SEPT / OCT 2011: BY CAROL STARKEY
Captain Nemo from the fanciful novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has always fascinated me. He’s definitely not the good guy, yet he’s not so easy to place under the term “bad guy,” either. So what is he?
We first meet him when he shows himself to three newly captured prisoners, Professor Arronax, his servant Counseil, and a famous harpooner named Ned Land. Though the men beseech him in French, Latin, German, and English to let them go, he does not respond. Yet the second time he approaches them he reveals that he knows all four languages. He also speaks another language with his crew, one he has invented; it is the only language the crew speaks. Thus, he has a strong hold over the men on his submarine, the Nautilus. Only once in the entire story does a crewman cry out in another language, French, and that is when his life is in danger.
Nemo takes great pains to keep his past hidden; when a ship approaches the Nautilus, he sends his three prisoners below decks, then drugs their food. When they awaken, a battle has been waged, leaving one man dying. Even near the end of the book, when an enemy ship appears, Nemo does not tell his prisoners who the enemy is, and as the ship flies no flags, they cannot find out.
There are clues to his past, though. Nemo is a very rich man. Yes, he can dive to the ocean floor in his submarine and plunder lost ships of their gold and jewels, but there are many lavish artworks and a large diverse library, compiled before Nemo and his men forever abandoned the world above. Also, the ship must have cost millions to design and build. Far ahead of its time, the Nautilus is covered in impenetrable plates of steel, takes in sodium from the sea and converts it to electricity, and has huge reservoirs to store air should it be needed. Complex diving suits await those who want to explore the ocean floor.
For all the excess on board the Nautilus, Nemo is a very reserved man. He guards his secrets, and his room is Spartan—a bed, a rug, and an organ. Above his berth hangs the picture of a woman and two small children, a tie to his past. Though he has cut off all connections with the world above, he has not lost all his compassion. When he and Arronax happen upon an oyster diver Nemo gives him a bag full of pearls; though he allows Land the pleasure of hunting shortly after he becomes a prisoner Nemo won’t allow him to hunt some months later, as there is plenty of meat on board and the animals Land intend to hunt are few in number because they have been hunted aggressively. Then there’s the man who died during the attack by the unknown enemy. Nemo cares for him tenderly and when he dies, Nemo, along with two companions and his prisoners, take the body to an underwater cemetery. There they dig a grave and bury him, forever a part of the sea.
Arronax, Counseil, and Land are prisoners aboard the Nautilus for ten months and it is only through a hurricane that they are able to escape. Before they flee to a boat that Land made ready in advance, the last thing Arronax sees and hears is Nemo kneeling before the picture of his lost family crying out for forgiveness. Then Arronax runs to the escape craft. They wash up on shore, but Arronax has much to thank Nemo for—Arronax was able to write a book compiled from all that he saw under the seas. He and the other prisoners have had experiences and seen wonders no man besides Nemo and his crew will ever have or see.
The end of the book leaves you uncertain as to whether Nemo and his crew survived the storm. I choose to believe they did, because even though Nemo wasn’t the “good guy,” who among us hasn’t grown weary of this life and longed for escape? Who hasn’t longed for something more? Though he didn’t always make the right choices, Nemo was simply a flawed man attempting to make a new life for himself. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives in the beautiful state of Connecticut. She has a husband, three daughters and numerous pets. She works part-time while working and going to school. She loves to write, read, and take pictures of life around her. Her blog is updated infrequently, but she hopes to change that after she graduates. She’s a Christian, and hopes that ultimately her life will point to him. She also blogs.