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5 Classic Adventure at Sea Novels With Psychological Twists

Whenever summer rolls around it seems we're inevitably drawn to the sea. Novels featuring adventures at sea have long held the same fascination for many. Perhaps it's because we secretly crave adventure, or maybe the ocean is one of the last few frontiers mankind hasn't completely conquered.

classic sea adventure novels

Whatever the case, we all love a good adventure at sea novel, but what about a maritime work of fiction with a psychological twist? Read on for 5 classic adventure at sea novels that come with deep, dark psychological themes too!

1. The Sea Wolf by Jack London

the sea wolf by Jack London

Jack London was already something of a celebrity by the time he penned his intense psychological tale, The Sea Wolf. It follows a literary critic who, after his steamer capsizes, is rescued by Wolf Larsen, the demented, brilliant, and ruthless captain of a seal-hunting ship called Ghost.

Wolf is a mesmerizing character, made more so by his brutal strength and immoral outlook on life. The question you'll end up asking yourself is whether he's insane or just knows something the rest of us don't. London's prose is stark and to the point, which makes this story all the better and an enjoyable read at only 280 pages.

20,000 leagues under the sea book poster

Jules Verne's classic novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is often mislabelled as a simple adventure at sea novel. While there is plenty of adventure to be found, the real crux of the book are the psychological games between the Nautilus's Captain Nemo and his guest/captive oceanographer Pierre Aronnax.

At first, Aronnax believes he has met a great intellectual minds like his own. But slowly, as they explore the ocean depths, admiration turns to suspicion and eventually devolves into fear. What are Captain Nemo's intentions? And can technological hubris co-exist alongside natural conservation? You'll have to read the book to find out!

3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

old man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Old Man and the Sea was originally published in it's entirety in a 1952 edition of Life magazine. A mere two years later, it garnered Ernest Hemingway the coveted Nobel Prize in Literature, and is perhaps one of his most well-known and widely read works.

Though written in Hemingway's usual sparse style (and only 127 pages long), the tale of an old Cuban fisherman's battle against a marlin he catches, kills, and eventually loses, is chock full of psychological depth. There are a myriad of ways to interpret Hemingway's classic tale of man vs. fish, but at its core it's about holding on tight in the face of despair, even when you know you will lose.

heart of darkness by Joseph Conrad

Although set on a river and not at sea, Heart of Darkness does features sailors and ships. It's also such a maze of dark psychological commentary, that it absolutely deserves a spot on this list. Conrad's story follows an English seaman names Charles Marlow as he travels up the Congo River in search of an enigmatic government agent named Kurtz.

After years in isolation, Kurtz has established himself as a god amongst the local people and Marlow begins to suspect he's more mad than a genius. Simply put, Heart of Darkness is a horror story about the grotesque impact of colonialism and imperialism. And although it was published way back in 1899, many of its themes still resonate in today's globalized world.

5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Moby-dick book poster

No list of classic sea adventure novels with psychological twists would be complete without mentioning Herman Melville's magnum opus Moby-Dick or, the Whale. Most of us are probably familiar with the premise: Captain Ahab seeks revenge against the white whale who injured and took his leg in a previous battle.

It's clear as the book progresses that Ahab suffers from a severe form of monomania (an abnormal fixation on a single thing, in this case Moby-Dick), but a more interesting psychology comes into play when looking at how Ahab and his crew interact. Many times throughout the book, various members of the crew speak to Ahab's apparent insanity and obsession, yet they also willingly rally behind him in the fight. This is one adventure at sea every bookworm should read at least once in their life.

Which book is your favorite adventure tale?

Which do you think has the most surprising psychological twist?

Tell us in the comments below!


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