Captain Nemo
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"I have hesitated for some time," continued the commander; "nothing obliged me to show you hospitality. If I chose to separate myself from you, I should have no interest in seeing you again; I could place you upon the deck of this vessel which has served you as a refuge, I could sink beneath the waters and forget that you had ever existed Would not that be my right?"

"It might be the right of a savage," I answered, "but not that of a civilized man."

"Professor," replied the commander quickly. "I am not what you call a civilzed man!"

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

The dominant center of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo is possibly the greatest character in Steampunk literature. He is a brilliant inventor and engineer, a brooding outcast from society, and an implacable foe of opression.

His background is mysterious. He never states where he came from in the novel in which he first appeared. His name, "Nemo", meaning "no one", is an obvious nom de guerre. In his first draft, Verne intended Nemo to be a Polish nobleman fighting a one-man-war against Russia, but his editor, with an eye towards Russian sales, persuaded him to drop that point. Later, Verne decided that Nemo was actually an Indian prince named Dakkar, the son of a Rajah, who lost his family in the Sepoy Mutiny.

He is described as tall, self-confident and proud, with piercing black eyes. Although his skin is described as pale at one point, later the narrator guesses that he is of Mediterranian or Middle Eastern ancestry.

Whatever his true background, he developed a hatred for the nation which had wronged him, and by extention, to all oppressive, imperialistic powers. He used his fortune to construct the Nautilus, an incredible submarine, as both a refuge from the world of men and as a weapon against those he hated. The submarine was powered by electricity, but a special kind. "My electricity is not that of the world's," he says crypticly, which has led some readers to suspect that the Nautilus was atomic powered. The ship's monogram, placed on its flag, its furniture, even its silverware, was a single letter "N" which could stand for "Nautilus" or for "Nemo", but would also remind Verne's reader of another famous N, the Emperor Napoleon. The ship's motto, "Mobilis in mobile", could be translated as "moving within a moving thing", suggestive of the submarine's movement through the liquid element.

He assembled a crew from all the corners of the earth; dispossessed men like himself and outcasts from society. The came from many nations, but onboard the Nautilus they all spoke a single lingua franca; possibly the native language of Nemo's homeland, or possibly an invented language somewhat similar to Esparanto — possibly devised by Nemo himself.

Nemo was undoubtably a wealthy man before he built the Nautilus; since then he has augmented that wealth with gold from sunken ship all over the globe. He uses this gold to support oppressed people and freedom fighters, such as the natives of Crete rebelling against their Turkish rulers.

Most of what we know of Nemo comes from the memoirs of Professor Pierre Arronnax of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, who for a time was a captive aboard the Nautilus. He escaped in June of 1868 when the Nautilus was seemingly lost in the Maelstrom off the Lofoten Islands in Norway.

But Nemo and his submarine survived. He withdrew to a remote island in the South Pacific — possibly the same island where the Nautilus was originally assembled — in a secret subterranean harbor under the island. Over an unspecified period of time — The Mysterious Island says sixteen years, but there are reasons to doubt this — the remainder of his crew died, leaving Nemo alone.

In 1865 a group of men who escaped in a balloon from a Southern POW camp near the end of the American Civil War became stranded on the island. (Yes, this is two years before Twenty Thousand Leagues begins. Verne admits, but does not explain, the inconsistancy in dates). Nemo aided them in secret as they struggled to survive on the island, which they named Lincoln Island. But now Nemo was growning old. Before he died, he revealed himself to the castaways and told them his story. He died on October 15, 1868.

Not long after his death, the volcano on Lincoln Island erupted, destroying the island and burying the Nautilus forever.

But there are echoes of Nemo in other characters. In a later Verne novel, For the Flag, we meet a pirate named Ker Karraje who uses a submarine and who is based in a grotto under an extinct volcano in the Bahamas, similar to one of Nemo's refuling bases. Could he have been one of Nemo's former crew, turned to piracy?

Then there is Robur the Conqueror, the megalomaniac inventor of the Albatross, an airship somewhat like the Nautilus. This arcanist likes to think that Robur is Nemo's younger brother. And that the two can't stand each other.

Sources

Bibliography
1. Novel: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
2. Novel: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
3. Movie: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954) — arguably the best of many screen adaptations of the novel, starring James Mason as Nemo.
5. Novel: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg by Philip Jose Farmer — Offers a revisionist look at Nemo and giving him much less heroic motives.
6. Comics: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (America's Best Comics) — by Alan Moore portrays Nemo as a Sikh, as does the movie adaptation of the comic.
7. Anime: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water — While not strictly following Verne, this series has a cool interpretation of both the Nautilus and Nemo.

Game and Story Use

  • Captain Nemo would make an interesting encounter in a Victorian Era campaign, either as a patron or as an adversary.
    • He might even make a good PC if the other characters are of similar stature.
  • Nemo's motivations may vary depending on the theme of your campaign.
    • In the original novel it was a hatred of civilization and a desire for revenge
    • In the 1954 Disney movie, Nemo was "waging war on war", attacking battleships
    • Some more recent interpretations have seen him as an environmentalist, seeking to protect the oceans from pollution and exploitation.
  • In a Modern Day campaign — a team of geologists studying a volcano that erupted on a South Sea island in the 1880s, find something remarkable buried in the lava: a submarine…
  • For Cthulhu Mythos fans, Nemo's "electricity not of this world" could be the same as the power source used by the Shan … the reactor that is also Azathoth.
  • Could the Nautilus be a time machine? That might explain the discrepencies in dates between 20,000 Leagues and Mysterious Island, as well as Nemo's advanced technology.
    • See The Nautilus Sanction from the Time Wars series by Simon Hawke
  • Obviously Nemo is like the Dread Pirate Roberts…
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