Oneiric Ocean

20000-leagues-under-the-sea


I like this illustration of a scene in Jules Vernes’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) even more because it has at least one mistake in it. At least, I think it’s a mistake: the jellyfish on the upper left are two Portuguese men-o’-war (really colonial hydrozoans, not jellyfish). They have gas-filled float-bladders, so in reality you see them only on the surface, not hanging in midwater like that. The mistake makes the scene like a dream. The absence of colour is good too: it fixes the illustration firmly in the past and the colours you imagine are more vivid. The artist is imagining, dreaming, conjuring a vision of an oneiric ocean.

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2 thoughts on “Oneiric Ocean

  1. Science mistakes can make for vivid images. There’s a good moment in Terry Pratchett’s book Going Postal, where he writes about how sinking ships reach a point where the water is dense enough to support their weight (and they begin an endless voyage on a sea beneath the sea.)

    It’s calm there. Dead calm.

    Some stricken ships have rigging; some even have sails. Many still have crew, tangled in the rigging or lashed to the wheel.

    But the voyages still continue, aimlessly, with no harbour in sight, because there are currents under the ocean and so the dead ships with their skeleton crews sail on around the world, over sunken cities and between drowned mountains, until rot and shipworms eat them away and they disintegrate.

    Sometimes an anchor drops, all the way to the dark, cold calmness of the abyssal plain, and disturbs the stillness of centuries by throwing up a cloud of silt.

    This is wrong – water has about the same density everywhere, and sinking ships go straight to the bottom. But I feel strongly that it should be right.

    • This is wrong – water has about the same density everywhere, and sinking ships go straight to the bottom. But I feel strongly that it should be right.

      Are you sure it’s a mistake rather than different physics on Discworld? But I don’t like Pratchett. A Guardian-reader.

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