I mentioned a while back that I had pitched a story idea for a forthcoming anthology called The Further Adventures of Ned Land.
Well, the story pitch worked, and I have received a few days back both the go ahead and the deadline for delivery.
But now a curious problem arises.
I picked up 20.000 Leagues under the Seas1 and checked the original character, and I also re-watched the classic Disney movie, the one in which Ned Land is portrayed by Kirk Douglas.
Verne introduces Ned in the third chapter of his novel, in the words of the narrator, Prof. Aronnax:
Ned was about forty years old. He was of considerable size, more than six feet tall, strongly built, grave, silent, sometimes aggressive, and very bad-tempered when contradicted. He compelled attention through his appearance, especially the power of his gaze, which made his facial expression quite remarkable.
Which is all quite fine as a basis upon which to build the character in my story.
But things then get a bit… unwieldy…
Gradually Ned got used to chatting: I enjoyed listening to his tales of adventure on the Arctic seas. He showed much natural poetry of expression in recounting his fishing exploits and battles. His stories had an epic form, and I imagined I was listening to a Canadian Homer reciting some Iliad of the polar regions.
Now, I had this idea, of writing my story in the first person, as narrated by Ned himself, and I was checking the book to get an impression of Ned’s way of speaking. But… a Canadian Homer?
Because you see, when I think of Ned Land and his way of telling his stories, I can’t but think of this
In my mind, Ned Land is Kirk Douglas, and he’s going to tell a whale of a tale.
Which sort of contrasts the taciturn, serious, somewhat belligerent Ned Land described by Aronnax.
And yet, one can’t just go and ignore the original as described by the author, right?
Terribly rude and all that, despite him being a Frenchman…
On the other hand, there is a trait in the original Ned Land that I find extremely interesting, and a good starting point to develop his character in my story – and that is his common sense and his empiricism.
‘But Ned, a man like you, a professional whaler, familiar with the great marine animals, who must easily be able to accept the idea of enormous whales—under these circumstances you ought to be the last person to harbour any doubts!’
‘It’s just there that you’re wrong monsieur. It’s one thing for ordinary folk to choose
to believe in incredible comets crossing space or prehistoric monsters living inside the Earth; but neither the astronomer nor the geologist accept such fantasies. The same goes for the whaler. I’ve hunted hundreds of whales, harpooned masses, killed them by the dozen; but however strong and well armed they were, not one of their tails or tusks could have pierced the side of a metal steamer.’
‘But Ned, there have been cases when a narwhal’s tooth has pierced ships through and
‘Wooden ships perhaps,’ replied the Canadian, ‘although personally I’ve never seen any. But until I have proof to the contrary, I can’t believe that a whale, cachalot, or sea-unicorn could manage such a thing.’
‘Just listen to me, Ned …. ‘
‘No sir no. Anything you like except that. Perhaps a giant squid …. ?’
This skeptical, experienced and practical man I can reconcile with Kirk Douglas, and his portrayal of the character and delivery of the dialog. In the end, therefore, I’ll attempt a synthesis, and will thus create my own Ned Land, that will try to be true to both versions, and yet his own man.
He will only believe what he sees with his eyes. And he will tell a whale of a tale.