20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Book Cover

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea(s)
Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (1870)

Member Andrew Nash’s website contains all the English title variations.

Plot Synopsis:
(courtesy of member Dennis Kytasaari’s - website)
Ships are disappearing all over the world and it believed to be caused by a sea monster. Prof. Pierre Aronnax, author of the book The Mysteries of the Ocean Deep, his companion Conseil and Canadian harpooner Ned Land are hired by the U.S. government to help put and end to this mystery by joining an expedition on the Abraham Lincoln. After months of searching the Abraham Lincoln finds its quarry and in the ensuing collision, Prof. Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land are thrown overboard. In their efforts to survive, the trio find themselves on the surface of the “monster” itself, which turns out to be a submarine. Captain Nemo allows them to remain alive on board his submarine, the Nautilus, as his permanent guests, meaning he will never allow them to leave and reveal his secrets. The Captain uses this meeting with Prof. Aronnax, whose book he has read, to begin a new cruise through the oceans and seas of the world, so that he can show Prof. Aronnax where his book was lacking in details; meanwhile, Ned Land’s primary interest is in escape.

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Review(s)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - The Completely Restored and Annotated Edition
Translator & Critical Material: Walter James Miller & Frederick Paul Walter. Annapolis, Md., US Naval Institute Press, 1993. 424 pages, 45 ill.
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0870216783, ISBN-13: 978-0870216787

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

It’s great to live in the twenty-first Century, where we have central air conditioning, high-speed Internet and new translations of Jules Verne. If the last seems a bizarre statement to you, I am guessing you have read the older translations or only seen movies of Verne’s work. These are pale imitations of the exciting, thought-provoking and very scientific books from a master of science fiction. The translation of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter will show you why Verne is called the father of this genre.

The base story will be familiar: intrepid explorers are swept off their ship and taken up in the submarine the Nautilus, which is commanded by the mysterious Captain Nemo. While captives, they learn a lot about the ship and its captain, see the wonders of the ocean, fight not just one but a dozen giant squid, and eventually escape to tell the tale. 20,000 Leagues is the best known of Verne’s work and yet, English readers are missing so much. The very informative introduction of this edition points out that complaints about Verne using bad science were actually the result of sloppy translation. Early English editions were slipshod and due to the biases of the translators, had whole sections cut out or so altered they barely reflected the original text. One example is from an 1873 English edition, where the second chapter opens with “I had just returned from a scientific research in the disagreeable territory of Nebraska”, which Miller and Walter translate to “I came back from a scientific expedition into the Nebraska Badlands...” These two statements are very different in attitude, something that changes the whole feel of the story.

Verne made many points in this work, much of which he did through his characters. Captain Nemo is complex and like all of us, had his good and bad sides. He is a man of principle who opposes imperialism, believes in the dignity of all peoples, is an ecologist and great scientist. He also burns with hatred so great, that he sinks ships just because they are from a certain country. The author shows not only skill with characterization, but 20,000 Leagues has a sophisticated plot of a rebel who rejects modern society while embracing science. Don’t let the title or movies fool you into thinking this is a deep sea adventure: the 20,000 Leagues is the distance the Nautilus travels around the world, not how deep she dives and the fight with the giant squid is not the climax of the book but only a few pages in a much more interesting text. The annotations by the translators fill in any background the modern reader might not be aware of, bringing the story even more to life.

Whether you have read this book before or never tried Jules Verne, you would be well served to take up Miller and Walter’s translation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

-- Review by Colleen R. Cahill, Fast Forward Book Review for April 2005, Episode #177.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (Oxford World’s Classics)
Translator & Critical Material: William Butcher. Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press, 1998. 496 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0192828398, ISBN-13: 978-0192828392

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

There are no known reviews by any of our members specific to this edition, its credibility is cited below in reviews of terrible editions.


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The Complete Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: a New Translation of Jules Verne’s Science Fiction Classic
Trans: Emanuel J. Mickel. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992. ix+499 pages.
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0253338107, ISBN-13: 978-0253338105

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Although some might criticize it as “yet another” English translation of this popular work (especially when there currently exist several Voyages Extraordinaires which remain to date untranslated), Mickel’s version must be recognized as truly professional in its scope and its integrity. What Mickel has done is to use the original Hetzel (1869, 1870, 1871) French texts as his point of departure, instead of the hackneyed and much-abridged 1928 Hachette text (used by many 20th century translators). But one might wonder: what are the differences between Mickel’s “Complete” Twenty Thousand Leagues and the fine translation done by Walter Miller in 1976 which he called the “Annotated” Twenty Thousand Leagues (wherein he attempted—prior to Mickel—to reestablish the original)? Mickel explains: “[Miller] provides the Mercier Lewis translation and supplements it with an original translation of the portions of Verne’s work which had been omitted. ...Although it is interesting to read the Mercier Lewis translation and it was important to Miller in making his case against the shortened English version, the modern reader might have been better served by an entirely new translation of Verne’s novel.” (63)

In addition to his re-translation of the text itself, Mickel is generous with explanatory footnotes (a very Vernian trait). And he also includes a lengthy introduction which discusses a wide variety of biographical, thematic, and critical issues pertinent to Jules Verne’s life and work. Although occasionally based too much (in my opinion) on several early canonical French studies that are now either outdated or highly controversial—like Marc Soriano’s Freudian “psychological” biography of the author, or Allotte de la Fuye’s gossipy “family” biography—Mickel’s critical introduction is one of the most informed (i.e., the best) that I have seen in English. The book also provides a chronology of the events portrayed in Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, a relatively up-to-date critical bibliography, and reprints of many (though not all) of those now-famous Riou, Neuville, and Hildibrand lithographs found in the original. All in all, this Indiana UP publication of The Complete Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea proves to be an excellent translation and a fine piece of scholarship. My only regret is that Mickel did not lend his expertise to some of Verne’s lesser-known but equally-deserving works.

-- Excerpted from Arthur B. Evans, “New and Recycled Translations of Jules Verne,” Science Fiction Studies, XIX:2 #57 (July 1992): 261-63.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Bantam Classics)
Translator: Anthony Bonner. Introduction by Ray Bradbury. Bantam Books, 1985. 448 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0553212524, ISBN-13: 978-0553212525

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Over the past four decades Bantam Books, perhaps more than any other U.S. trade publisher, has been commissioning new translations of the great Western classics—several dozen titles in all, including the first modern renderings of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon. The former, translated by New York linguist, naturalist, and medieval scholar Anthony Bonner, appeared in 1962 and had strong appeal for U.S. purchasers: the first unabridged English text, it was couched in vernacular American, converted metric to feet and pounds, substituted Fahrenheit for centigrade, replaced francs with dollars, found clear equivalents for many of the biological terms, and still remains one of the liveliest, most reader-friendly Verne translations we have. On the debit side, Bantam’s production wing in those days was clearly strained by the scientific vocabulary and many figures, and the original text featured a fair number of typos, production glitches, and even some fluffs by the translator himself.

These slips have been meticulously corrected in a new, reset edition just out. Two years back, a hardcover reprint by HarperCollins offered a partial cleanup, and now Bantam Classics has done the job thoroughly, down to inviting me to proof the first-pass pages: I did so, they faithfully implemented my suggestions, and the published result hews to a high standard of accuracy and completeness. In fact, 20,000 Leagues has lately fared the best of Verne’s big-name works, with four sound modern translations currently available—in addition to Bonner’s, there are Brunetti’s (Signet), Butcher’s (Oxford), and my own with Walter Miller (U.S. Naval Institute). All have merit, and the last two are essential for specialists. But for younger students and your general American reader, this revised Bantam text, with its clarity, sparkle, and easy readability, is an obvious first choice.

BTW, a publisher’s note facing the title page gives a plug to both yours truly and the North American Jules Verne Society.

-- Review by Frederick Paul Walter, extracted from “Verne in the Shops,” originally published in Extraordinary Voyages, Vol 9, No 3 (Mar 2003).
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics
Contains: Journey to the Center of the Earth; From the Earth to the Moon; Circling the Moon; 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas; Around the World in 80 Days
Translator & Critical Material: Frederick Paul Walter. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2010. 668 pages. some illus.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 1438432380 , ISBN-13: 978-1438432380

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

See the review for this edition on this page.


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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Books of Wonder)
Translator: Anthony Bonner. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. HarperCollins, 2000. 384 pages.
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0688105351, ISBN-13: 978-0688105358

RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Illustrated Junior Library) (Hardcover).
Translator: Anthony Bonner. Illustrated by Stephen Armes. Grosset & Dunlap, 1996. 432 pages.
ISBN-10: 0448413078, ISBN-13: 978-0448413075

NOT AS RECOMMENDED (read why below) Get it at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Part of HarperCollins’ September 2000 release list, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is just out in a generously illustrated, unabridged version for young people, the latest entry in this publisher’s Books of Wonder series (ISBN 0-688-10535-1; $21.95). This hardcover gift edition reprints the well-known Bantam paperback translation by Anthony Bonner, while two-time Caldecott medalists Leo and Diane Dillon are the illustrators. Despite the familiar ingredients, the edition is newsworthy on two counts: one, the illustrations are provocatively original; two, the translation has been reprinted with some notable modifications.

First, a little background on this translation. Bantam’s text originally appeared in 1962, the work of linguist, naturalist and medieval scholar Anthony Bonner, then living in New York, these days in Majorca. Unheralded at the time was this fact: Bonner’s was the first English rendering to offer the complete novel—every prior version had been abridged, sometimes pretty severely. And Bonner’s work offers other excellences: the many sidelights on marine biology are not only intact, they’re authoritatively rendered, full of well researched English equivalents, and somehow surprisingly readable (a decade later, Bonner would publish a textbook on Majorcan botany); also, European weights and measures are clarified for American readers, and the whole text rolls out in a lively, colloquial, easy-does-it style. Again and again Bonner manages to make things baby-simple—for instance, when dazzled by flashing ice in Chap. 39, the narrator says: “We held our hands over our eyes and saw nothing but spots, as if we had been looking at the sun too long.” (Compare another translator’s more erudite approach: “We put our hands over our eyes, still inundated with those concentric gleams which float in front of your retina when sunlight has struck it too violently.—) Such down-to-earth felicities place Bonner’s text among the most reader-friendly Verne translations we have.

Still, there are problems. First and foremost, Bantam’s printers served up a slew of production errors—abundant typos, frequent spelling inconsistencies, lines accidentally dropped, even a few editorial miscalculations. Plus, Bonner himself fumbles an occasional detail—most notoriously in Chap. 13 when he cribs from Rev. Mercier and muddles the density of steel relative to water (odd, coming from a man with his scientific chops). In sum, then, it’s an admirable achievement but not without its flaws. And to date Bantam has taken no steps to erase these blemishes—Bonner’s text has gone through nearly forty printings since 1962, all from the same error-riddled plates. Nor has a recent re-setting by another publisher helped matters: in 1996 Grosset & Dunlap issued a young people’s reprint of Bonner’s 20,000 LEAGUES in their Illustrated Junior Library series (offering laminated board covers, recycled paper and six attractive paintings by Stephen Armes). Unfortunately, G & D’s printer corrected few of the original typos and instead perpetrated several dozen fresh ones.

Enter now HarperCollins, also wishing to reprint Bonner’s text—in its clarity and simplicity surely an appropriate choice for younger readers. But this time the tale has a different ending. Last March Josh Weiss, managing editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, contacted me: in exchange for a modest honorarium and a couple free copies, would I check their second-pass galleys of the Bonner text? And he added: “we would like to hear about all translation errors that you know of.” I agreed and fetched down my copy of the Bantam text, which I’d marked up extensively several years ago during background work for the retranslation Walter Miller and I undertook for Naval Institute Press. I went a little overboard and returned the galleys to Weiss with some 260 pickups—mostly corrections of production glitches in the Bantam text, but a number of quibbles with the translation as well. I’ve now had a chance to go over the finished product: to my amazement, my suggestions were taken seriously and a solid majority implemented. Alas, the steel-vs-water blooper is left standing, but several other questionable items have been adjusted and typos have been cleaned up by the carload. The result is a significantly more reliable and useful edition of Bonner’s text.

High quality production is, in fact, a gratifying feature of this new hardcover edition: foil-stamped binding, fine stock, a surprisingly sensitive afterword by Peter Glassman, and provocatively unconventional artwork by the Dillons. The noted husband-and-wife team contributes 10 paintings, 3 mock engravings, and 47 pen vignettes of marine life for the chapter heads. It’s the full-color paintings that will stir up controversy among Verne literalists.

On the one hand they’re sumptuously executed, somber, secretive, and mystical in a way that certainly parallels tonal aspects of this multifaceted novel. On the other hand, they go off on a tack that I’ve never before encountered in this book’s extensive iconography: Verne’s marine hardware is given an ORGANIC feel, almost suggestive of H. R. Giger. For instance, machinery in the engine room boasts the design shape of underwater flora and crustacea, air tanks on the diving suits are cloaked in bristling, sea-urchin covers, and the NAUTILUS herself looks like some gigantic jointed sea scorpion. Sometimes the Dillons pay close heed to Verne’s text (the breastplate lamella on the diving suits are imaginatively conceived), sometimes they ignore it (their NAUTILUS design). At bottom, it’s almost as if they’d taken to heart Walter Miller’s old speculation that Captain Nemo’s technology “comes from some body of knowledge unknown to international science.” As for Nemo himself, he sports a metal helmet that seems both corinthian and coralligenous, as well as a dark, haunted, exotic grandeur; definitely a successful portrait.

All in all, then, it’s a book I’m glad to have and one I can gladly recommend for gift giving. As a way of introducing youngsters or even general readers to Verne’s most admired novel, it’s a crackerjack choice—a text that’s essentially complete, largely accurate, and exceptionally readable, plus elegant typography, handsome design, and, again, the Dillons’ eerily evocative illustrations.

-- Review by Frederick Paul Walter, “20,000 Leagues: A Newsworthy Edition From HarperCollins,” originally published in Extraordinary Voyages, Vol 7, No 2 (Feb 2001).
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Translator: Mercier Lewis. Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005. 352 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 1593083025, ISBN-13: 978-1593083021

NOT RECOMMENDED (read why below)

This paperback, one of the Barnes and Noble “Classics Editions” is a republication of the original English translation by Rev. Lewis Page Mercier made in 1872. Mercier’s translation leaves out 20% of the book and makes numerous other textual errors. These facts have been known for fifty years. The editor is a Victoria Blake, not otherwise identified, who in fact recommends in the Appendix that for further reading one might consult the complete novel as translated by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter and published by the Naval Institute Press in 1993.

-- Posted by Norm Wolcott, “An Obsolete Translation,” on Amazon June 10, 2006.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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20,000 Leagues Under the Seas (Enriched Classics)
Translator: Mercier Lewis. Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, 2005. 480 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 1416500200, ISBN-13: 978-1416500209

NOT RECOMMENDED (read why below)

Shameful. To use a widely discredited translation when better exist, and to have such horrendous errors in the notes is just shameful. There is absolutely no reason to REprint a discredited translation that is full of outrageous errors and huge omissions, and to “enrich” the text with completely erroneous notes. Abysmal. This butchered version of a great story deserves a negative five star rating. No school should purchase this edition, no library should have it on its shelves, and no individual should waste their hard earned money on this when better editions already exist, and when better editions can be easily and readily reprinted by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK. Much better editions exist. Read the excellent reviews below by J. M. Margot and F. P. Walter to discover what editions you should be looking for.

And if you are a fan of Verne, or just a fan of quality publishing, please write Simon & Schuster, Inc., and tell them to replace this absolutely abysmal edition:

Jack Romanos President and CEO
Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Phone: 212-698-7000
Fax: 212-698-7099
-- Posted by D. Merchant, “This Version of a Great Story is Garbage,” on Amazon March 24, 2006.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

A sorry example of the laziness and irresponsibility of many trade editors today—and it’s especially shameful in a publication targeted to students and youngsters.

First, the basic text is dreadful: though unidentified, it’s the long-discredited translation signed by “Mercier Lewis” and rushed into print in 1872 by the London firm of Sampson, Low. As modern scholars have documented on numerous occasions, Verne’s original French was politically censored, drastically abridged, couched in stilted Victorian prose, and riddled with hundreds of inane translating errors. Its clunky, antiquated English is something no American student could possibly enjoy (“I own my heart beat,” says the narrator, who actually means, “I admit my heart was pounding”). As for the translating blunders, some are asinine beyond belief—Verne’s characters start a fire with a lentil (Verne: lens) . . . loosen bolts with a key (Verne: wrench) . . . and claim iron is lighter than water (Verne: the opposite, of course).

Are these obscure facts? Anything but. Over the past four decades, this translation’s inadequacy has been bemoaned repeatedly in basic reference works (Taves & Michaluk’s JULES VERNE ENCYCLOPEDIA), online (the Jules Verne Forum at http://jv.gilead.org.il/forum/), and in readily available MODERN translations of this novel (e.g., the paperback editions from Signet, Oxford, and the U.S. Naval Institute). What’s more, not only has Simon & Schuster’s current editorial staff shirked the most rudimentary homework, they’re apparently too lazy even to double-check their OWN publishing files: as long ago as 1966, S & S issued a revised edition of the Mercier Lewis translation; they hired NYU expert Walter James Miller to correct and reword Lewis’s text—which, in a specially written preface, Miller denounced as a “botched up translation . . . slashed and slapdash.” Lewis’s renderings, he said, “bristle with technical errors and omit whole passages vital to the technical integrity, the character development, even the humor of the story.”

In short, Simon & Schuster could easily have reprinted their own 1966 version, not ideal but vastly better than Lewis’s original. Or, alternatively, they could have reprinted either of the other two English translations in the public domain, both superior in accuracy and completeness. But, these days, indolence and ignorance apparently rule in the halls of S & S.

So, though this Enriched Classics series boasts on its back covers about its “practical scholarship,” the said scholarship, not surprisingly, often works out to be dismally unreliable. The “helpful notes” and “insightful commentary” can range from the useless to the ridiculous. On p. 425, the explanatory notes can only tell us that such sea creatures as tubipores, gorgones, and spondyles are “various kinds of marine life.” Big help. (They’re corals, sea fans, and oysters, folks.) On the other hand, when the notes attempt more, they’re often worse: on p. 426, for instance, I was amazed to learn that porphitae and asterophytons are “igneous outcrops.” Nooo!!! These aren’t rocks, people, they’re animals! (Jellyfish and starfish, for Lord’s sake.)

If you’re as astonished as I am that such bluff and nonsense is being palmed off on our kids as “scholarship,” write S & S this week.

Meantime, what edition of 20,000 LEAGUES should you acquire? First, in addition to this Enriched Classics version, also avoid those other student editions (!) published by Scholastic, Tor, and Apple—they don’t identify it either, but they all blindly reprint this same hopeless 1872 Mercier Lewis translation. Fortunately, however, there are four sound paperback texts of 20,000 LEAGUES, all readily available, all immeasurably superior in accuracy, completeness, and readablility. For general readers the Bonner (Bantam) and Brunetti (Signet) translations are both worthwhile. For readers wanting an annotated edition, there are two good ones: Butcher’s (Oxford), which is strong on the novel’s genesis and manuscript record, and Miller’s own illustrated retranslation (U.S. Naval Institute), which is strong on the marine biology—and on which I myself collaborated. All are competitively priced, so there’s no need to settle for something inferior.

By the way, the above-cited deficiencies may well be typical of this Enriched Classics collection as a whole—I note that their edition of Dumas’ MONTE CRISTO also features a seriously inadequate text. Students, parents, and teachers are warned to proceed with caution vis-à-vis the entire series.

-- Posted by Frederick Paul Walter, “DREADFUL TRANSLATION, UNRELIABLE NOTES”, on Amazon April 10, 2005.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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20,000 Leagues Under the Seas (Tor Classics)
Translator: Mercier Lewis. Tor Classics, 1995. 320 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0812550927, ISBN-13: 978-0812550924

NOT RECOMMENDED (read why below)

If you’re going to read one of the great classics of literature-and you should-don’t pick up this edition. It is a reprint of a version that dates back to the 1870s and was exposed more than 40 years ago for cutting nearly one-quarter of Verne’s story and mistranslating much of the remainder. Its reappearance in this edition is all the more amazing considering Tor’s status as a leading science fiction publisher, and the company’s willingness to perpetrate this fraud on is many readers is truly stunning. If you want to truly get to know Verne’s novel, pick up the elegant Naval Institute Press edition, in a modern, complete, updated translation, with commentary by the leading American Verne expert today, Walter James Miller. That book also comes with many of the artistic engravings that illustrated the original French first edition (no illustrations are to be found in the B&N Mercier reprint). Less attractive but more academic is the Oxford Classics version of Twenty Thousand Leagues. This review is posted on behalf of the North American Jules Verne Society by Jean-Michel Margot, president NAJVS.

-- Posted by J.M. Margot, “Don’t buy this book!,” on Amazon March 23, 2006.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009

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