongeBob SquarePants episode is called "20,000 Patties Under the Sea". It is a parody of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and of the traveling song "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall".
  • In the 2006 "The Evil Beneath" segment of "The Evil Beneath/Carl Wheezer, Boy Genius" season 3 double episode from the Nicktoons children's CG animated series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius references are made to similar characters and environments: Dr. Sydney Orville Moist, a paranoid dance-crazy genius scientist (parodying Captain Nemo) who lives in a hidden underwater headquarters (stationary Nautilus) at the bottom of fictional Bahama Quadrangle, takes revenge against humanity by transforming unsuspecting tourists like Jimmy, Carl and Sheen into zombie-like algae men (the Nautilus crew).[23]
  • In the 1990 sci-fi comedy film, Back to the Future Part III, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) states that Jules Verne is his favourite author and adores Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
  • In a 1994 Saturday Night Live sketch (featuring Kelsey Grammer as Captain Nemo) pokes fun at the misconception of leagues being a measure of depth instead of a measure of distance. Nemo tries repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, to convince his crew of this.
  • One of the inaugural rides at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage and was based on the Disney movie.
  • In the novel and movie Sphere, Harry Adams (played by Samuel L. Jackson) reads (and is very interested in) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Captain Nemo is one of the main characters in Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as in the film.
  • In the film Juno, Juno McGuff states, "You should try talking to it. 'Cause, like, supposedly they can hear you even though it's all, like, ten-thousand leagues under the sea, dude".
  • In the 2001 Clive Cussler novel Valhalla Rising, reference to a submarine that "inspired" Verne's story is made as one of the central plot points; it differs in having been British, with Verne being accused of being anti-British.
  • Nemo and the Nautilus, along with several other plot points, are major elements of Kevin J. Anderson's Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius.
  • Lo-fi pop musician The Blow references 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in the song True Affection, the last track on 2006 album Paper Television.
  • The early-2000s novel series called the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica depicts Captain Nemo in a "world within a world". In this version, Nemo is the captain of the sentient ship Yellow Dragon (stated to be the in-universe origin of the Nautilus) and therefore a promine
  • Mentioned in the novel Into the Wild as one of Chris McCandless' inspirations, before his trek into the Alaskan interior.
  • The Nautilus is said to be based on a civil war era ship in the novel, Leviathan by David Lynn Golemon.
  • An episode of the English dubbed TV series of Digimon is entitled "20,000 Digi-Leagues Under the Sea" (though the actual episode synopsis is completely unrelated).
  • In the 1968 Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine at the beginning the narrator says "Once upon a time or maybe twice there was an unearthly paradise called Pepperland, 80,000 leagues under the sea it lay or lie I'm not quite sure".
  • A parody exists in the 2010 Chick-fil-A calendar "Great Works of Cow Literature" in September where the novel is referred to as 20,000 Bales Under the Sea.
  • German band Alphaville, who are best known for their songs Big in Japan and Forever Young, wrote a song called "Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers", which appeared as a B-side to a single they released in 1986.
  • The popular MMORPG Maple STory has the Nautilus as one of their locations.
  • One of Mortadelo y Filemón's long stories is called "20,000 leguas de viaje sibilino" (20,000 leagues of sibylline travel), in which they have to go from Madrid to Lugo via Kenya, India, China and the United States without using public transport.
  • On Xbox Kinect, there is a game called 20,000 Leaks where the player uses themselves to plug holes in a glass box under water.
  • An achievement in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is called "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and is awarded after completing a quests in the Vashj'ir zone which include travelling in a submarine, being attacked by a giant squid and ultimately trying to stop the Naga from overthrowing Neptulon. There is also a submarine built by the goblins that is remarkably similar to Disney's 1954 portrayal of the Nautilus, that they have dubbed "The Verne" (after Jules Verne).
  • On February 8, 2011 the Google homepage featured an interactive logo adapted from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" honoring Jules Verne's 183rd birthday.[24]
  • A copy of the novel briefly appears in the opening episode of the science fiction series Falling Skies about a group of survivors fighting against alien invaders. In the particular scene, main protagonist Tom Mason played by Noah Wyle mulls over which book to take with him with the other choice being A Tale of Two Cities and finally decides to take the latter instead.
  • The song Nemo, from the album Once of the Finnish power metal band Nightwish.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal
  • Leyden bullet (Leyden ball)


  1. ^ Notice at the Musée de la Marine, Rochefort
  2. ^ a b c Davis, RH (1955). Deep Diving and Submarine Operations (6th ed.). Tolworth, Surbiton, Surrey: Siebe Gorman & Company Ltd. p. 693. 
  3. ^ Acott, C. (1999). "A brief history of diving and decompression illness.". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society Journal 29 (2). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  4. ^ How Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King brought you Jules Verne
  5. ^ Jules Verne (author), Walter James Miller (trans). Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Washington Square Press, 1966. Standard book number 671-46557-0; Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 65-25245.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Jules Verne (author), Walter James Miller (trans), Frederick Paul Walter (trans). Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A Completely Restored and Annotated Edition, Naval Institute Press, 1993. ISBN 1-55750-877-1
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  22. ^ Ninjaturtles - 20,000 Leaks Under the City
  23. ^ Nickelodeon. "Jimmy Neutron: "The Evil Beneath/Carl Wheezer, Boy Genius"". Nicktoons. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  24. ^ "Google Doodles: 2011 January - March"". Google. Retrieved 2011-09-11. 

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