What is the difference between madness and genius? Folly and adventure? A sociopath or a revenge seeker? What is a legitimate response to a grief observed and felt and experienced; the kind that ravages the soul? And what happens when we lose our grip on our minds and descend into madness?
“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is about all this. The most famous book in the world, maybe – it needs no introduction. Captain Nemo and his Nautilus. A few wayward shipwrecked who fall into the benevolent clutches of the despot. But is he benevolent? What does he intend? And why? And how to escape so great a danger – and do you really want to, when what is on offer is glorious?
Jules Verne was ahead of his time. In fact there are whole fields of conspiracy studies dedicated to understanding the reason for his clairvoyance. A submarine that travels the world, answering the deep questions to which we still don’t have answers. What happened to Atlantis? What lies at the outermost poles?
You can read the different analysis of the ramifications of Verne on English literature and the genre of science fiction which he very well might have started. Of the archetypal characters – the genius maddened by grief, the academic and the adventurer and the servant. And I hope you do – but first read ‘20,000 Leagues’.
There is one thing that struck me – coming at this novel from the perspective of 2019 when it was written oh so long ago, a century and a half actually, when the world’s population was only a billion and our nefarious presence was not yet felt in every crevice of the earth – was the wonder of unspoiled places and the understanding of nature as the ultimate arbiter of fates. What if Captain Nemo was sailing the underbelly of the world in this most populous of years? Would he comment at the garbage piled up in the great garbage island of the pacific? Of the whales eating plastics? Of the vast empty spaces over-fished and silent? Of the detritus of humanity penetrating even in the deepest crevices; man going where man has never gone before – but in the worst way imaginable? Would it be a book about wonder, like 20,000 leagues is?
Or would it instead be a requiem for a planet destroyed?