Remembering ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas’ by Jules Verne

In All the Light We Cannot See, the blind French girl Marie-Laure Leblanc is reading the novel in braille, sometimes alone, sometimes to her uncle, and sometimes into the microphone of an old short-wave radio transmitter. Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus become an important motif in the book. For me, the inclusion of Jules Verne’s story was a bit haunting since the novel, and even the Disney movie adaptation released in 1954, was one of my favorite novels. In fact, I think I ended up reading most of Jules Verne’s work.

I knew the story first from the film because, in 1954, I wasn’t capable of reading a Jules Verne book. That’s just as well inasmuch as the first English translations were a mess.

A friend of mine in grade school also loved the movie, so much that we ended up building a miniature Nautilus in his basement where we gave “tours” of various voyages to adults willing to pay five or ten cents depending on the length of the voyage.

I loved the accuracy of short-wave radio scenes in All the Light We Cannot See because I was once a ham radio operator. I built my own transmitter and used a 1940s-era short-wave receiver. It was always fun late at night, talking to people around the world as well as listening to commercial broadcasts originating thousands of miles away. In those days, DXing was popular and we prided ourselves in identifying commercial broadcasts, telling the stations what we heard, and getting a postcard by mail that verified we had heard the station on the date and time we said we did. I finally gave away that old SuperPro short-wave receiver a few years ago to a ham radio operator who was likely to repair it and get it working again.

Best I can tell, the current version of Jules Verne’s novel offered on Amazon might well be the best English translation yet. My feeling is that it’s a lot more accurate than earlier English translations. I know the story only too well because I have lived with it, one way or another, for almost seventy years.

–Malcolm

Jules Verne led me into a long-time interest in science fiction novels which ultimately moved into contemporary fantasy. I write now because of him.

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