An American frigate, tracking down a ship-sinking monster, faces not a living creature but an incredible invention - a fantastic submarine commanded by the mysterious Captain Nemo. Suddenly a devastating explosion leaves just three survivors, who find themselves prisoners inside Nemo's death ship on an underwater odyssey around the world from the pearl-laden waters of Ceylon to the icy dangers of the South Pole... as Captain Nemo, one of the greatest villians ever created, takes his revenge on all society. More than a marvelously thrilling drama, this classic novel, written in 1870, foretells with uncanny accuracy the inventions and advanced technology of the twentieth century and has become a literary stepping-stone for generations of science fiction writers.
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James Frain gives a wonderful reading of Verne's masterpiece. He captures Aronnax's sense of wonder, Ned Land's anger, Nemo's passionate devotion to the sea. It's Verne with a slight touch of Yorkshire: Frain's Ned Land sounds more like Sean Bean than Kirk Douglas. No complaints here, though: his voice is rich, steady, and crystal clear.
Even more reason for celebration is the fact that Listening Library - which produced Jim Dale's excellent "Around the World in 80 Days" a few years ago - chose to use the translation by Anthony Bonner. This was first published by Bantam in 1962 and was reissued with some corrections in 2003. This is one of the most complete versions of Verne's novel available in English and is a remarkably fluent translation. (There are more recent translations that are more meticulously accurate - for instance, those by William Butcher, F.P. Walter, and Walter James Miller - but Bonner did a bang-up job, one of the first to deliver Verne's whole novel rather than a hacked-up abridgement, and it's still one of my favorites.)
(There is only one other audio version of this book that is even remotely complete, the Recorded Books production read by Norman Dietz. I enjoy Dietz, but the anonymous translation used there, even though it IS the whole novel, is an awkward one with an unfortunate tendency toward literalism.)
If you're a Verne fan, you HAVE to get this. If you've listened to one of the other audio versions of this novel and came away unimpressed, give it another try with this one. I can practically guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised.
First published in 1869 by French author Jules Verne (whom received writing advice from both Hugo and Dumas). Some scholars say that Jules Verne fathered science fiction, others say he introduced steampunk; many people's only knowledge of Jules Verne comes from the Disney movie adaptations of Verne's novels. Which may not be a bad thing, (they made the jump to screen wonderfully...gosh, didn't we love the big crabs and squids, the hot-air balloons, the volcanoes, and the ocean and sun in the middle of the earth?) but it is hardly the same thing as experiencing the true tone of his books; dated, but still sparkling with imagination that is entertaining reading.
Verne intended this book to be more science-that-was-fiction -- than Disney's fiction-that-tried-to-be-science. Because the screenwriters thought the book had no real plot, they took only the big events from the book, and created the mad scientist version of a vengeful and political Nemo, and fit Verne's work nicely into the political framework of 1954 -- that's primetime Cold War years. 20,000 Leagues-the book, has the cannibals, the burial at sea, and the big squid, but a lot more scienctific theories, psychology of relationships, and the examination of the social changes of Verne's time. Most notably different was Nemo himself; less an angry *rebel without a cause* and more a genius with a deep respect for nature that caused him great angst concerning his relationship with man. There is a lot of cataloging, as mentioned by reviewers: species, genus, longitudes and latitudes, artwork and decor on board. The plot is non-linear other than beginning when the shipwrecked survivor's are picked up and continuing until the end of the journey--20,000 leagues later. The voyage and the events serve more to reveal the characters', especially Nemo's, Professor Arronax's, and the whale hunter Ned Land's, philosophies (not so much man-servant's Conseil). A great cross-section of social heirarchy wouldn't you say? (Around during both Freud and Jung's time, I'd have loved to read their reviews on Captain Nemo!)
These factors, and any comparison to the movie, might make this choice a little tiring for some that want more Buena Vista-type action and plot. It's an interesting journey to be sure, and even with such a different focus, it's still hard to get Disney's depiction out of your mind as you listen. James Frain does a good job narrating and playing each character, and is able to keep the story going even through the lists of mollusks and menus. Another recording I sampled was flatly read and not as engaging. A nice trip back to the future.