Jules Verne, Bitch

Have you ever read him? I bet you haven’t because only recently have his works, his actual works, become available in English. From Wikipedia: “Verne is generally considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, where he has had a wide influence on the literary avant-garde and on surrealism. His reputation is markedly different in Anglophone regions, where he has often been labeled a writer of genre fiction or children’s books, largely because of the highly abridged and altered translations in which his novels are often reprinted.”

I am fascinated by the art of translation. No, it isn’t a science, not even close. I am often surprised at how people view translation. It seems so straightforward to them, but it so isn’t. There is a foreign word and you make it the English word. Simple, right?

Not so fast, skippy.

Jules Verne wrote in French, his native tongue, a language with almost as much beauty and nobility as Mother English. However, when translators began bringing his body of work over into English, they decided to do a shit job, a very shit job. Their first mistake was assuming his work was YA, even though it contained no vampires or werewolves. Their second mistake was dumbing down, glossing over, and most egregious of all, removing entire chunks of the actual science the work contained. Their third mistake was being political. Jules Verne didn’t much care for the English and he didn’t think America was all that great either (gasp). He liked Canada, however, as everyone does. He was a Frenchman and wrote like one, with Frenchman attitudes and disdain. The translators changed this about his writing. If you have a Jules Verne book in English that doesn’t cite a translator, throw it away. It’s done by these early boneheaded translators and is a piece of shit.

It wasn’t until around the 1960s that people began to say, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t be such complete dipshits and actually translate this great writer CORRECTLY.”

I have an old copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by the original translators that I keep around for comic relief. It doesn’t say who translated it, probably to save the descendants from embarrassment. It’s pretty fun to look at in light of my complete and annotated version, done by Miller and Walter, which I highly recommend. One of my favorite parts to chuckle at has to do with the geological formation known as the Nebraska Badlands. Miller and Walter translate it correctly as “the Nebraska Badlands.” The boneheads have “the disagreeable land of Nebraska.” Trust me, that ain’t the end of it. On and on it goes.

If you love Verne like I do, you’ll love him even more if you read modern translations. Look for translations done after 1960 and which cite a translator(s) by name. You will be richly rewarded.


About Michael Kindt

Michael Kindt lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He has determined to die there. Soon, probably. Books by Kindt: http://goo.gl/fL8Hic

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