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F. P. Walter
- Publié sur Amazon.com
A sorry example of the laziness and irresponsibility of many trade editors today -- and it's especially shameful in a publication targeted to students and youngsters.
First, the basic text is dreadful: though unidentified, it's the long-discredited translation signed by "Mercier Lewis" and rushed into print in 1872 by the London firm of Sampson, Low. As modern scholars have documented on numerous occasions, Verne's original French was politically censored, drastically abridged, couched in stilted Victorian prose, and riddled with hundreds of inane translating errors. Its clunky, antiquated English is something no American student could possibly enjoy ("I own my heart beat," says the narrator, who actually means, "I admit my heart was pounding"). As for the translating blunders, some are asinine beyond belief -- Verne's characters start a fire with a lentil (Verne: lens) . . . loosen bolts with a key (Verne: wrench) . . . and claim iron is lighter than water (Verne: the opposite, of course).
Are these obscure facts? Anything but. Over the past four decades, this translation's inadequacy has been bemoaned repeatedly in basic reference works (Taves & Michaluk's JULES VERNE ENCYCLOPEDIA), online (the Jules Verne Forum at jv.gilead.org.il), and in readily available MODERN translations of this novel (e.g., the paperback editions from Signet, Oxford, and the U.S. Naval Institute). What's more, not only has Simon & Schuster's current editorial staff shirked the most rudimentary homework, they're apparently too lazy even to double-check their OWN publishing files: as long ago as 1966, S & S issued a revised edition of the Mercier Lewis translation; they hired NYU expert Walter James Miller to correct and reword Lewis's text -- which, in a specially written preface, Miller denounced as a "botched up translation . . . slashed and slapdash." Lewis's renderings, he said, "bristle with technical errors and omit whole passages vital to the technical integrity, the character development, even the humor of the story."
In short, Simon & Schuster could easily have reprinted their own 1966 version, not ideal but vastly better than Lewis's original. Or, alternatively, they could have reprinted either of the other two English translations in the public domain, both superior in accuracy and completeness. But, these days, indolence and ignorance apparently rule in the halls of S & S.
So, though this Enriched Classics series boasts on its back covers about its "practical scholarship," the said scholarship, not surprisingly, often works out to be dismally unreliable. The "helpful notes" and "insightful commentary" can range from the useless to the ridiculous. On p. 425, the explanatory notes can only tell us that such sea creatures as tubipores, gorgones, and spondyles are "various kinds of marine life." Big help. (They're corals, sea fans, and oysters, folks.) On the other hand, when the notes attempt more, they're often worse: on p. 426, for instance, I was amazed to learn that porphitae and asterophytons are "igneous outcrops." Nooo!!! These aren't rocks, people, they're animals! (Jellyfish and starfish, for Lord's sake.)
If you're as astonished as I am that such bluff and nonsense is being palmed off on our kids as "scholarship," write S & S this week.
Meantime, what edition of 20,000 LEAGUES should you acquire? First, in addition to this Enriched Classics version, also avoid those other student editions (!) published by Scholastic, Tor, and Apple -- they don't identify it either, but they all blindly reprint this same hopeless 1872 Mercier Lewis translation. Fortunately, however, there are four sound paperback texts of 20,000 LEAGUES, all readily available, all immeasurably superior in accuracy, completeness, and readablility. For general readers the Bonner (Bantam) and Brunetti (Signet) translations are both worthwhile. For readers wanting an annotated edition, there are two good ones: Butcher's (Oxford), which is strong on the novel's genesis and manuscript record, and Miller's own illustrated retranslation (U.S. Naval Institute), which is strong on the marine biology -- and on which I myself collaborated. All are competitively priced, so there's no need to settle for something inferior.
By the way, the above-cited deficiencies may well be typical of this Enriched Classics collection as a whole -- I note that their edition of Dumas' MONTE CRISTO also features a seriously inadequate text. Students, parents, and teachers are warned to proceed with caution vis-à-vis the entire series.