Throughout the novel 20,000 Leagues Under The Seas, Jules Verne creates a world of underwater science fiction, aided by the mention of certain props that utilize the latest in 1860s technology, that when mated with his own imagination, creates some unique props, all of which I have sketched out below.
LEYDEN UNDERWATER RIFLE
Used by Captain Nemo, the crew members, and visitors to the Nautilus, this unique air rifle described by Verne has some unusual characteristics for use underwater. The rifle uses a steel cased ball that contains a capacitance charge of electrical energy, which discharges instantaneously upon the bullet’s impact on its target, killing it instantly.
Using compressed air, the rifle is constructed from copper and brass components. As Aronnax describes it:
“One of the Nautilus men gave me a simple gun, the butt end of which, made of steel, hollow in the centre, was rather large. It served as a reservoir for compressed air, which a valve, worked by a spring, allowed to escape into a metal tube. A box of projectiles in a groove in the thickness of the butt end contained about twenty of these electric balls, which, by means of a spring, were forced into the barrel of the gun. As soon as one shot was fired, another was ready.”
My interpretation of the Leyden Rifle is shown below, taking into account probable engineering of the time, and practicality.
LEYDEN RIFLE PROP MODEL
This is full scale prop built to match the description in the novel, and is adapted to what I believe would be best suited to underwater use using compressed air tanks and the technology of the 1860s. Based on the Sten gun from WW2, I used that “chassis” to build the rest of the rifle, putting in air tanks and other piping necessary to operate Nemo’s weapon of choice under the sea.
Using a mix of materials ranging from wood, copper, painted PVC pipe and other pieces scrounged from the local hardware store, this prop is how I envisioned the Leyden rifle looking.
THE DIVING SUIT
Somewhat of a novelty at the time, a completely self-sufficient underwater breathing apparatus was a marvel of engineering in the novel as proudly described by Captain Nemo to Aronnax.
“It is to use the Rouquayrol apparatus, invented by two of your own countrymen, which I have brought to perfection for my own use, and which will allow you to risk yourself under these new physiological conditions without any organ whatever suffering. It consists of a reservoir of thick iron plates, in which I store the air under a pressure of fifty atmospheres. This reservoir is fixed on the back by means of braces, like a soldier’s knapsack. Its upper part forms a box in which the air is kept by means of a bellows, and therefore cannot escape unless at its normal tension. In the Rouquayrol apparatus such as we use, two india rubber pipes leave this box and join a sort of tent which holds the nose and mouth; one is to introduce fresh air, the other to let out the foul, and the tongue closes one or the other according to the wants of the respirator. But I, in encountering great pressures at the bottom of the sea, was obliged to shut my head, like that of a diver in a ball of copper; and it is to this ball of copper that the two pipes, the inspirator and the expirator, open.”
The diving suit is also fitted with a light, that is called a “Ruhmkorff apparatus”, which uses electricity from a Bunsen battery, utilizing sodium. A wire is introduced which collects the electricity produced, and directs it towards the lantern. This lantern is a spiral glass which contains a small quantity of carbonic gas. When the apparatus is at work this gas becomes luminous, giving out a white and continuous light.
I fastened the light atop the helmet in a nod to the Disney film suit, although the novel had the light separate and attached to the waist belt.
Used frequently throughout the novel, this vessel is the only physical connection to the land that Captain Nemo despises so much. Crew members, Ned Land, Conseil and Aronnax use the skiff to visit the tropical island in the South Pacific, and it is used for hunting expeditions on the open water.
Nemo explains the craft in detail to Aronnax:
“…an excellent vessel, light and insubmersible, that serves either as a fishing or as a pleasure boat…This boat is attached to the upper part of the hull of the Nautilus, and occupies a cavity made for it. It is decked, quite water-tight, and held together by solid bolts. This ladder leads to a man-hole made in the hull of the Nautilus, that corresponds with a similar hole made in the side of the boat. By this double opening I get into the small vessel. They shut the one belonging to the Nautilus; I shut the other by means of screw pressure. I undo the bolts, and the little boat goes up to the surface of the sea with prodigious rapidity. I then open the panel of the bridge, carefully shut till then; I mast it, hoist my sail, take my oars, and I’m off.”
The boat is also tethered to the Nautilus via an electric cable from which the boat’s occupant can telegraph the submarine, but that feature is never mentioned in the rest of the novel.
THE EMBLEM AND MOTTO
The emblem that Nemo emblazons on every item aboard the Nautilus, including the silverware and glassware, contains the motto of the Nautilus which reads “Mobilis In Mobili”. This is first encountered when Ned, Conseil and Aronnax dine in their cell and receive a dinner service.
“Each utensil–spoon, fork, knife, plate–had a letter engraved on it, with a motto above it, of which this is an exact facsimile:”
The motto of the Nautilus used by Nemo, Mobilis in mobili, can be roughly translated from Latin as, “moving amidst mobility”, “moving within the moving element”, or “always in motion”.
I wanted to symbol of Nemo and the Nautilus to convey the nobility of his decor and the imposing force he governs his vessel with. Gold and red are always a good colour combo to convey those elements. The stylized “N” I made to fit inside the roundel in a nautical type style. The combination of the colours, typeface, motto and emblem make for a classy symbol for the powerful forces at work aboard the Nautilus.
Raised by Nemo on a few occasions, the flag of the Nautilus and Nemo is a simply his emblem as a large golden N on a black field. The flag is raised when he claims Antarctica for himself, and again when he goes to battle with the attacking ship at the end of the novel.
Andrew King – c. 2017