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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that next to Agatha Christie, Jules Verne is the most translated author of all time, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) is probably his most popular work -- which means you have versions galore to choose from, depending on your kid's age, interest level, and sensitivities, from full-length annotated versions to entry-level books that focus on the basic story. This unabridged version, translated from the French by Anthony Bonner, preserves Verne's 19th-century tendency to show off his knowledge on all subjects, so expect every plot development to be cause for a lecture on history or science. It also includes some violent scenes, especially of shipwrecks and their drowned victims, as well as a dramatic attack against a ship and its crew by a group of giant squid, which costs a crew member his life; another dies after an incident that isn't described. There's a good deal of violence against animals and butchery of sea creatures, as well. Mysterious Captain Nemo is driven by the need for revenge, but his motives are never fully explained.
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What's the story?
Just after the American Civil War, French biologist Pierre Aronnax, accompanied by his faithful assistant Conseil, embark on a voyage in search of a mysterious creature that's been attacking ships around the world. In due course the creature proves to be a submarine, and he, Conseil, and French-Canadian harpooner Ned Land are taken captive by its master, the mysterious Captain Nemo. For many months the trio, prisoners aboard the Nautilus, behold undersea wonders from one end of the globe to another, while learning very little about what dark force drives their captor.
Is it any good?
Science-minded kids may love Professor Aronnax's tendency to describe every fish and plant he sees wherever he goes, and trivia-minded ones may love some of the historical tales on the side. Others may wish Verne would just get on with the story. One of the pioneering works of science fiction, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, first published in 1870, is downright uncanny in the accuracy with which it predicted much technology to come, from submarines to electricity. With many versions in book and movie form over the years (including the 1954 Disney classic), it's become a cultural icon, as has its mysterious Captain Nemo; consider which version may be right for your kids.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Verne, writing just a few years after the Civil War, was able to predict future technology so accurately.
From what you've seen of Captain Nemo, what do you think of him? What do you think is the dark secret in his past, and do you think it justifies the way he lives?
If, like Professor Aronnax, you had the opportunity to make a great voyage of discovery but at the price of your freedom, would you go for it?
Do you like Verne's long descriptions of the exotic fish and sea plants, or would you rather just watch a nature video?
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