Posts Tagged ‘Nautilus’

Title Page of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

In which conclusory (if not conclusive) remarks are made regarding the final episodes in M. Verne’s adventure novel, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers; in which there may be spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t already know the basic story, and intend to read it for yourself one day — proceed with caution!


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Admiral Ackbar vs. the Nautilus

Sometimes I just have no words for the pictures. In those cases, The Orange Monk’s Squire comes to the rescue. The Orange Squire is a Tumblr blog I created as a sort of pictorial digest of the considerably wordier things happening here. It was intended to drive additional traffic to this website, but some of you may be coming directly here, and I hate for you to miss out on some of the fun being had at my sidekick blog.

I’ve put a link in the sidebar so you can check things out over there from time to time. If you yourself have a Tumblr blog, I invite you to follow the Squire. He’ll alert you when something is going on here.

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Kraken artwork by TheSeek (theseekproject.wordpress.com)

Courtesy of TheSeek (theseekproject.wordpress.com)

The breath-taking conclusion to a 7-part series of profiles on sea monsters.


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TO: Whomever is making the next 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea film adaptation

RE: The action center-piece of your movie

I know that if I ask you what is the most memorable action sequence from 20,000 Leagues, you’ll instantly say, “The attack of the giant squid!” Yeah, if your cast includes Kirk Douglas and James Mason, maybe. That is so 1954, though.

Listen, forget about the squid. I’ve got something — that is, Jules Verne has something — that will make that giant squid look like a plate of so much calamari.

Before that famous battle with the squid the novel takes us into the frigid waters of the South Pole, where the Nautilus submerges to bask in the few hours of sun afforded by an arctic afternoon. Professor Aronnax and his fellow travelers sight a herd of baleen whales in the distance, and the harpooner, Ned Land, being a hunter, is struck with blood-lust. He begs Capt. Nemo for permission to direct the submarine closer to the baleen whales so he can throw a few harpoons at them.

This may strike modern ears as somewhat ruthless, and the interesting thing is that, through Captain Nemo’s response, Jules Verne here anticipates the green-conscious mentality that so defines our present age. Because the submarine doesn’t use whale oil, and because the pantry is stocked with food, Nemo answers Ned thusly: “Now it would be killing for the sake of killing. I know very well that’s a privilege reserved for humanity, but I don’t allow such murderous pastimes.” He goes on to admonish the harpooner and lecture the reader about the consequences of hunting for sport and fortune:

In killing decent, inoffensive creatures like the southern right whale or the bowhead whale, people like you, Mr. Land, commit a reprehensible crime. Thus, your colleagues have already depopulated all of Baffin Bay, and they’ll wipe out a whole class of useful animals. So just leave those poor cetaceans alone.”

Ah, Nemo! The unexpected voice of modern reason, of geologic awareness. Perhaps we could cast Al Gore as the famous submarine captain (don’t laugh, he wasn’t too bad in that one episode of 30 Rock!). We can co-market the film with World Wildlife Fund, or Green Peace.

Baleen Whale

The innocent baleen whale

But where, you might ask, is the dreaded Captain Nemo we love to fear? Where is that inscrutable personage of obscure intent, that radical freedom-fighter, that monomaniacal terrorist of the Seven Seas? Just wait! This episode is not so cut-and-dried as it seems:

A moment after Nemo has tendered his inflexible verdict on Ned Land’s hunting proposal, the submarine captain studies a second herd of whales approaching the baleen whales, and speaks again: “Those are sperm whales — terrible beasts. I’ve sometimes met them in herds of 200 or 300! As for them, they’re cruel, destructive animals, and people are right to kill them.” Further down the page he says, “We’ll take no pity on those ferocious cetaceans. They’re nothing but mouth and teeth!”

Making use of the ram on the prow of the Nautilus, Captain Nemo proceeds to mercilessly tear through the herd of sperm whales in a scene of carnage to rival those presented in the Odyssey and the Iliad. Verne even describes the scene as “this Homeric massacre”:

What carnage! What a noise over the waves! What sharp hisses and snorts, peculiar to their species, issued from these terrified sperm whales… The sea was covered with mutilated corpses. A powerful explosion could not have cut up, torn, or shredded those masses of flesh with greater violence… The waves were tinted red over an area of several miles—we were floating in a sea of blood.”

The reason I suggest this is the pièce de résistance in any ambitious film adaptation of Verne’s science-fiction masterwork is that not only would Industrial Light and Magic impressively render the battle between those giant whales and that marvel of the Victorian age, Nemo’s submarine (but is it a battle? or is it unabashed slaughter?); but the sequence has moral drama in addition to physical. Our modern interpretation of animal preservationism includes protecting the natural predators of certain animals as a population control, with overbreeding the result of over-sheltering. Certainly we wish to guard against trophy-hunters, but typically we try to maintain the natural perils to which a species has long been subjected, and in spite of which it has developed a way to survive and propagate in the natural world. Does Captain Nemo have any right to interfere with this delicate balance, even under the guise of altruism? Are certain species like the sperm whale naturally “mean-spirited,” or more “evil” than other species? And if so, is Man permitted to slay these creatures for that reason? Sharks, for example, have often been characterized as little more than eating machines, but the thought of systematically destroying them because of this — or even of characterizing them as hateful because of it — seems a bit overboard. Surely all animals just do what it’s in their nature to do to survive, and blackness of heart doesn’t enter into the equation.

Sperm Whale

The villainous sperm whale. (OK, I admit, it does look kind of scary.)

In the moral ambiguity of this sequence, Captain Nemo’s ambiguous character is brought into sharp relief. Almost in the same breath he has expressed a bleeding-heart liberal’s concern for the effects of senseless hunting, and simultaneously advocated vigilante justice being meted out to more “ill-tempered” beasts. This is, in fact, the same schizophrenic approach to justice that motivates everything Nemo does. On one hand, he’ll donate a fabulous pearl to an impoverished nation; on the same day, he may plunge the ram of the Nautilus into the hull of a ship, sinking it and drowning its entire crew. At times he is a compelling symbol of independence. Other times, he is a chilling terrorist.

Friend or foe? Hero or villain? Such is the puzzle of Captain Nemo. Verne has left us numerous classic works of speculative fiction, but he hasn’t left us a wealth of memorable characters. Captain Nemo is clearly an exception, and has endured as a fascinating character precisely because of his enigmatic take on right and wrong, exemplified in the titanic clash between his fearsome Nautilus and those wicked sperm whales.

That’s why my money is on the sperm whale sequence to replace the old “giant squid” routine as the most memorable thing to come out of a new adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: audiences won’t know whether to cheer for the savage defeat of the baleen whales’ enemies, or whether to be appalled at such unflinching devastation wreaked upon innocent animals. Likely, they will feel a troubling mixture of gratification and horror. Caught in a moral dead-zone, one thing is certain: their jaws will be hanging open in amazement at the spectacle, as mine was reading this passage in the novel.

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The Scavengers

One of the destinations Professor Aronnax gets to tour whilst aboard the Nautilus, is the mythical city of Atlantis. The other day, I sat down to write an entry on Atlantis, but I paused when I found myself navigating to Wikipedia. Sure, I could do a quick search and regurgitate my findings for you, dearest readers—and there will be times when I will still have to resort to that tactic! But on this topic, at least, I realized I knew two more knowledgeable souls than myself. So I concluded it was time the Orange Monk ended his solitary life of adventure, and began a brotherhood. Professor Trace Rhodes and Doctor A.D. Hawke are the latest members of this brand new league of extraordinary gentlepeople, and the Orange Monk looks forward to increasing his flock.

Nick and Nora Charles

Nick and Nora: making marriage actually seem fun and sexy since 1934

Despite their differing surnames, Rhodes and Hawke are a married couple, finding their combined efforts to be more effective. In this way, they continue a fine tradition of husband-and-wife adventure duos, such as Nick and Nora Charles. Together, they style themselves “the Scavengers,” a sly play on yet another adventuring (if not romancing) couple: I mean, of course, Ms. Peel and Mr. Steed of that very modish duo, “The Avengers.” There’s a liberal dash of Indiana Jones-type archaeologist-adventurer in each of them, as well.

The Orange Monk first became acquainted with Rhodes and Hawke (in that order) when they were single-but-eyeing-one-another at the University of Southern California. They have since relocated “back east,” but they continue to be my go-to people when it comes to matters of Classics or antiquities. Or matters photographical or museum-ological, for that matter. And certainly when it comes to matters Bacchanal, as Dr. Hawke is the author of Oenological Odyssey, the blog I have linked to in my “Allies” section to the right, where he chronicles his (sometimes mis)adventures with wine-consuming and wine-making.

The Avengers

The Avengers: It's swingin' London in the '60s, baby... but which way is Mr. Steed meant to swing?

Clearly, I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone more suited to the task of introducing us to Atlantis. They have very kindly agreed to do so, and their article is appearing soon at this very blog, so keep your eyes “Peel”-ed.


The Scavengers in Sims3

"The Scavengers" (SIMulation)

Can’t wait? If you happen to be one of those geeks (as I am) who owns and plays The Sims 3, you can actually download Prof. Rhodes and Dr. Hawke, and set them upon simulated adventures. Download Trace Rhodes and A.D. Hawke individually, or download them together as a household.

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quote - volcano

I don’t know how often I’ll get a chance to be topical at this blog. Let’s face it, my main M.O. is not to be a political pundit or a late-breaking news digest or a tech help forum; we’re dealing with fiction. And really out there fiction, for the most part, much of which bears an original copyright date of 1960 or earlier.

But right now in Iceland, a volcano is spewing ash into the sky and grounding European flights. At the exact same time (but over a century ago), Nemo and everyone aboard the Nautilus has slipped into a huge cavern which is actually the interior of an extinct volcano, and home to his personal coal mines, to be harvested (is this the correct context to use the word “smelted”?) as fuel for his submarine whenever he wishes.

I ask you to please indulge me if I seem a little overly-triumphant by this coincidence, but who knows when I’ll get another chance to be so… relevant.

By the way — whoever smelted, delted.

I’m just sayin’.

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Professor Aronnax, snooping around in Captain Nemo’s cabin, gets a glimpse into the psyche of the Nautilus‘s enigmatic commander in the form of a group of portraits hung on his cabin wall:

Portrait's on Capt. Nemo's cabin wall

From left to right, top to bottom:

1.) Daniele Manin 2.) Daniel O’Connell 3.) John Brown 4.) Thaddeus Kosciusko 5.) Markos Botsaris 6.) Abraham Lincoln 7.) George Washington

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Control - Ryan Snook

CONTROL by Ryan Snook

Urban Outfitters has teamed with Society6 to bring you Print Shop, a place on the web where you can order quirky artwork like the above, by Ryan Snook, as a print or as a skin for your laptop, iPhone, or iPod.
As far as the Orange Monk is concerned, it has synthesized all this “belly of the beast”/ Nemo-in-the-Nautilus/great-white-whale stuff going on in his head right now, and brought a beatific, Buddha-like smile to his face. And so he shares.

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For Conseil, the captain was still a neglected genius who, weary of earth’s deceptions, had been driven to take refuge in this inaccessible medium where he was free to follow his instincts. But to my mind, this theory explained only one side of Captain Nemo.


No, Captain Nemo was not content simply with avoiding humanity. His formidable submarine served not only his instincts for freedom but also, perhaps, his needs for some terrible revenge.”

— Professor Aronnax

Part II, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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Part 3 in a series of profiles on sea monsters.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell, notable American mythologist and author of "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"

In a series of important works, the most famous of which is probably The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell set forth a theory that the stories told by cultures across the globe are linked in a compelling manner. The folk tales and legends of ancient groups of people who would probably not have had any means of communicating with another group, nonetheless bear striking commonalities in terms of their characters, plot points, and overall themes. Drawing from a Jungian framework, Campbell determined that these stories can in fact be broken down into a handful of types, and that they are built from a fixed cast of archetypal characters (such as the Hero, the Sage, the Mother, etc.) who engage in a series of somewhat predictable story developments, such as “the call to action,” “the crossing of the first threshold,” and so on. The assertion here is that, since these primitive cultures presumably did not communicate with other cultures, the similarities in their mythologies reveal a sort of collective human consciousness.

Christopher Booker claims that there are really only seven stories that get told over and over again, with different variations. They are:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. The Quest
  3. Journey and Return
  4. Comedy
  5. Tragedy
  6. Rebirth
  7. Rags to Riches

It’s a bold claim. But the categories are so flexible that you can probably wedge your favorite movie — regardless of what it is — into at least one of them, if not several. (If you can think of a story which seems to resist the above categorization, I’d very much like to know what it is!)

The reason for all of this preamble is that every now and then, I think I detect a new story type, or at the very least a distinct sub-category of one of the above which seems worthy of mention. For instance, having recently been converted as a Lost fan, I’ve been thinking a lot about desert island stories. Certainly Lost counts, and other examples come readily to mind: Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson (not to mention its sci-fi derivative, Lost in Space), and Castaway. It sounds as if Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues, The Mysterious Island, may also fit the bill. When you think about these stories, aren’t they really the same story over and over again? Is this a notable subcategory to the “Journey and Return” category above? Or is there something more primitive at stake in this sort of a story worthy of an 8th category? Central to these stories is a sort of horror of isolation, of being divided from society. In a way, Tarzan takes the form of a desert island story, because “Tarzan” is in fact John Clayton, an Englishman, the son of a lord and lady who are marooned on the west coast of Africa. When they die, John is left — at least socially speaking — on a desert island, without peers, raised by apes. Then, too, Kipling’s Jungle Book might be read as a desert island narrative, with Mowgli as the archetypal Crusoe figure.

But I digress.

Jonah and the Whale

Jonah in the Whale; detail of the Verdun altar

The real reason I started this conversation about story types is because I think I detect still another, perhaps a sub-category under “Overcoming the Monster.” Let’s call it, “In the Belly of the Beast,” borrowing a bit from Campbell’s own name for one of the classic stages in the hero’s journey, “In the Belly of the Whale.”

And whales are, in fact, the very crux of this entry. At first, I had plans to profile Monstro, the whale that swallows Pinocchio; and plans for a separate profile on the Biblical Jonah and the Whale. But I soon realized that these were really one and the same profile. Of course the stories differ, but their central theme is oddly the same.

Basking Shark

I already hate sharks, but the "basking shark" truly gives me chills!

While investigating online, I found that there has never been a confirmed case of a person being swallowed by any kind of sea creature and living to tell about it. (Around 1860, James Bartley claims to have been on a whaling vessel called The Star of the East when it was attacked by a whale and he supposedly fell into its mouth, surviving long enough to be cut free of its belly when his peers began skinning the whale, and being well enough to return to work three weeks later! The veracity of the story is shaky, to say the least, and it is regarded as an urban legend.) Though whales are often times quite enormous, they feed largely on plankton and other small prey, and their throats are generally not very large; certainly not large enough to swallow a man whole, with the exceptions of a Sperm Whale and a basking shark (according to various articles on Wikipedia).


Monstro the Whale, according to Disney

spiny dogfish

the spiny dogfish

In the classic animated Disney version of Pinocchio, Monstro seems to be some kind of enormous blue whale, or sperm whale (a marine biologist I am not). Interestingly enough, in Carlo Collodi’s book, Monstro is referred to as “the terrible dogfish,” which is a shark, and not one which looks as if it could swallow a man whole.

So, with no animal existing that seems capable of swallowing a man alive, it seems the more compelling that there should be a Bible story and an Italian fairy tale featuring just such an incident. Two examples can easily enough be dismissed as coincidence, but I have this feeling there are lots of other similar stories out there. Right away, I can think of the “space slug” sequence in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Han Solo takes refuge in what he believes is a cave on an asteroid, but what turns out to actually be the belly of a giant space slug, from out of whose jaws he only narrowly manages to pilot the Millennium Falcon to safety. Then again, in Return of the Jedi, there is the instance of the Sarlacc pit, an unpleasant-looking hole in the middle of the Tatooinian desert where Jabba the Hutt likes to consign his enemies, where they will be painfully digested over a course of a thousand years. (How painful that could actually be is not clear to me, since the process must be very delicate in order to take so long, and anyone would die of natural causes before they had endured even a fraction of that digestion period — but never mind.)

space slug

"Sir, it's quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable..." — C-3PO

A quick search for the Sarlacc pit on the internet reveals that it has been interpreted by some film scholars as an incarnation of the vagina dentata anxiety, and that’s an interesting aspect of this whole “belly of the beast” story type which I hadn’t considered. (If you don’t know what vagina dentata is, well… I’m not prepared to go into it. Maybe when you’re older.)

I feel like there is a Greek myth in which Zeus ingests dismembered pieces of someone, only to have them burst out of his head whole again. I can’t put my finger on the exact story or its details. But it points to the inverse of “Belly of the Beast” story type: the fear not of living in the belly of some creature, but to have some creature living inside your belly — witness the dreaded “stomach bursters” in Alien.

Sarlacc pit

Sometimes, a Sarlacc pit is just a Sarlacc pit...

And finally, to get back on topic, aren’t Professor Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land also Jonahs in the belly of a mechanical Monstro, in this case the Nautilus? They have been swallowed whole by an enormous sea creature (remember, a great deal of the first part of the novel dealt with Aronnax and company pursuing what was assumed to be a gigantic narwhal).

It certainly seems to me that there is something here worth investigating. And maybe it’s essentially the same story type as the desert island, since in both cases the heroes are cut off from society, either by being removed to a remote and uninhabited place, or by being swallowed by a creature of some sort. I’m sure I’m not the first to be curious about these recurring story lines, but at the moment I feel like a bit of a Crusoe, alone on the beach of what feels like some great, undiscovered concept. If anyone out there knows of an examination into these themes which has already been done, please let me know where I can look. You would be pointing out to me Friday’s footstep in the sand.

Engine room of the Nautilus

Prof. Aronnax examines the bowels of the Nautilus

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