Headscratchers / 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

  • The ending of the novel's always bothered me. Professor Aronnax, Ned Land and Conseil escape from the Nautilus as it's caught in the Maelstrom and arrive in Norway, and at the time the story ends the three of them are awaiting the arrival of a monthly steamboat. And then the book ends with these words...
    And to the question asked by Ecclesiastes 3,000 years ago, "That which is far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" two men alone of all now living have the right to give an answer:
    • Settle down, professor. Before you start declaring yourself the new Poseidon, how about taking a look over your shoulder at Ned Land and Conseil? And if we're not counting Captain Nemo for lost, then how about his crew, most of whom were aboard the Nautilus for far longer than Aronnax? I can't for the life of me figure out where this sudden burst of mad egotism comes from, and yet the way it's worded ("two men alone of all now living") rules out any attempt to not take it literally. Why in the world does Aronnax seem to think only he and Nemo really count when it comes to seeing the bottom of the ocean?
    • I thought exactly the same when I saw the end of the novel, Why Aronnax, model of the humble wise man who is perfectly capable of living dedicated to his work, without fame or riches, being so egostistical? But when I was writing the entry about the Übermensch I realized that it was Fridge Brilliance: Aronnax is not referring to the bottom of the ocean: He is quoting Ecclesiastes 7:24, a passage of the Bible who claims the vanity of those who seek to be wise, powerful and happy, when those things are far for the proud people. He and Captain Nemo were obsessed by his submarine studies and their need to know the truth. Aronnax really has Stockholm Syndrome and hopes that his evasion could be continually postponed even when Ned Land is slowly going insane. Nemo prepares a Message in a Bottle with all the knowledge he has accumulated as a legacy to humanity. They both are egotistic: When Aronnax witness the last of Nemo’s implied many Moral Event Horizon he realizes his folly: Traveling with Captain Nemo is to be accomplice of terrible crimes, and so he decides to attempt the Great Escape as soon as possible after a last interview with Captain Nemo. Meanwhile, Captain Nemo has realized that Aronnax, the only inhabitant of the earth's surface with which empathizes has repudiated his cruelty and and is forced to admit that he is not Above Good and Evil and has a Villainous Breakdown. Counseil, Ned Land and the Nautilus crew are humble people, the first two follow Aronnax and the rest follow the captain. This novel is not only a Sci-Fi Ghetto Science Fiction history about a Cool Ship and the marvels of the oceans, is An Aesop about how The Professor Aronnax was humbled and so could survive and how the Übermensch Captain Nemo was destroyed himself out of guilt by the Malstrom, another of the very wonders of the ocean he so loved.
    • I just thought that it was because Nemo and Aronnax were the only scientists on board making a study of the ocean, the only ones who could 'find it out'. But I'm sure the technical answer above is more accurate.
    • I also believe this, that Verne referred Nemo and Aronnax only because they were the true scientist on board (and also the main characters). The aesop at the end of the novel was more or less ordered by Verne's editor, Jules Hetzel, and the horror Aronnax feels when Nemo sinks the warship chasig them is a custom horror; Hetzel was tring to publish young adult novels so he needed an aesop, a unambiguous condenm of Nemo´s attitude. What was Verne's original idea? We don't know, but what is clear is that Nemo was, more or less, an Author Avatar. Also, by that time, Verne still believed in the power of science. He only developed the pesimistic idea of Science is bad way more later.
  • How is it that the Nautilus lacks a medic?
    • He could have either died, as the coral cemetery is described as having lots of graves, or maybe Nemo's crew didn't include one. Or maybe there is one, but he was injured too or perhaps he wasn't good at repairing severe head wounds.
      • Or perhaps the injured guy is the medic. Who knows ?
  • Sperm whales and endangered animals aside, what kind of microscopic penguin do you need to kill several hundred of to feed a crew of under twenty men? Because, of course, Captain Nemo "doesn't like killing animals needlessly."
    • Maybe they would make penguin jerky to save the rest for prolonged periods without food?
      • Thinking about it, it's entirely possible Nemo organized the hunting expeditions as a way to allow his crew to let off some steam and stop them from going too stir crazy. Which, by his standards, would be far from needless. Also, he doesn't like sperm whales for some unknown reason.
  • Maybe more WMG-fodder than Headscratchers, but— assuming Aronnax, Conseil and Land do manage to get back to civilization on the steamer and the manuscript is published or at least shared with newspapers, how likely is the public to believe them? On the one hand, the idea that the Nautilus was artificial at all seems to have never come up in all of the discussions we were told raged about the nature of the sea monster before the navy expedition (and the navy clearly thought it was a living creature), and it's clearly beyond the technology of the day, so people might just think the whole thing was impossible and Aronnax was crazy or making things up. On the other— three men who disappeared in (I think) the mid-Pacific did somehow end up in a remote part of Norway with no one having seen them traveling there by any conventional means (or having seen them at all for ten months), which a secret super-submarine would explain...
    • Arronax actually mentions that it's likely Farragut realized they were hunting a submarine, not a narwhal and spread the news. As for being thought crazy, Arronax was a respected professor (it's the reason he was invited on the narwhal hunt at the last minute), there's little reason he'd be disbelieved. The Mysterious Island shows that word got out about Nemo later.
  • In the Disney adaptation, it's revealed that Nemo uses treasure as ballast, much to Ned's chagrin. So after they jettison the treasure, how do they get back underwater to pick up more? There is a reason ballast tanks use water.
  • Are there any fanon theories that account for the timeline discrepancy between The Mysterious Island and 20K Leagues without making the "Nemo" in each story a separate character? I know the Wold Newton article "A Submersible Subterfuge" is pretty well-known, but it has the two Nemos being different people.