In Jules Verne’s original novel, set in the late 1800s, several French Navy ships spot what they believe to be a sea monster (similar to a narwhal). An expedition is sent to search for the creature, led by Professor Pierre Aronnax (a notable French scientist who specializes in marine biology). Whaler Ned Land joins the voyage, and the group sets out to sea on the United States Navy vessel Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln manages to locate the giant creature, but they soon discover that it is actually a submarine. The Lincoln begins a futile attack, but the submarine is well ahead of its time and survives, finally ramming the Lincoln. During this attack, Dr. Aronnax, Ned Land, and Aronnax’s assistant Conseil are flung from the deck into the sea. Showing mercy, the captain of the submarine (Captain Nemo as we soon discover) plucks them from the sea and brings them onboard the submarine, which is called the Nautilus.
Verne’s story continues by following the protagonists as they begin to learn about Captain Nemo, his mighty submarine, his secret life under the sea, and his desire to separate himself from the rest of civilization. Aronnax, given his scientific background, finds Nemo’s ship and life fascinating, and together they visit many places under the ocean as part of Nemo’s ongoing exploration, and desire to hide from the surface-world. Ned Land, on the other hand feels they are prisoners, as they are not allowed to leave the Nautilus for fear of them exposing Nemo’s secret. Ned Land tries to convince Aronnax that they must escape, and attempts to sabotage the Nautilus.
Gradually as the novel progresses, Nemo’s initial behaviour of taking Aronnax under his wing gradually becomes colder. Aronnax slowly comes around to see Ned Land’s point of view.
Eventually another ship, the Avenger, finds the Nautilius. Nemo manages to defeat and sink the vessel, which slips into the abyss killing the crew. Yet again, Nemo’s hatred for civilization drives him to kill. Nemo’s behaviour becomes more erratic and his mood depressed. Aronnax can no longer tolerate the situation, and the three main characters take their chances one evening and manage to escape in a dinghy while they are surfaced. The Nautilus begins to drift into a Maelstrom, and leaves the protagonists at sea not knowing the fate of Nemo and his crew.
Changes Made For The Musical
The original character of Pierre Aronnax has been altered, and is now a young woman, Emily Aronnax. Still set 1800s era Paris, Emily’s character is the daughter of the famous Dr. Aronnax, who was a well-respected professor and explorer. Her father was put in charge of an expedition to find out why numerous French ships had gone missing at sea. His expedition was lost and never heard from since setting out when Emily was just a young girl.
Now that she’s older, well educated, and having inherited both her parents’ intellect and adventurous nature, Emily is determined to find out the fate of her father. In order to do this though, she must challenge the societal norm of the time that women should not be independent nor in positions of authority.
Captain Nemo, the enigmatic and brilliant scientist who lost his wife to an incurable disease, has retreated into his own world, a self-exile beneath the sea. In secret, he joins with a trusted group of other intellectuals who all share his desire to leave the world behind and forge a new life exploring the vast seas. Together, they have built a state-of-the-art submarine called the Nautilus, which is more advanced and powerful than any sea-faring vessel created at the time.
Nemo is brilliant, but also hurt and obsessed with this new lifestyle that he feels he has created and must safeguard. He is driven by a deep desire to escape the “surface world”, and ferociously protects himself and his crew’s secrecy. Nemo is younger in this musical version of the story. He is a handsome man in his late thirties or early forties. He projects brilliance, but also a consuming, obsessive madness at times.
Another alteration to the story is that Emily Aronnax, after being “captured/rescued” by Nemo and his crew, begins to find in him a kindred spirit… someone of great intellect, compassion, genius, and need for exploration. She falls in love with him, and slowly, he with her. A love triangle however is created due to Nemo’s love for and obsession with the new life he’s created by abandoning the civilized world. Emily on the other hand, sees an injured soul in Nemo, and feels he can still come back to the world she knows and be healed from the scars of his past.