I went into this classic already familiar with its basic story -- I'd read abridged versions in the past, but never the full text. In most cases, I prefer the full original text over the abridgment, as the cut versions often drain a lot of the charm and style out of the original work. In the case of this book, however... I'm tempted to say that I prefer the cut versions. "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" was revolutionary for its time, but it's so larded with endless descriptions, lists of animal species, and seemingly pointless scenes that it can be a chore to slog through, though there are enough exciting bits to make the story itself worth it.
Professor Aronnax, a famous French scientist, is on his way back to his home country from an expedition when he learns about a mysterious sea creature that has been attacking ships. He accompanies a ship that's set out to find and perhaps slay the beast... and finds himself lost at sea with his servant and a Canadian whaler, with only the monster for company. Or rather, "monster"... for the beast isn't an animal at all, but a massive submarine! Piloted by the intelligent yet fiercely antisocial Captain Nemo, the Nautilus, the world's first submarine, travels the oceans, taking Aronnax and his companions on an incredible journey around the world. But Nemo is hiding secrets of his own... and he doesn't plan on letting Aronnax and his friends leave the Nautilus alive...
Jules Verne is often hailed as the father of science fiction, and this book is, in many ways, a milestone of the genre. It helped codify many of the tropes we see in adventure stories today, and the science fairly sound for the knowledge of its time (though plenty of it hasn't aged well, such as the geography of the South Pole). And Captain Nemo is a fascinating character, a complex antagonist who isn't just flat-out evil but has a fleshed-out past, is wickedly cultured, and has actual likable characteristics instead of being a cartoonish caricature. Professor Aronnax and his allies are somewhat flatter in comparison, but still individual characters with their own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses.
The story itself starts off strong and has a memorable final act, but drags quite a bit in the middle. There are multiple sections of the book that are little more than lists of the various fish and aquatic life the characters see along the way, as well as frequent scientific lectures and minutia on how the submarine functions. And at times the prose is so dreadfully dry and boring that I nearly gave up reading several times. I'm not sure if this is the fault of the translation or the author (and there are reportedly some very dreadful translations of this work out there), but there it is all the same.
I appreciate this book for its status as a classic, and how it helped define a genre. And the story, when it's not bogged down by pointless lectures on sea life and other details, is interesting and fun. But this story definitely could have benefited from an editor in its time, and is one of the few classics I think could benefit from an abridgment to cut down some of the "fluff." Still worth a read, however.