Character Thursday: Ned Land vs. Captain Nemo

[It’s not yet Thursday where I live, but I thought I would go ahead and post this.  🙂 ]

As I near the end of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I realize one thing: I don’t like book!Nemo.  And it is (partly) Herman Melville’s fault.

Ever since I read Moby-Dick, I have had a huge admiration of, and appreciation for, whales.  I love whales.  Thus, when Captain Nemo decides to attack a pod of sperm whales–to even the odds for some weaker, baleen whales nearby–I had mixed feelings. 

   What a struggle! Ned Land quickly grew enthusiastic and even ended up applauding. Brandished in its captain’s hands, the Nautilus was simply a fearsome harpoon. He hurled it at those fleshy masses and ran them clean through, leaving behind two squirming animal halves.

At this point, I knew for sure this was horrible.  A little later on, Ned Land agrees, once again demonstrating the importance of common sense:

   The sea was covered with mutilated corpses. A fearsome explosion couldn’t have slashed, torn, or shredded these fleshy masses with greater violence. We were floating in the midst of gigantic bodies, bluish on the back, whitish on the belly, and all deformed by enormous protuberances… The waves were dyed red over an area of several miles, and the Nautilus was floating in the middle of a sea of blood.
   Captain Nemo rejoined us.
   “Well, Mr. Land?” he said.
   “Well, sir,” replied the Canadian, whose enthusiasm had subsided, “it’s a dreadful sight for sure. But I’m a hunter not a butcher, and this is plain butchery.”

Vingtmillelieue00vern orig 0034 1This whole episode reminds me of a news article from earlier this year, about the government’s attempts to save spotted owls by killing barred owls.  The success of this kind of approach is debatable.  I personally believe it is wrong, both ethically and logically.  The end result is theoretical enough, and can we say that it justifies the means?

On another subject, I wonder who can be called the real antagonist: Ned Land, or Captain Nemo?  Ned stands in the way of Professor Aronnax and Conseil’s adventures on board the Nautilus.  Ned would even rebel and take over the Nautilus, were it possible.  But Nemo–in spite of any good intentions he may have–defies everyone, that he may take matters into his own hands and attain his ideals the way he sees fit, like a dubiously benevolent dictator.

I like James Mason’s portrayal of Nemo in the Disney movie.  While he is still the antagonist, he doesn’t strike me as one who would enjoy slaughtering whales, as long as they hadn’t bothered the Nautilus.  Book!Nemo, in contrast, truly comes across as someone aspiring to rule the sea, with an iron fist if “necessary”.  Perhaps the book version, like the book version of Moby-Dick‘s Captain Ahab, is a more realistic–if darker–character.  However, I think the movie versions do better at portraying Nemo and Ahab as anti-heroes, for whom you might feel some amount of sympathy.


  1. Fanda Avatar

    Thanks for joining the Character Thursday, Marian!I almost forget how I liked this book, I felt like I was in the Nautilus myself when I read this. But from what I remember, I have never thought Ned as an antagonist, I mean, he had his revenge things, but besides that I believe he was actually a warm-hearted man (crying when one of the crew died). Maybe Ned was more suitable for antagonist, but I can also understand his distressed feeling being captured in Nautilus, he's not a biologist like Aronnax, anyway…


  2. Marian Avatar

    Ned is certainly my favorite character in the book! 🙂 I have just finished it, and I think Captain Nemo is both the protagonist and antagonist.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: