Study Guide

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Part 1 Chapter 6

By Jules Verne

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Part 1 Chapter 6

Full Steam Ahead

  • Everyone rushes to the side of the boat to get a better look. Soon they spot the thing in the distance, off the starboard side (or, for you land-dwellers, the right side of the boat). They can see it there, glowing, under the water.
  • Somebody cries out that it's just a bunch of glowing sea life, but Aronnax is sure it's not—no known thing gives off that kind of light. It's some kind of electric light, he declares. But more importantly, he says, it's coming right at us.
  • Farragut gives orders to get the ship moving, but the animal keeps coming, and they can't outrun it. It makes circles around the ship, leaving a glowing trail behind it. Then it accelerates toward the Abe Lincoln—only to stop twenty feet away and suddenly nix its eerie light.
  • But then it appears on the other side of the ship. It must have either gone under or around the boat somehow.
  • Farragut continues to run from the thing. Aronnax doesn't understand why he's not on the attack.
  • Farragut notices Aronnax's puzzled expression and tells him that he can't bring himself to attack at night. So, he wants to wait until morning.
  • Having seen the thing for himself, Farragut is now sure that it's a giant narwhal… a giant electric narwhal. Which is only mildly weirder than a regular old narwhale, because those things are totes strange anyway. Farragut decides to approach the beast cautiously.
  • Everybody on board the ship stays awake all night, afraid of what's in the water.
  • Come midnight, the "narwhal" disappears. An hour later, Farragut, Aronnax, and Ned hear an odd hissing noise. Ned tells them that it's similar to the noise of a whale spouting—but much louder. (Of course, we think it's our friend, the electric narwhale.)
  • At this point, Ned tells them that, given the chance and a boat, he can take the creature down.
  • At around 2:00AM, the light returns, this time about five miles away from the Abe Lincoln. Even from that distance, they can hear its "breathing" and the "beating of the monster's tail" (1.6.33).
  • At this point, the sailors are getting ready for battle. At 8:00AM, Ned sees the narwhal a mile from the ship, moving so quickly that it leaves a huge wake.
  • Aronnax notes that the beast is actually smaller than reported, only about 250 feet long. Did we just say only about 250 feet long? That's still pretty long, when you think about it.
  • But yeah, so, suddenly, the thing shoots off two jets of water 120 feet into the air. (How Aronnax measures the height so quickly is yet another mystery that goes unanswered in the novel.) This act makes it difficult to classify the beast; no other whale shoots water and vapor in that pattern. Apparently, this is some special, never-before-seen species of whale. Ooh, ahh.
  • Farragut gives the order for full steam ahead. It's time for battle. The Abe Lincoln heads toward the beast.
  • But it can't catch it. The thing is too fast, and after forty-five minutes, the ship hasn't come any closer to its prey.
  • The captain asks for Ned Land's advice. Land tells him to keep up the pursuit. He, meanwhile, will wait for an opportunity to harpoon the thing.
  • Farragut tells his engineer to kick the engine into overdrive, but when he does so, the narwhal kicks it up a notch too.
  • By the time noon rolls around, they've gained no ground on the monster.
  • Finally, people decide it's time to start shooting. After a few misfires, they hit their target—but the shell just bounces off its skin.
  • At 11:00PM, the mysterious beast takes an unexpected rest. The frigate approaches the narwhal cautiously, cooing, "Hey there narwhale, why the long face?"
  • Okay, not really. Land, harpoon in hand, prepares to strike the monster. He throws his harpoon from twenty feet away, but it makes an odd noise when it hits the surface. The beast's light goes out. Then, two huge columns of water shoot from it, knocking the crew down.
  • There's a huge impact, and Aronnax is thrown into the water.

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