Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is an 1869 adventure novel by Jules Verne. It scores a solid 5 on Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness and has a strong focus on technology, existentialism, and marine biology.
During a visit to America, Professor Aronnax, a famous French marine biologist, is invited to join a US Navy expedition in the hunt for a mysterious sea monster (believed to be a giant narwhal) that has attacked and damaged two ships. Once they find the narwhal, it attacks, causing Aronnax, his trusty manservant Conseil and Ned Land, the ship's Canadian harpoonist, to fall overboard (well, Conseil jumped, to rescue the Professor). They clamber onto the only dry spot in the sea, namely the narwhal's back, expecting to drown as soon as it dives. Then a hatch opens...
The mysterious narwhal is in fact not a whale, but a high-tech electric submarine, owned and designed by the mysterious and eccentric Captain Nemo. While refusing to put our heroes ashore, he lets them live, and takes them on a fantastic journey under the seas of the world, showing them the many wonders of the world beneath the waves. Aronnax finds himself torn between his passionate interest in marine biology and his desire for freedom - should he try to escape with his comrades or stay and find out why Nemo sails around the world, sinking British and American ships?
In 1954, Walt Disney Pictures made a big-budget movie based on the book - its first live-action science fiction film. The film featured an all-star cast (Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, Peter Lorre as Conseil, and James Mason as Captain Nemo) and a memorable design for the Nautilus, and has become one of Disney's classics.
Fun fact that people sometimes forget: the title refers to the distance the Nautilus travels horizontally over the course of the book, not the depth it dives to. 20,000 leagues vertically would be impossible, being 80,000 kilometers, or twice the circumference of the Earth. The translation is partly to blame; a closer translation would be Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the 'Seas'. A Saturday Night Live sketch with guest host Kelsey Grammar as Nemo lampshaded this misconception.
- Abnormal Ammo: The Nautilus crew's arm of choice is an air-rifle, that fires a glass bullet containing a small capacitor. When the glass shatters, the capacitor unleashes its charge, instantly killing the target.
- Above Good and Evil: What Captain Nemo claims to be, He really isn't. see Ubermensch
- Absent-Minded Professor: Aronnax has this a few times. One chapter has him declare a book he's been engrossed in for several hours as utterly brilliant, which Conseil is bemused by. When Aronnax asks whats so funny, Conseil tells him to check the spine to see who wrote it... turns out, it was Aronnax himself, and he'd completely forgotten about it.
- Affably Evil: Deconstructed by Captain Nemo, who is a genuine noble Nice Guy who has access to technology none else have. How can a truly good man cross the Moral Event Horizon? Because he is slowly but surely losing his sanity through the novel, and in the end he becomes a Death Seeker.
- Almost Out of Oxygen: When the Nautilus is trapped under the Antarctic ice. Verne, however, did his research. Oxygen is not a problem, due to the Nautilus having plenty of electricity and water around, but without caustic potash to bind the carbon dioxide the heroes are screwed anyway.
- Anti-Villain: Nemo. His hatred of the British is perfectly understandable, given his Backstory. However, attacking civilians for happening to be on a ship flying the wrong colours...
- And the fact that he is holding everyone captive at that. He's pretty much a crystal clear Well-Intentioned Extremist.
- Artifact of Doom: The Nautilus is this for Captain Nemo: by using it as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, Nemo discovers that With Great Power Comes Great Insanity
- Atlantis: Captain Nemo shows Professor Aronnax the ruins of Atlantis.
- Atlantis Is Boring: There is a discussion over this trope applies or not to this novel.
- Badass: Pretty much everyone, considering the fact that they beat off a 50-foot giant squid armed only with axes and harpoons.
- Make that a dozen giant squid. Never mind that squid of any size are completely helpless out of water, of course...
- Battle Butler: Conseil.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Lampshaded when Wide-Eyed Idealist Aronnax uses physiognomy to justify that a stocky character is a fool and the good – looking man is someone good, but thinks again this theory when the good – looking man (Captain Nemo) left him starving with their companions in a cell.
A disciple of such character–judging anatomists as Gratiolet or Engel could have read this man's features like an open book. Without hesitation, I identified his dominant qualities—self–confidence, since his head reared like a nobleman's above the arc formed by the lines of his shoulders, and his black eyes gazed with icy assurance; calmness, since his skin, pale rather than ruddy, indicated tranquility of blood; energy, shown by the swiftly knitting muscles of his brow; and finally courage, since his deep breathing denoted tremendous reserves of vitality.
I might add that this was a man of great pride, that his calm, firm gaze seemed to reflect thinking on an elevated plane, and that the harmony of his facial expressions and bodily movements resulted in an overall effect of unquestionable candor—according to the findings of physiognomists, those analysts of facial character.
I felt "involuntarily reassured" in his presence, and this boded well for our interview.
- Berserk Button: Ned Land discovers that he must never surrender to The Empire while Nemo is The Captain at the Nautilus.
- Big Eater: Ned Land, whose only interest in an any wildlife species seems to run entirely in a culinary direction.
- Broken Pedestal: After expending all the novel swimming in Stockholm Syndrome for Captain Nemo, Aronnax has seen him crossing the Moral Event Horizon by a terrible Kick the Dog moment. And yet...
I returned to the saloon, fearing and yet hoping to see Captain Nemo, wishing and yet not wishing to see him. What could I have said to him? Could I hide the involuntary horror with which he inspired me? No. It was better that I should not meet him face to face; better to forget him. And yet—
- The Butcher: Ned Land accuses Nemo of this when Nemo Kicks The Cachalots in a massacre. (See The Hunter).
- Canada, Eh?: Okay Jules, we get it! Ned Land is from Canada! You don't have to keep telling us twice per page!
- The Captain: Deconstructed with Nemo, he is so charismatic a captain and so loved by his crew that nobody notices his Villainous Breakdown.
- Character Filibuster: Arronax tends to go off on long digressions about various species of marine life he's observed, interrupting the adventure story of which he's one of the main characters.
- Closed Circle: Even when the Nautilus travels around the whole world, The Professor Aronnax, Battle Butler Conseil and Idiot Hero Ned Land are confined to the submarine. They only talk with Captain Nemo (all the other crew talk a secret language).
- Completely Unnecessary Translator: A variation occurs when The Professor Aronnax, Battle Butler Conseil and Idiot Hero Ned Land cannot understand the language used by their captors, everyone of them try to talk to them in their respective native languages (French, German (Conseil is Dutch, but presumably uses German because Dutch is a very rare language outside of The Netherlands) and English, respectively). When their captors didn’t react, Aronnax spoke Latin without success. In a second interview, the man that will present himself later as Captain Nemo told them:
...After some moments of silence, which not one of us dreamed of breaking, "Gentlemen," said he, in a calm and penetrating voice, "I speak French, English, German, and Latin equally well. I could, therefore, have answered you at our first interview, but I wished to know you first, then to reflect…”
- Con Lang: Subverted because even when the Nautilus crew uses a language that The Professor Aronnax cannot recognize, Verne didn’t bother himself making any word of it except "Nautron respoc lorni virch." that Aronnax thinks must mean: "There's nothing in sight.". Aronnax describes the language like this: … a language I didn't recognize. It was a sonorous, harmonious, flexible dialect whose vowels seemed to undergo a highly varied accentuation.
- Given that the Nautilus crew is a NGO Superpower, it makes sense this language is a Con Lang Completely Original, designed to substitute all the other “continental” languages that were original to each of the crew countries that the crew has abandoned. Aronnax observes that just moments before his death, one of the crew forgets to use that Con Lang and ask for help in French. A hungry Ned Land also theorizes:
"Don't you see, these people have a language all to themselves, a language they've invented just to cause despair in decent people who ask for a little dinner! Why, in every country on earth, when you open your mouth, snap your jaws, smack your lips and teeth, isn't that the world's most understandable message? From Quebec to the Tuamotu Islands, from Paris to the Antipodes, doesn't it mean: I'm hungry, give me a bite to eat!"
- Conspiracy Theorist: Played for Laughs with Ned Land: As a professional fisher, he doesn’t believe in Sea monsters (giant narwhales or octopus), but he believes that his captors could be cannibals, that the language spoken in the Nautilus is a conspiracy to let him die of hunger (see Con Lang) and in Artificial Human:
"Haven't seen or heard a thing!" the Canadian replied. "I haven't even spotted the crew of this boat. By any chance, could they be electric too?"
"Oh ye gods, I'm half tempted to believe it!"
- Cool Ship: The Nautilus, which has a greater range than any existing non-nuclear submarine.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: A subtle example: Captain Nemo knows the Power Trio will attempt a Great Escape because he desn't want to impose The Promise to keep in the Nautilus on them. So he only allows the Power Trio to explore islands without any connection to civilization, and navigates on the surface of the seas that are either not frequented by ships or are actually affected by a natural event that could cause the death of the escapees (like a submarine eruption or the Maelstrom).
- Death Seeker: As Nemo's mental health deteriorates through the course of the story, he becomes more reckless.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: In-Universe: Great White Hunter Ned Land asks Captain Nemo’s permission to hunt some whales. Nemo denies it and he accuses Ned of being an Egomaniac Hunter. Next they see some cachalots and Nemo destroys them using the Nautilu’s spur. When Ned accuses Nemo of being The Butcher, Nemo answers that the cachalots were mischievous creatures and the Nautilus is his weapon. Verne show us that no matter how much mistaken is the philosophy of Great White Hunter, they will never do the damage that the Ubersmench can do using science.
- Dumbass Has a Point: In all of the book, Idiot Hero Ned Land opines Captain Nemo is a despot and the Power Trio must attempt the Great Escape as soon as possible. The Professor Aronnax and Battle Butler Conseil are impressed with Nemo and their incredible voyage, and it's not until they see Nemo crossing the Moral Event Horizon before they realize Ned was the Only Sane Man.
- Dysfunction Junction: There are only four principal characters in the novel due to the Closed Circle: Battle Butler Conseil has so much Undying Loyalty that considers himself an extension of his employer. The Professor Aronnax practically swims in Stockholm Syndrome, Captain Nemo has a slow Villainous Breakdown caused by him, a good man, crossing once and again the Moral Event Horizon. Only Sane Man Ned Land slowly Goes Mad From The Isolation.
- Egomaniac Hunter: Captain Nemo accuses Ned Land of being one of those when Ned ask him permission to hunt whales only because he wants to.
"And to what purpose?" replied Captain Nemo; "only to destroy! We have nothing to do with the whale-oil on board."
"But, sir," continued the Canadian, "in the Red Sea you allowed us to follow the dugong."
"Then it was to procure fresh meat for my crew. Here it would be killing for killing's sake. I know that is a privilege reserved for man, but I do not approve of such murderous pastime. In destroying the southern whale (like the Greenland whale, an inoffensive creature), your traders do a culpable action, Master Land. They have already depopulated the whole of Baffin's Bay, and are annihilating a class of useful animals. Leave the unfortunate cetacea alone. They have plenty of natural enemies—cachalots, swordfish, and sawfish—without you troubling them."
- Egopolis: Captain Nemo offer us a variant when he claims an entire continent for himself, acting like a sovereign:
...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."
"In the name of which sovereign, Captain?"
"In my own name, sir!"
So saying, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag bearing a gold "N" on its quartered bunting. Then, turning toward the orb of day, whose last rays were licking at the sea's horizon:
"Farewell, O sun!" he called. "Disappear, O radiant orb! Retire beneath this open sea, and let six months of night spread their shadows over my new domains!"
- Enclosed Space: Subverted because Nemo let the Power Trio explore land where an escape would be more dangerous that Nemo's hospitality in the Nautilus.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Aronnax at one point finds Nemo privately weeping in front of a portrait of (what is implied to be) his dead wife and children.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: While the earlier English translations tend to mess up many of Verne's measurements, the original French version is an account of a journey of 20,000 lieues, which is translated into English as "leagues". As is common with many early measurements, the exact definition of a "lieue" or "league" varies, but there is internal evidence in the story that Verne was using a metric lieue of 4 kilometres. (On multiple instances he gives distances in both lieues and nautical miles, which correspond exactly, if a "lieue" is 4 km.)
- Nemo reclaims the South Pole in his name. That means that No One owns the South Pole.
- Executive Meddling: Verne originally wrote Nemo as a Polish nobleman, who lost his family to the Russians. Verne's publisher was wary of portraying the Russians, France's ally at the time, in a negative light, and didn't want to lose sales in Russia, so he persuaded Verne to make Nemo's nationality a mystery. Also an example about Tropes Are Not Bad: Revealing Nemo's Backstory left him only a menace against a single nation, but leaving Nemo's nationality anonymous not only defines him (Nemo means Nobody) but also makes the reader realize that any nation, even the reader's nation, could have committed the alleged crimes against Nemo and his family. Even more, it implies that no ship of any nationality was safe for navigation.
- Expy: Captain Nemo is an expy for Odisseus: A great sailor, The Captain of a ship who commanded a Red Shirt crew, that claimed he was “No One”, who fought against beings he cannot defeat (Nemo against The Empire, Odiseus against Jerkass Gods) motivated by You Can't Go Home Again.
- Fiction 500: Captain Nemo brags to The Professor Aronnax that he is so rich, he could pay France's entire national debt. Later Aronnax discovers this is the truth in Vigo Bay: The superior tech of the Nautilus lets Nemo reclaim all the treasures lost to man in shipwrecks, before any other treasure hunter.
- The Final Frontier: Subverted: In this book it is not space, but the unknown sea, the only place on earth where man could be free (and it remains the same more than one hundred years later) as Nemo says:
"...The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say we won't end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn't belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I'm free!"
- For Science!: While Captain Nemo motivation is For Revenge, The Professor Aronnax is willing to sacrificing his freedom for the rest of his life For Science!. Thankfully, he is not willing to sacrifice his friend’s freedom.
- Foreign Queasine: Subverted: The food served ship-side is fish and seafood only, and the heroes are somewhat reluctant to try lightly grilled sea-cucumbers and dolphin-liver ragout. However, Nemo's chef is apparently something of a genius and can crank out very tasty meals of whatever he is given to work with.
- The first time he sees Captain Nemo, Aronnax instinctively trust him because Beauty Equals Goodness, but later reevaluates his beliefs when it seems that man is going to left them starving in a cell. Cue the final of the novel…
- Looking at the marvels of the South Pole, Ned Land says that These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know… just next chapter, the Nautilus is Almost Out of Oxygen.
- Ned Land, Great White Hunter, is ashamed when Ubermensch Captain Nemo Kicks The Cachalots in a terrible massacre. At the end of the novel, Nemo will Kick the Dog again…
- Freudian Excuse: Nemo. His wife and children were executed by the British because he fought on the losing side during the Sepoy Uprising.
- Freudian Slip: Aronnax, whilst having a discussion about oysters and pearls shortly after being informed that they were going shark hunting, says that some larger oysters have been claimed to contain up to 150 sharks.
- Freudian Trio: Conseil (superego), Professor Aronnax (ego), Ned Land (id).
- From My Own Personal Garden: Captain Nemo informs his prisoners that everything they are eating was taken from the ocean. Exaggerated because everything there is in the Nautilus is from the Ocean: the energy, the clothes, the cigars.
- Giant Squid: The crew of Nautilus (and Ned Land) fight a giant squid that has wrapped itself around the submarine. It is the most recognisable point after Nemo and the Nautilus themselves and is a standard fixture in any adaptation.
- Gilded Cage: Captain Nemo explains to Aronnax:
"You said that we should be free on board."
"I ask you, then, what you mean by this liberty?"
"Just the liberty to go, to come, to see, to observe even all that passes here save under rare circumstances—the liberty, in short, which we enjoy ourselves, my companions and I."
It was evident that we did not understand one another.
"Pardon me, sir," I resumed, "but this liberty is only what every prisoner has of pacing his prison. It cannot suffice us."
"It must suffice you, however."
- Go Mad From the Isolation: After seven months of not talking with any other human being except Captain Nemo, The Professor Aronnax and Battle Butler Conseil, the independent and Book Dumb Ned Land, not interested in submarine investigation, are slowly going insane.
I'll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn't coax a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself. So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.
- Great Escape: Aronnax, Counseil and Ned Land are prisoners in the Nautilus. To regain their freedom, they must attempt a succesful Great Escape because there will not be a second chance.
- Great White Hunter: Ned Land.
- Hand Off: The Professor Aronnax gets this treatment with Captain Nemo. Nemo doesn't distrust Wide-Eyed Idealist Aronnax, is just to show how far Nemo has been Madden Into Misanthropy:
I thought the commander would offer me his hand, to seal our agreement. He did nothing of the sort. I regretted that.
- He Knows Too Much: The reason Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land will remain prisoners of the Nautilus and cannot come back to Civilization. Ever. (Captain Nemo lets them abandon the Nautilus and explore land, but it is always on uncivilized shores). Captain Nemo explains:
"... You came to surprise a secret which no man in the world must penetrate—the secret of my whole existence. And you think that I am going to send you back to that world which must know me no more? Never! In retaining you, it is not you whom I guard—it is myself."
- He Who Fights Monsters: Captain Nemo Majored in Western Hypocrisy and wants revenge against The Empire. He creates a NGO Superpower with a Oddly Small Organization with her own Con Lang, he claims a continent in his name, creates the Nautilus to conquest The Final Frontier (the sea) and to use it as a Weapon of Mass Destruction, insists in only using sea related products, and the prisoners he considers valuable are placed in a Gilded Cage but those who not are mercilessly destroyed. Trying to destroy The Empire, he ends creating a society very much like it.
- Heel Realization: After Captain Nemos Kick the Dog moment, Wide-Eyed Idealist Aronnax realizes the true price of his travels with Captain Nemo:
"He had made me, if not an accomplice, at least an eyewitness to his vengeance! Even this was intolerable."
- Hidden Depths: All of the main characters, from Ned Land (who is surprisingly knowledgeable about marine life despite his Book Dumb personality) to Nemo (see Wicked Cultured) show this at times.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters & Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: Captain Nemo adheres to this belief:
"Your dead sleep quietly, at least, Captain, out of the reach of sharks."
"Yes, sir, of sharks and men," gravely replied the Captain.
- The Hunter: Ned Land accuses Nemo of being The Butcher after observing him massacring the cachalots. Captain Nemo claims to be hunting dangerous plagues.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Conseil, at least when it comes to cataloging wildlife.
- I Am the Noun: Captain Nemo:
"I am the law, and I am the judge! I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor!"
- Idiot Hero: Verne's writing constantly inform us (and Counseil and Aronnax repeatedly lampshade) that Ned Land is a Hot-Blooded, Great White Hunter, Big Eater Real Men Eat Meat Book Dumb Badass who is from Canada. Fridge Brilliance when you realize that Ned Land's personality makes him the Only Sane Man capable of resisting Captain Nemo's charisma.
- I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: After Nemo Kicks The Cachalots and asks Ned Land his opinion, Ned claims to be a hunter and not a butcher.
- Is It Something You Eat?: Stock line from Ned Land, whose only interest in wildlife is culinary.
- Just Between You and Me: Subverted because Nemo never shares the evil part of his Evil Plan with Aronnax, just because he is ashamed of it. However, Nemo is constantly sharing all the information about the Nautilus and his scientific investigations about the Sea with The Professor Aronnax, not because he will kill him, but because Nemo pretends that Aronnax will never abandon the Nautilus.
Is it indiscreet to ask how you discovered this tunnel?"
"Sir," the captain answered me, "there can be no secrets between men who will never leave each other."
I ignored this innuendo and waited for Captain Nemo's explanation.
- Kick the Dog: Captain Nemo is implied to have destroyed ships with civilians and military crew, but the act of following up an attack with the Nautilus observing the horrible death of all the unnamed ship's crew on purpose, without losing any detail, is when Nemo crosses the Moral Event Horizon.
- Captain Nemo Kicks The Cachalots in a terrible massacre:
... The sea was covered with mutilated bodies. A formidable explosion could not have divided and torn this fleshy mass with more violence. We were floating amid gigantic bodies, bluish on the back and white underneath, covered with enormous protuberances. Some terrified cachalots were flying towards the horizon. The waves were dyed red for several miles, and the Nautilus floated in a sea of blood..
- Madden Into Misanthropy: When Aronnax call him out about the cruelty implied in never let them go out the Nautilus, Captain Nemo answers:
"What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends, and relatives ever again?"
"Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly yoke that some men call freedom is perhaps less painful than you think!"
"You're an engineer, then, Captain Nemo?"
"Yes, professor," he answered me. "I studied in London, Paris, and New York back in the days when I was a resident of the Earth's continents."
- Meaningful Name: "Nemo" is Latin for "no one".
- Also Greek for "I give what is due".
- Ned Land. He wishes more strongly than any of the other captives to return to terra firma.
- Conseil is French for "counsel", meaning advice. Inverted because Conseil doesn't like to give advice. This is lampshaded by the Professor himself.
- Meaningful Rename: Captain Nemo gave himself this name after he left the land.
- Message in a Bottle: Captain Nemo plans to use one to assure his research is not lost:
"Here, Professor Aronnax, is a manuscript written in several languages. It contains a summary of my research under the sea, and God willing, it won't perish with me. Signed with my name, complete with my life story, this manuscript will be enclosed in a small, unsinkable contrivance. The last surviving man on the Nautilus will throw this contrivance into the sea, and it will go wherever the waves carry it.".
- The Messiah: The Professor Aronnax is a humble Wide-Eyed Idealist scientist that already had won the Undying Loyalty of Counseil before he comes to the Nautilus, he also makes Idiot Hero Ned Land do a More Expendable Than You sacrifice when they are in the Pole, and he is ultimately the reason why Captain Nemo gets his Villainous Breakdown when Aronnax discovers the Nautilus is a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
- Milkman Conspiracy: Deconstructed by the Nautilus crew, a truly a new society with NGO Superpower status is composed by… less than sixty persons. Less than four years after its creation, his existence has been discovered by The Empire, all the Western nations have organized against them and are chasing them implacably, the number dwindles for this and because normal accidents on the sea, and his leader, charismatic Captain Nemo, not only is bitterly conscious that their days are numbered (he plans to use a Message in a Bottle so all his sea research could be found), but is slowly breaking down for the pressure of using a Weapon of Mass Destruction to cross the Moral Event Horizon once and again.
- Mistaken Nationality: Subverted, The novel emphasizes the mystery of Captain Nemo hiding his nationality. Even when his eyes are black and his skin is pale, Aronnax lampshades that he is not sure invoking All Asians Are Alike
”I admit that the nationality of the two strangers is hard to determine. Neither English, French, nor German, that is quite certain. However, I am inclined to think that the commander and his companion were born in low latitudes. There is southern blood in them. But I cannot decide by their appearance whether they are Spaniards, Turks, Arabians, or Indians"
- Mobile Menace: The power of the Nautilus: In 1869, a submarine can arrive to any part of the seas and destroy any ship:
Moving within the moving element! It was a highly appropriate motto for this underwater machine, so long as the preposition in is translated as within and not upon.
- More Expendable Than You: Played straight by Conseil and Ned Land when they give Aronnax some precious oxygen in the Almost Out of Oxygen situation, then conversed:
"Good lord, Professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it! What did we do that's so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was a question of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours. So we had to save it."
- Motive Rant: Captain Nemo gives one to The Professor Aronnax when he tries to convince him not to Kick the Dog, and could be considered the beginning of Nemo's Villainous Breakdown:
"I am the law, and I am the judge! I am the oppressed, and there is the oppressor! Through him I have lost all that I loved, cherished, and venerated -- country, wife, children, father, and mother. I saw all perish! All that I hate is there! Say no more!"
- Mr. Exposition: The Professor Aronnax and Captain Nemo take turns at it.
- Never Found the Body: Aronnax wonders if Nemo and his ship survived the maelstrom and still pursues his submarine vengence, or whether he and his crew did indeed perish.
- NGO Superpower: Captain Nemo's organization, the crew of the Nautilus: The Nautilus lets him loot enough submarine treasures to put him in Fiction 500, he can finance political insurrections like the Cretan rebellion, claims the South Pole in his name, he destroys the ships of an unnamed Imperialistic Nation with total impunity. His crew is composed of men who have no place in earth and they have invented their own language.
- No Name Given: Nemo's real name is not revealed.
- ...until the sequel, that is: his name is Prince Dakkar.
- Oddly Small Organization: For an NGO Superpower capable of helping the Cretan Insurrection, destroy The Empire ships and with his own language, the Nautilus crew is small: We only see Captain Nemo, his Number Two, and two unfortunate crewmen that die in the novel. And because they have severed all contact with inhabited continents, there will be no more crewmen. Aronnax made a calculation about less than sixty people:
"... Which is tantamount to saying that the air contained in the Nautilus would be exactly enough for 625 men over twenty–four hours."
"625!" Ned repeated.
"But rest assured," I added, "that between passengers, seamen, or officers, we don't total one–tenth of that figure."
- Old Retainer: Conseil may only be 30, but his devotion to "monsieur le professeur" is mildly disturbing.
- Pet the Dog: Nemo has several such moments, including sending assistance to Cretan rebels, saving the life and giving some pearls to a poor fisherman and weeping over the memory of his dead wife. See Anti-Villain.
- Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: This is the dynamic between Wicked Cultured The Captain Nemo and Idiot Hero Ned Land. Nemo is Affably Evil, and Ned Land doesn’t lose any chance to insult Nemo, no matter how petty.
- Professor Guinea Pig: In a variation, The Professor Aronnax is willing to sacrifice his own freedom for the rest of his life for the rare chance to discover all the sea’s secret in the Nautilus.
- Rage Against the Heavens: Captain Nemo at times. See Freudian Excuse.
- Real Men Eat Meat: A problem for Ned Land, who is a most manly man, and the Nautilus rarely goes even remotely close to shore.
- He does eventually get some pork... and promptly stops wailing about not having meat when they almost are murdered by natives.
- The Remnant: Nemo and the Sepoy Uprising.
- The Reveal:
- There is no sea monster, it was a submarine
- The last part of the book shows us exactly what Captain Nemo was using the Nautilus for when he asked his passengers to be in their cells.
- Right Behind Me: In one scene, Aronnax is talking about a giant squid that had been sighted a few years earlier when Conseil, looking out the window, starts asking questions like, "Weren't its eyes prominently placed and considerably enlarged?"
- Satire: Very Juvenalian, the novel satirizes Imperialism: The Nautilus itself is a parody of The Empire - a Oddly Small Organization that manages to be a NGO Superpower, their members only consume sea products and speak only their own language, but we never know any of them, they are nothing more than nameless masses. The only one who matters is Captain Nemo (the Emperor), who claims an entire continent in his name and constantly crosses the Moral Event Horizon for no other reason than because he can. The three prisoners personify the attitudes about The Empire of the conquered nations: Aronnax is the high class, who tries to get all the knowledge he can from the Empire, Counseil is the middle class, who passively accepts his loss of freedom as something inevitable and doesn’t want to make a decision without the approval of the high class, and Ned Land is the lower class who rebels constantly and uselessly. However, after seeing Nemo’s Kick the Dog moment with his Weapon of Mass Destruction, the three classes agree that Nemo’s empire is as bad as any other.
- Science Is Bad: Subverted because the book shows us all the good things the Nautilus can accomplish. Only after The Reveal, Aronnax’s Heel Realization lets him know that those good things can’t justify the terrible violence.
- Science Marches On: The chapter "Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales" has Nemo use the Nautilus to rescue some Baleen Whales by slaughtering a pod of Sperm Whales, that Nemo calls: "cruel, destructive beasts, and they deserve to be exterminated." A couple of chapters later the Nautilus has its infamous encounter with giant squid: animals that we now know are favourites in the Sperm Whale's diet. They do not eat other species of whale.
- The North Pole is placed in the Arctic Ocean. The South Pole is placed in Antartica, a sheet of ice thousands of feet thick, and most of it on a solid continent. The Nautilus could have reached the North Pole, but not the South Pole.
- The other Wiki notices that Physiognomy (see Beauty Equals Goodness) fell from favor in the 20th century, but is now being revived once more.
- Series Continuity Error: Much of the information presented about Captain Nemo and his career in The Mysterious Island (at least the dates) doesn't make any sense at all when compared to the text of Twenty Thousand Leagues.
- Shout-Out: At an early point in the book, the narration mentions a white whale named "Moby Dick".
- Shown Their Work: Holy crap, does Verne ever do this. The narrative reaches Moby Dick levels of textbook-ness at times.
- Leading to a lot of Science Marches On. A lot of the work, while reasonable from a nineteenth century perspective, is downright wrong.
- Spoiler Title: Aronnax wonders constantly when they might be able to escape, before mentioning how far they've traveled. Clearly they can't until they've gone 20,000 leagues.
- Start My Own: A lesser man would be just Madden Into Misanthropy and cut all ties with society, Captain Nemo starts his own society recruiting Madden Into Misanthropy men who hate The Empire, training them to build and operate the Nautilus, creating their own language, obtaining all his resources from the sea and none from shore, reclaiming the South Pole, financing the Cretan rebellion and converting themselves into a NGO Superpower.
"if I can trust my hunches, if I truly understand the captain's way of life, his Nautilus isn't simply a ship. It's meant to be a refuge for people like its commander, people who have severed all ties with the shore."
- Stockholm Syndrome: One of the rare non-romantic examples, outside of Ho Yay. (In fact, there are practically no women in the book at all.)
- Sub Story: The Trope Maker.
- Submarine Pirates: The Trope Maker.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Captain Nemo asks the Power Trio to promise not trying to see… “something they must not see”, he could not phrase it without sounding sinister and exciting Aronnax' suspicions:
It's possible that certain unforeseen events may force me to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for some days as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use violence, I expect from you in such a case, even more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience. By acting in this way, I shield you from complicity, I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself make it impossible for you to see what you aren't meant to see. Do you accept this condition?"
So things happened on board that were quite odd to say the least, things never to be seen by people not placing themselves beyond society's laws! Among all the surprises the future had in store for me, this would not be the mildest.
- Sympathy for the Devil: The Professor Aronnax is fascinated by Wicked Cultured Captain Nemo and his creation, the Nautilus, for seven months, and he certainly wants to delay the Great Escape to see more submarine marvels… until he sees Nemo Kick the Dog and cross the Moral Event Horizon.
- Technology Marches On: Electricity was imbued with almost magical power in this book, and a lot of the technological wonders Verne describes seem downright quaint to modern eyes. Still, credit where credit is due, he did get the fundamentals of how submarines would work in the future essentially right.
- That Man Is Dead: Whoever Nemo was before he became "The Nameless Avenger", that man is so dead there is no reason to even mention him.
"...I am dead, Professor; as much dead as those of your friends who are sleeping six feet under the earth!"
- These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Ned Land's opinion about the beauty of the South Pole’s icebergs (just before the Nautilus will be trapped by them).
"It's a wonderful sight! Isn't it, Ned?"
"Oh damnation, yes!" Ned Land shot back. "It's superb! I'm furious that I have to admit it. Nobody has ever seen the like. But this sight could cost us dearly. And in all honesty, I think we're looking at things God never intended for human eyes."
- True Companions: Captain Nemo claims (and the few interactions Aronnax had with the Nautilus crew never shows us any different) that this is the relationship between the crew:
.."The Nautilus suffered a collision that cracked one of the engine levers, and it struck this man. My chief officer was standing beside him. This man leaped forward to intercept the blow. A brother lays down his life for his brother, a friend for his friend, what could be simpler? That's the law for everyone on board the Nautilus"
- Ubermensch Captain Nemo is an Unbuilt Trope: A Wicked Cultured Well-Intentioned Extremist who claims to be Above Good and Evil because he has done with the society and is practically above any law of the civilized nations thanks to the power of his submarine, the Nautilus. … however, he is a Deconstruction of the trope, because the contradiction between his unlimited power (that let him cross the Moral Event Horizon) and his compassionate nature causes him a Villainous Breakdown. This dialogue between him and professor Aronnax lampshade it 14 years before Also Sprach Zarathustra:
"I have hesitated some time," continued the commander; nothing obliged me to show you hospitality. If I chose to separate myself from you, I should have no interest in seeing you again; I could place you upon the deck of this vessel which has served you as a refuge, I could sink beneath the waters, and forget that you had ever existed. Would not that be my right?"
"It might be the right of a savage," I answered, "but not that of a civilized man."
"Professor," replied the commander, quickly, "I am not what you call a civilized man! I have done with society entirely, for reasons which I alone have the right of appreciating. I do not, therefore, obey its laws, and I desire you never to allude to them before me again!"
This was said plainly.A flash of anger and disdain kindled in the eyes of the Unknown, and I had a glimpse of a terrible past in the life of this man. Not only had he put himself beyond the pale of human laws, but he had made himself independent of them, free in the strictest acceptation of the word, quite beyond their reach! Who then would dare to pursue him at the bottom of the sea, when, on its surface, he defied all attempts made against him? What vessel could resist the shock of his submarine monitor? What cuirass, however thick, could withstand the blows of his spur? No man could demand from him an account of his actions; God, if he believed in one -- his conscience, if he had one -- were the sole judges to whom he was answerable.
- Undying Loyalty: Exaggerated with Conseil, The Professor Aronnax servant. He risks his life to save his employer not once, but twice in the novel. When Aronnax talks with Ned Land about the Great Escape, Conseil considers himself one with her master decision.
"Your friend Conseil," the fine lad replied serenely, "has nothing to say for himself. He's a completely disinterested party on this question... He's in Master's employ, he thinks like Master, he speaks like Master, and much to his regret, he can't be counted on to form a majority. Only two persons face each other here: Master on one side, Ned Land on the other. That said, your friend Conseil is listening, and he's ready to keep score."
I couldn't help smiling as Conseil wiped himself out of existence.
- The Un-Reveal:
- Aronnax never discovers Captain Nemo’s true name nor nationality.
- Aronnax writes the last chapter of his book in South Norway. Any form of Travel between upper Norway and the south is limited, and thus he still hasn’t discovered what was the nationality of the ship Captain Nemo sank.
- Aronnax faints after he hits his head against the Nautilus, and apparently he never asked Ned and Conseil how they escaped from the Maelstrom.
What happened that night, how the skiff escaped from the Maelstrom's fearsome eddies, how Ned Land, Conseil, and I got out of that whirlpool, I'm unable to say. But when I regained consciousness, I was lying in a fisherman's hut on one of the Lofoten Islands. My two companions, safe and sound, were at my bedside clasping my hands. We embraced each other heartily.
- Villainous Breakdown: Inverted: after Captain Nemo crosses the Moral Event Horizon for the last time, he breaks down because his plans are working but he is not Above Good and Evil. He also could have voluntarily run the Nautilus into The Maelstrom (an enormous whirlpool).
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: At the state of technology in 1869, the Nautilus is this: a submarine could easily destroy any ship in the sea without possibility of being persecuted when submerged in the sea. Nemo’s Kick the Dog moment show how terrible its destructive power really is.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Aronnax, Counseil and Ned Land are informed by Captain Nemo that, from his point of view, they are simple mooks and he threatens to invoke this trope. (See Ubermensch).
- Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Justified. Nautilus was designed by Nemo, all the components ordered from different companies in different countries and shipped by the Nautilus crew to a remote island, where all plans and traces of their shipyard were destroyed after the Nautilus was completed.
- Wicked Cultured: Nemo isn't quite a villain, but if he were he'd fit the trope. He has a library of 12000 books, of which he's read all, a collection of marine curiosities that would put most museums to shame, an art collection, likewise, and a keen interest in good dining. He also plays a pipe organ.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: The Professor Aronnax must be constantly reminded that other people are not as good as himself. He really doesn’t want to believe that Nemo is doing something sinister, and Ned Land must remind him that the war ship that is shooting the Nautilus is doing it on purpose.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The book subtly shows how Captain Nemo is slowly but surely losing his sanity by using the Nautilus as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Captain Nemo is an early example: he adopts the Ocean as his new homeland and finances the Cretan rebellion because he hates despots. However, the Nautilus permits him to destroy any of The Empire's ship with total impunity (no Nation could chase him in the bottom of the sea). His superior technology means that even the military is as helpless as ordinary civilians.
- Verne used the metric league, which is 4 km
- at least until the sequel novel, The Mysterious Island, where Nemo is revealed to have been an Indian prince who lost his family to the British