The North American Jules Verne Society’s Palik Series —
An Interview with Editor Brian Taves

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Q: How is it that Verne is so famous yet not all of his work has appeared in English?

A: While most of Verne’s stories in the 1870s and 1880s were published contemporaneously in English translation, beginning in the 1890s, publishers became pickier. Some of Verne’s themes, from evolution to anti-colonialism, were unwelcome, especially in Victorian Britain, and by this point, American publishers were publishing less Verne than the English.

Back in 1993, I was able to secure the first publication of Verne’s only fairy-tale, Adventures of the Rat Family, by Oxford University Press, with the original illustrations from the 1891 publication in France. No Verne story had appeared for the very first time in English in nearly 30 years at that point, and in editing and co-authoring The Jules Verne Encyclopedia around the same time, one of the chief goals was to highlight Verne’s writing that had never appeared in English.

While there has been much publishing activity in the last decade, including some novels published in English for the first time, there still remain a number of stories that had never been translated. No other publisher seemed to be taking them on. Yet here were tales from fantasy to humor, of castaways, outlaws, and revolutionaries, even stage plays, all the adventures that have made Verne such a beloved author. What made this especially surprising was that many of these were not particularly obscure stories. In the case of one of them, it has been known for 150 years!

 

Q: Why hasn’t that one appeared before?

A: In this case, it was a French Revolution swashbuckler—a nobleman and his family caught up in the Reign of Terror. It is an exciting adventure story, but perhaps publishers thought it the kind of tale more closely associated with Alexandre Dumas or Rafael Sabatini. And that link is not coincidental; Dumas was a friend of Verne, and Sabatini was a Verne fan in his youth.

This will be the fourth volume in our series, The Count of Chanteleine.

 

Q: Are there undiscovered gems, any new revelations?

A: One of the stories is Verne’s first tale involving a primitive submarine, used by a Spanish smuggler to evade the authorities. Another is a novel of a diabolical priest that Verne began while still a teenager.

Back in 2002, the North American Jules Verne Society published, in conjunction with Prometheus, our first book, the first English translation of Verne’s science fiction play, Journey Through the Impossible — where his characters encounter underground troglodytes, visit the ocean floor, and travel to a planet outside our solar system!

 

Q: Are there more plays in your series?

A: Yes, one volume, Mr. Chimp and Other Plays, showcases romantic comedies and a scientific farce all composed from the time before he became a successful novelist. Another is the first modern printing of Verne’s very own theatrical version of his novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. This isn’t an adaptation composed by someone else, of which there have been dozens in many languages, but the product of Verne’s own, in-person reworking of it for the needs of the stage—and it became a global hit just as much as the story did in bookstores.

In fact, the 80 Days play is taken directly from perhaps the only surviving play script of the original New York production.

 

Q: Were most of the stories in your series the product of Verne’s youth?

A: Actually, while some are, others are not. A couple of our volumes are volumes include some of his very last works, including a novel of Africa and Esperanto he began at the turn of the century.

 

Q: Who are some of your contributors?

A: Our translators are major names in the field, with wide and noted experience, including Edward Baxter, Kieran O’Driscoll, Frank Morlock, Daniele Chatelain and George Slusser, and the late Sidney Kravitz. Each volume has critical material on the story by renowned Verne experts from around the world: Jean-Michel Margot, the late Walter James Miller, Garmt de Vries-Uiterweerd, Volker Dehs, Jean-Louis Trudel, Daniel Compère, Samuel Sadaune, and Ian Thompson.

Hence, this is not only an Anglo-American effort, but we’ve benefitted from the collaboration of Verne scholars and organizations in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Canada.

For instance, we learned the Verne society in the Netherlands was also translating The Count of Chanteleine for the first time, and they shared annotations and even maps with us.

In this way we hope our volumes will also have appeal to Verne enthusiasts in many countries.

 

Q: What most distinguishes the Palik Series?

A: We’re fortunate to be working with a publisher, BearManor Fiction, who shares our enjoyment of Verne. Unlike most publishers, BearManor is integrating a series that will include different forms, novels, short stories, and plays. As well, these will remain available on a long-term basis for book buyers, not the short-lived shelf-life too common among mass-circulation books.

The other factor is our exclusive emphasis on what has not been in English before. This extends to shorter pieces too, such as Verne’s own essay about how Phileas Fogg made his 80 day trip in 81 days—which is to be included in the volume with the play of the story.

Despite some other publishers offering some stories in English for the first time, most notably our friends at University Press of Nebraska and Wesleyan University Press, most modern scholarly editions of Verne have been new translations of stories known in English before. As laudable and important as it is to offer improved translations, we wanted to place our energy into what few others were doing—bringing all of Verne’s work to Anglophone readers.

 

Q: Are your books illustrated?

A: Each of our volumes is lavishly illustrated with the original engravings that appeared in the first French editions of Verne’s works. We’re grateful for the assistance of Bernhard Krauth of the German Verne Club in providing scans. The covers are adapted from 19th century European versions of Verne books.

Sadly this element of his writing has too often been lost in modern editions, either replaced by new and less appropriate art, or none at all, losing an aspect that was such a vital element in the way readers of Verne’s day experienced the author.

 

Q: The series is named for a late member of your group?

A: Edward Palik donated his extensive Verne collection to sell to other members for their enjoyment, but also to raise funds for a particular cause which was close to his heart. He wished to have translations of Verne stories that remained inaccessible to English-speaking readers. He left an additional donation in his will. This was a goal the North American Jules Verne Society shared, and Ed’s generosity provided the funds to begin our effort, although I must note that all the scholarly material has been graciously given freely, as have my editorial and coordinating services, and many members have helped in various ways with the series, donating time and effort.

 

Q: Did Ed live to see the series begin?

A: Sadly, no. He had helped to underwrite the costs of our first book in 2002, Journey Through the Impossible. The initial book in the Palik series, The Marriage of a Marquis, is dedicated to Ed.

We’ve lost three other important voices as well. Water James Miller provided the scholarly cornerstone of the move to begin translating Verne anew for modern readers, back in 1965, and his work with Verne continued until his passing. He was an active member of our society who gave valued encouragement and expertise. He contributed an essay for The Marriage of a Marquis. Our fourth volume, The Count of Chanteleine, is dedicated to Walter.

Sid Kravitz, the translator of our second volume, Shipwrecked Family, Marooned with Uncle Robinson, had recently passed away, and are grateful for the cooperation of his family in publishing this work. Sid had previously translated The Mysterious Island (Wesleyan University Press, 2002).

Another member, Norm Wolcott, had taken a lead role in discovering quality Victorian translations of Verne, publishing them on Lulu.com under his Choptank Press trademark. Shortly before his death, he left us several texts in unique early translations, including the second Verne story to appear in English—long before he became a celebrated novelist—and these will be integrated as supplementary material in other volumes with related stories.

 

Q: How did the series begin?

A: Our first volume, The Marriage of a Marquis, established the purpose of our series, with background on Verne publishing and translating in English, accompanied by a youthful tongue-in-cheek story of a misbegotten student of Latin who attempts to live his life by his lessons. It is accompanied with another humorous novel, unfinished, which was to have taken its Candide-type hero to the United States.

The second volume is the first draft of what eventually became Mysterious Island, in which Captain Nemo made his last appearance. Ironically, this draft suggests some of the experiments with animals that became a part of the Ray Harryhausen movie of Mysterious Island, so we dedicated this book to Ray for having brought Verne’s desert island ideas to millions via the screen.

This first draft of Mysterious Island was originally titled Uncle Robinson (1873), but we retitled it Shipwrecked Family: Marooned with Uncle Robinson, because Verne wrote a later unrelated novel, entitled The School for Robinsons (1882), and there might be confusion in title searches on Amazon.com.

 

Q: Have you had to retitle other stories?

A: There has, in fact, been a long tradition of retitling Verne books in English. Generally, that is something we don’t want to emulate, second-guessing Verne in the matter of titles, but in this case there was no choice. The School for Robinsons was also translated over the years as Robinson’s School, The Robinson Crusoe School, The School for Crusoes, Robinson Island, and An American Robinson Crusoe. Almost certainly had both The School for Robinsons and Uncle Robinson both been published during the author’s lifetime, he would have altered the title of one or the other. Since Uncle Robinson appeared posthumously, we decided to go with a title that preserved some of the original but avoided redundancy and the possibility of confusion.

Moreover, while “Robinson” implies a character of Defoe’s isolated type in the word’s European usage, in English it is a common surname, and the new title provides the reader an idea of Verne’s plot (and also ensures no confusion with the Robinson family in the television show Lost in Space!). Indeed, this shift is so much the case in English that the famous Johann Wyss novel, Swiss Family Robinson, is usually thought to be a title taken from the surname of the characters; instead, Robinson in the title was intended by Wyss as a homage to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the novel that began the genre.

We faced a somewhat different situation with the first volume, The Marriage of a Marquis. Both because the central story, The Marriage of Mr. Anselme des Tilleuls, is very difficult for most English speakers to pronounce, and because the volume contains substantial critical material as well as the unfinished novel, Jédédias Jamet, or The Tale of an Inheritance, we decided to give the overall title The Marriage of a Marquis to the volume.

 

Q: Is there a particular aspect of the series that will surprise readers?

A: Overall, I think it will be the range of stories, the various genres Verne is writing in. Whether a humorist, a teller of adventure tales, or science fiction and fantasy, the qualities that would lead Verne to be such a celebrated author are all to be found in the stories in the Palik series.

One of the most intriguing volumes will include stories by Jules Verne and Michel Verne. In recent years, scholars have discovered manuscripts that prove that Verne’s son rewrote many of the stories published after his father’s death, and even originated some himself. This has become a major literary controversy—was Michel a fraud who perpetrated a hoax on an unsuspecting public? Or did he carry out to the best of his ability his father’s wishes? In fact, their “collaboration” had actually begun during his father’s lifetime, so Jules gave his assent to some of his son’s activity in his name.

This volume, Vice, Redemption, and the Distant Colony, will offer a story in both the version Jules composed, and the rewrite Michel did—which, a few years later, he brought to the silent movie screen. Hopefully, then, readers can decide for themselves the respective merits of father and son as writers.

 

Q: How are the books available?

A: On Amazon and Bearmanorfiction.com; overseas orders go best through the US Amazon website.

 

Q: Will the Palik series be available in e-book form?

A: Yes—and at least some of them in audio book form too.

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