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Tutorial for Part One, Chapter One: A Moving Reef
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
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This page last updated: Wednesday, August 28, 2002 8:55 PM
In the opening chapter of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a mysterious sea monster terrorizes ships at sea. Reports of this “enormous thing” culminate with an “attack” on the passenger-and-postal ship Scotia, the pride of the Cunard fleet. A perfect triangle is punched in her hull, fueling public hysteria and inciting cries to rid the seas of the monster once and for all.
This chapter hooks us like the first few minutes of a crafty Hollywood movie. It appeals to our senses, strikes at our fears, arouses our curiosity and challenges our intellect. What is this monster? What damage can it inflict? Will it harm me?
Verne takes advantage of a well-known maxim in media: grab their attention. Not only does this chapter relate hyperbolic news stories from other sources, it engages in a bit of exaggeration itself.
The novel opens:
The Year 1866 was marked by a bizarre situation, a phenomenon unexplained and inexplicable that probably no one has yet forgotten.
Indeed, the book’s narrator, Professor Aronnax, participates in the whole affair (as we discover later) and he’s not going to let anyone forget about it! (Of course, Verne doesn’t want anyone to forget about it either, i.e. he wants to sell more books.)
Verne’s blend of exaggerated eyewitness accounts with scientific detail in this chapter demonstrates his skill at manipulating the minds and emotions of his audience. But they belie a deeper and cleverer purpose: to make us believe that the world he’s about to describe really exists. Verne is a master at weaving fact and fiction, so much so that he is considered to be the father of science (or scientific) fiction (an oxymoron if there ever was one!).
Does the monster really exist or can we chalk it up to mass hallucination? What do we really know about the monster and what do I mean by “really know”? Do we learn enough about the monster in this first chapter to have an educated opinion either way?
To answer these questions, we must delve deeper into the facts and fictions, my friends. Read on and illuminate your mind.
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