Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Recently Read: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, Translated and Annotated by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walker

For most readers, this relatively recent translation of Verne's classic will be the definitive version. Walter Miller and Frederick Walter have done a superlative job not only painstakingly correcting and translating Verne's text, but also annotating it. In addition, this version retains the original illustrations by Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou (though they're strangely not credited on the title page). Most Verne readers are aware that most if not all of his earliest English translations were poorly executed, with haphazard abridgements, edits, incorrectly translated words, numbers and figures and other atrocities which resulted in Verne's work as a whole being derided by scientists as ridiculous and by literary critics as children's literature.

The plot of 20,000 Leagues is so familiar, there's no need to repeat it. The book has powerful and prescient imagery which elevates the work above its flaws, one of which is the dry (for my tastes) biological lists which frequent (and stop) the narrative.

This translation is prefaced with examples of the many ways the novel was influential and visionary. In fact, an odd thing happened during the course of reading it: I began to see references to the novel everywhere, from Jeopardy questions to a local obituary for a person who helped develop the first atomic submarine, appropriately called The Nautilus, to a local restaurant due to open which is utilizing Neuville and Riou's 20,000 Leagues illustrations, to realizing Disney's early '80s film The Black Hole is nothing but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in space.

This version also includes the segment from Verne's The Mysterious Island detailing the origin of Captain Nemo and I was struck while reading it how many parallels there are between Nemo's family background and political motivations and Osama Bin Laden's, to the point of Nemo's retreating to the mountains after the failure of the social uprising he led, where he could plot against civilization.

Pin It

No comments: