Friday, August 10, 2012

Captain Nemo vs Captain Ahab

I was wathing some old cartoons on some of those dollar DVDs and I had a strange thought that tied into the legacy of Moby Dick.

The show was called The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo, that 1970s cartoon that appeared during Captain Kangaroo. It stars Captain Nemo in charge of the ship the Nautilus in adventures under the sea.

I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea about three years ago now. As I watch this, it is obviously another guy, someone younger and kinder to children--he has two kid sidekicks, a boy and a girl.. But why the name?

It is Captain Nemo. Mark Nemo is the full name. It is the Nautilus. But why? Why couldn't they have used any other name for the captain and any other name for the ship? It must be because we as an audience know the names. We possess enough background information to know Nemo and Nautilus are under the sea.Yet, if we knew anything about the Verne novel, we would know that Nemo is really not that benevolent of a character; in fact, I would call him the bad guy of the novel. Remember all those ships he sank?

This is close to what we in the 21st century know about Captain Ahab and the whale.We know enough even though we may never have read the book. Before I finally finished every god-awful word, I knew all the major plot points about the novel, and could understand just about any allusion made to the book.

Nemo was made into a good guy. That's because we don't really know. I would love to survey the general public because I bet that most would think that Captain Nemo was the benevolent protagonist of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Captain Ahab could never be made into a good guy. The world, even without reading the book, knows him as that crazy guy who was obsessed with killing that whale. Captain Ahab could never become a lighthearted children's show character to be shown during Captain Kangaroo.

1 comment:

C.D. Gutierrez said...

If I may offer an alternate explanation, both Ahab and Nemo are defined by their relationship to sea monsters. (I use the word "monsters" somewhat loosely here.)

The difference between them (at least in this regard) is that Ahab obsesses over his monster and is destroyed by it, while Nemo is both inventor and pilot of his monster (the Nautilus) which gives him mastery over the sea.

I think even at the height of his popularity, most people would have considered Nemo closer to Byronic anti-hero than to straight up villain.