Thursday, March 31, 2011

Captain Nemo

When I was applying for colleges, I had to write an essay about a fictional character who greatly influenced my life. I ended up submitting a very tame essay about Combeferre from Les Miserables, a young revolutionary who fights for what he believes in, but whose real tendencies are scholarly, preferring "illumination rather than conflagration."

That's not who I wanted to write about.

The single fictional character who probably influenced me most, growing up, was Captain Nemo, from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Charles Dickens' characters influenced me as a collective whole and probably tie with Captain Nemo. The Captain represented to me, half humorously and half seriously, the sort of fantasy life that I would live, if my imaginations came true. Captain Nemo was a master at all the things that I was passionate about, then (and still am). He was aloof, elusive, anti-social and anti-society, and lived in his submarine, the Nautilus, out of reach of the world. The Nautilus had a sumptuous library, a pipe organ, and a museum of great works of art, along with the most extensive mollusk collection in the history of the world.

I liked the way that Captain Nemo could be good at things that many people nowadays don't realize can fit together naturally-- such as languages and science. Back then I didn't know of the term renaissance man, but I recognized the type, and it made perfect sense to me, especially when being confronted with the academic "choice" between music and the sciences.

I'm a taciturn book-lover, I've been avidly, though intermittently, collecting mollusks for 11 years, and I'm a pipe organist. Three things inspired me to learn to play the pipe organ. The first was visiting my grandparents' parish, which had a choir loft with a pipe organ. One Sunday after Mass, my grandfather took me up to see the organ, and the organist showed me the stops. I was younger than five, at the time, and I thought it would be much more interesting to be upstairs and fool around with little knobs than to sit still with the rest of the congregation. The second inspiration was the dedication concert of the electronic organ that was installed at my old parish; I was six at the time, and I don't think I sat through more than twenty minutes of the ordeal, but I was immensely impressed at the grandiose noise that the thing made, and the way it could fill up the entire space.

The third inspiration was, of course, Captain Nemo. The emotional climax of the book (and the Disney movie) involves Captain Nemo playing his pipe organ chaotically, expressing the tortured anguish of his soul dissonantly with all the stops pulled out. I knew I wanted to learn how to do that; not long after I saw the movie, I began taking lessons. I have always enjoyed rampaging around on the instrument, but through the marvelous patience of my organ teacher, I finally settled down midway through highschool enough to learn church music and nice peaceful songs, so that I would actually be good for something. Captain Nemo influenced me, not because he was someone I wanted to emulate or become, but because he was an example of how one person could encompass the vast spectrum of interests that I was told was unnatural.

Well, my life has changed since then. I'm not majoring in biology and sacred music anymore. I'm studying English, and I know God doesn't want me to run and hide at the bottom of the ocean (though it continues to be a temptation). The saints are my true heroes, as they've always been. Also, some friends stole my submarine. I still identify with the Captain in many ways, though, and humorously consider him an alter ego of sorts.

Oh-- by the way, I'm not a psychopath.


  1. This made me smile Mari! This would have made my day if I was a college admissions person and I read this. :)