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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas
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Non-English SF > Translations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea(s)

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message 1: by Ed (last edited Sep 04, 2019 10:53AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
There are many English versions of Jules Verne's story "Vingt mille lieues sous les mers."

What are the relative merits of different versions?

This is not a place to discuss the story itself, but to help people decide which version to read. Please avoid major spoilers. If you need to discuss major spoilers, please use the "spoiler" tag.


message 2: by Ed (last edited Sep 04, 2019 11:21AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
I am using the version Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by William Butcher. The translation was published in 1998 and re-issued in 2009.

It has an informative introduction about differences in versions. I will quote some of that information later. Mr. Butcher is very concerned with getting an accurate translation. He even compares multiple versions of the original manuscript and uses that to inform his decisions.

The first thing to notice is that his title is more accurate. It is "Under the Seas", not "Under the Sea". "Under the Sea" sounds like the ship goes 20,000 leagues downward, but that is impossible because it is a distance larger than the diameter of the Earth. Instead the voyage is around the world under the different seas.

Manuscript versions had many slightly different titles, but it was always "under the oceans", "under the waters" or "under the seas". No clue why most English versions don't stick to that.


message 3: by Ed (last edited Sep 24, 2019 03:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
(An earlier, now deleted post copied some information from Wikipedia and added numbers for easy reference. I have edited this post to put back a shortened version of that information. I have also included notes by William Butcher about some of the versions.)

1) Lewis Page Mercier (1873). The first, and the worst English version. Cuts out more than 20%. Changes some things for political reasons. Many mistakes, such as translating "scaphandre" as "cork-jacket" instead of "diving apparatus" or "diving suit". Even mistranslates the title as "under the sea" rather than "under the seas". Some later translations keep many of the mistakes.

1B) Argyle Press/Hurst and Company 1892 Arlington Edition. Still basically Mercier's version, but with some mistakes fixed.

2) Walter James Miller (1966). New translation. Many of Mercier's changes were addressed in the translator's preface, and much of Verne's text was restored. (W. Butcher says "the translation itself is very poor, omitting considerable portions of Verne's text".)

3) Anthony Bonner (1960s). An essentially complete translation of the novel for Bantam Classics. A specially written introduction by Ray Bradbury, comparing Captain Nemo and Captain Ahab of Moby-Dick, was also included. (W. Butcher says "a reasonable translation".)

4A) Frederick Paul Walter (1991). Unpublished, but later "made available to Wikipedia readers". (This may be one of the versions available on Project Gutenberg, though it claims to be from 1999, so may be updated.)

4B) Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter (1993). "... a fresh re-examination of the sources and a new translation ..." partly based on the one above. (W. Butcher says "very good translation; informative notes, but marred by a piecemeal approach and by ignoring French scholarship, the correspondence, and the manuscripts.")

5) William Butcher (1998): a new, annotated translation from the French original. Includes detailed notes, an extensive bibliography, appendices and a wide-ranging introduction studying the novel from a literary perspective. In particular, his original research on the two manuscripts studies the radical changes to the plot and to the character of Nemo urged on Verne by the first publisher, Jules Hetzel.

6) Emanuel Mickel claimed to do "a new translation" for Indiana University Press in 1991, but Butcher says it is "generally Mercier's [translation] word-for-word, meaning that the ascribed authorship is dishonest." He also states that the notes appear to be computer-generated and are not useful.

7) Published by Everyman edition 1993. Claims to be translated by H. Frith. (Butcher says "This is an error: the translator is actually Lewis Mercier", so this is really #1 again.)

8) Mendor T. Brunetti, Signet Classics, 2010. (I have no more info.)

9) David Coward, 2017, Penguin. (I have no more info.)

20,000,000,000) Adam Roberts: Twenty trillion leagues under the sea. Don't be fooled! This isn't the same book at all.

I think any non-Mercier version would be fine for the text, though if you are writing a Ph.D. thesis on it, you should also get all versions, and maybe see a psychiatrist. I'm using 5, but not reading all the extensive notes


Oleksandr Zholud | 731 comments When we move to reading it (and if I have free time) I may notify you about differences in length and maybe content of other translations. Checking my sources I found 2 Ukrainian and 3 Russian, including the one titled "80000 kilometers under the sea"


Cheryl (cherylllr) I might wind up buying a print copy myself for a book this long. I'm having a little trouble keeping track of all the commentary (and I'm sure more discussion is yet to come) but at some point I'd be grateful if someone wanted to sum up the respective values of each in some sort of list or chart form. With links. :)


message 6: by Ed (last edited Sep 24, 2019 03:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
Some examples of 3 versions of "20,000 Leagues" available on project Gutenberg. (Emphasis mine.)

I've avoided any spoilers, as I assume by now that everyone knows this is a story about a giant narwhal. (Heh!)


Chapter 1

Verne: L'année 1866 fut marquée par un événement bizarre, un phénomène inexpliqué et inexplicable que personne n'a sans doute oublié.

Mercier: The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.

Walter: THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten.

The name "Mercier" is not mentioned in the project Gutenberg version, but it is his. If you see the word "signalised" in the first sentence, put down the book and find a different edition!


Chapter 2

Verne: A l'époque où ces événements se produisirent, je revenais d'une exploration scientifique entreprise dans les mauvaises terres du Nebraska, aux États-Unis.

Mercier: At the period when these events took place, I had just returned from a scientific research in the disagreeable territory of Nebraska, in the United States.

Walter: DURING THE PERIOD in which these developments were occurring, I had returned from a scientific undertaking organized to explore the Nebraska badlands in the United States.


Chapter 4

Verne: Le commandant Farragut était un bon marin, digne de la frégate qu'il commandait. ... Ou le commandant Farragut tuerait le narwal, ou le narwal tuerait le commandant Farragut. Pas de milieu.

Mercier: Captain Farragut was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. His vessel and he were one. He was the soul of it. On the question of the monster there was no doubt in his mind, and he would not allow the existence of the animal to be disputed on board. He believed in it, as certain good women believe in the leviathan—by faith, not by reason. The monster did exist, and he had sworn to rid the seas of it. Either Captain Farragut would kill the narwhal, or the narwhal would kill the captain. There was no third course.

Walter: COMMANDER FARRAGUT was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. His ship and he were one. He was its very soul. On the cetacean question no doubts arose in his mind, and he didn’t allow the animal’s existence to be disputed aboard his vessel. He believed in it as certain pious women believe in the leviathan from the Book of Job—out of faith, not reason. The monster existed, and he had vowed to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of Knight of Rhodes, a latter-day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating the island. Either Commander Farragut would slay the narwhale, or the narwhale would slay Commander Farragut. No middle of the road for these two.

Mercier removed the sentence about Sir Dieudonné. I don't mind that. Walter consistently spells "narwhal" as "narwhale", which is an accepted but less common spelling.


Chapter 7

Verne: Bien que j'eusse été surpris par cette chute inattendue, je n'en conservai pas moins une impression très nette de mes sensations.

Mercier: "This unexpected fall so stunned me that I have no clear recollection of my sensations at the time."

Walter: "ALTHOUGH I WAS startled by this unexpected descent, I at least have a very clear recollection of my sensations during it."

Mercier gets the meaning backwards. He probably confused "ne ... pas moins" with "ne ... pas". (For myself, I'm more bothered by the old-fashioned verb form "j'eusse été surpris.")


Chapter 13

Verne: Puis, l'opération terminée, le feu a détruit toute trace de notre passage sur cet îlot que j'aurais fait sauter, si je l'avais pu.

Mercier: Then, when the work was finished, fire destroyed all trace of our proceedings on this island, that I could have jumped over if I had liked.

Walter: Then, when the operation was over, we burned every trace of our stay on that islet, which if I could have, I’d have blown up.


Cheryl (cherylllr) Wait, what? I did not know that! So, it's like Moby Dick but underwater?


message 8: by Ed (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
Cheryl wrote: "Wait, what? I did not know that! So, it's like Moby Dick but underwater?"

Yes, it is like Moby Dick, according to Ray Bradbury, and others. But it might not really be about a narwhal. You'll have to read to find out!


message 9: by Leo (new) - rated it 3 stars

Leo | 547 comments I've got a dutch translation, says it's unabridged. It has lots of beautiful pictures, engravings, said from the original novel. The book comes in two parts, eastern and western hemisphere.


Cheryl (cherylllr) I nabbed the Butcher translation from my local university library (community members have borrowing privileges). Btw, it doesn't look long at all, even with the notes and other front and back matter, and the paperback is a comfortable size.


message 11: by Ed (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ed Erwin | 1826 comments Mod
Yeah, it isn't really as long as it looked to me on first glance. And it flows easily.

Leo, reading in Dutch should be fine. Or any language. Just stay away from the English version by Mercier.


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