20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:
The Play versus the Novel

Ed Mastís 45-minute theatrical version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea brings Verneís story to life for young audiences. Substituting a teenage boy, Peter, for Professor Aronnax (and eliminating Conseil), the play connects to the moral and ethical issues of the novel, particularly Nemoís battle to exact vengeance while at the same time making a lasting scientific contribution to the world. Peter, an aspiring engineer, becomes enamored with Nemo: his marvelous Nautilus, his incredible scientific and engineering achievements and his passion for science and the sea. But the dark side of Nemo exacts its toll on the young Peter. When Nemo attacks a warship, Peter abandons him and helps bring about the destruction of the Nautilus. In the startling climax to the play, Nemo turns benevolent, yet the fate of the Nautilus is already sealed. The submarine is sunk. Peter is left to struggle with his own moral and ethical beliefs: should he have trusted Nemo? When are guerilla actions justified and when are they wrong? Mast leaves these questions unanswered, owing to our own conscience the decision of what separates right from wrong.

The Characters


Similarities: Captain Nemo, commander of the greatest submarine ever built, symbolizes the moral struggle between right and wrong. His scientific and engineering genius are counterbalanced by his hatred for oppressors.

Differences: The playís Captain Nemo attempts to win over Peter as a successor to the command. The novelís Nemo leaves the fate of his ship to God and mercy. As well, Verneís Nemo doesnít show kindness to his oppressors; his hatred drives him throughout.


Similarities: Peter embodies the curiosity and intelligence of Professor Aronnax, the ďauthorĒ of 20K. Peterís knowledge of science and engineering allow him to appreciate and admire Nemoís accomplishments. Like Aronnax, Peter struggles with Nemoís morality and gets caught up in sentimental selfishness, which proves his undoing.

Differences: Peter doesnít exist in Verneís novel. And the Professor doesnít sabatoge Nemo overtly in the way that Peter does in the play.

Ned Land

Similarities: Ned Land, ever the heroic gentleman, provides the catalyst for action in the play and the novel. As Nemoís adversary, he pursues one single-minded goal: escape from the Nautilus.

Differences: The playís Ned Land remains confined to his quarters, unlike the novel. As well, the playís Land kills a crewman and renders the Nautilus helpless, leading to its demise. The novelís Ned Land, while bent on escape, exhibits greater restraint in his actions against Nemo.


Similarities: The novelís crewmen are fanatically loyal to Nemo.

Differences: The novelís crewmen donít speak as they do in the play.

The Plot

Similarities: The play borrows much of the novelís action: the capture of Peter and Ned Land, the funeral in a coral garden, excursions to the bottom of the sea, the sinking of warships. While the playís ending differs completely, the result is the same: the disappearance of Nemo and the Nautilus.

Differences: The novel provides a sweeping travelogue of the world ocean, impossible in a short play. The playís action focuses on Nemoís war with his oppressors while the novel takes a broader scope. Nemo does not allow a warship to pass in the novel, as he does at the playís ending, and the Nautilus enters a maelstrom in the novel, whereas it sinks in the play.

The Setting

Similarities: The novel, like the play, takes place primarily underwater.

Differences: The play suggests that Nemo serves the Confederates during the American Civil War.