A Word on Translations
Beware of a bogus translation! Jules Verne’s novel Journey
to the Center of the Earth
, written and published in French in 1864 (a
somewhat expanded, definitive edition appeared in 1867), was first translated into
English in 1871 and published in London. The identity of the translator is not known,
but the quality of the work was poor in every way. It changed the names and nationalities
of Verne’s characters (Lidenbrock became Hardwigg, Axel became Harry, etc.),
it “dumbed down” the story by chopping out most of the science, and
it added melodramatic episodes to the plot that did not exist in the original. Compare,
for example, the opening sentence of Verne’s original text with this translation
to see how the latter differs dramatically from what Verne actually wrote:
On 24 May 1863, which was a Sunday, my uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, came rushing
back towards his little house, No. 19 Knigstrasse, one of the oldest streets in
the old quarter of Hamburg.
(1871 “Hardwigg” translation)
Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely
able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were truly so wonderful that
even now I am bewildered when I think of them.
It is unfortunate that this inferior translation, because it happened to be the
first one published in English, went on to become the “standard” English
version of Verne’s novel and is still reprinted today by undiscerning British
and American paperback publishers such as Signet and Tor. Much more accurate English
translations of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth include
the following (all available in modern paperback editions): an 1876 version originally
published by Routledge and reprinted by Bantam in 2006 (with an excellent introduction
by Kim Stanley Robinson), an 1877 translation by Frederick Amadeus Malleson reprinted
in 2005 in the “Barnes and Noble Classics” series, a fine 1965 translation
by Robert Baldick published by Penguin Books and frequently reprinted since then,
and a top-notch 1992 critical edition translated and edited by William Butcher in
the Oxford “World’s Classics” series.
-- Professor Arthur B. Evans of DePauw University, author of numerous articles on
Verne and the award-winning Jules Verne Rediscovered (Greenwood, 1988).
obtained 12 Jan 2009
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Oxford World’s
Classics : the Extraordinary Journeys)
Translator & Critical Material: William Butcher. The World’s Classics.
Oxford & NY: Oxford University Press, 1992. xxxviii+234 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0192836757, ISBN-13: 978-0192836755
Known internationally as a top-notch Vernian scholar, Butcher’s … translation,
in particular, is a true pearl of a book: the translation is accurate yet smoothly
readable, the 23-page introduction is insightful and reflected very up-to-date scholarship,
and the 12+ pages of explanatory notes at the end (annotations keyed to certain
terms, places, or people cited in the text) are extremely useful. Prior to Butcher’s
(re)translation of this novel, the best one available was done by Robert Baldick
(NY: Penguin Books, 1965). Both are very good translations, especially if compared
to that hackneyed and maimed original English translation done in the mid-1870s
and still reprinted today by many publishers (e.g., the Signet Classic paperback
version which—perplexingly—is also published by Penguin). But between
the Baldick and the Butcher translations, I personally prefer Butcher’s. His
rendering of Verne’s stylistic idiosyncrasies is more faithful to the original,
he follows more closely the original published format of Voyage au centre de la
Terre (e.g., the absence of chapter titles, the mock footnotes, etc.),
and he retains the use of Axel’s present-tense first-person narration in the
log-book portion of the text (when the three explorers are on the raft). Moreover,
the additional reference material published in Butcher’s book—his introduction
and notes, a select bibliography, a chronology of Verne’s life, and excerpts
of Verne’s critical reception over the past 125 years or so—combine
to make the OUP “World’s Classics” version the one to buy.
-- Excerpted from Arthur B. Evans, “Superb Jules Verne Translations,”
Science Fiction Studies, 22.2 #66 (July 1995): 288-89.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
Journey to the Center of the Earth (Thrift Edition)
Translator: Unknown. Dover, 1995. 160 pages.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0486440885, ISBN-13: 978-0486440880
This Dover Thrift edition (1995) of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”
published by Routledge in 1876 is one of the three translations which are faithful
to the Verne original. The usual translation refers to “Prof. von Hardwigg”
and adds and changes much material. This translation refers to “Prof. Lidenbrock”,
thus retaining Verne’s original nomenclature. Although an anonymous translation,
it may have been made by Henry Frith who translated other Verne books for Routledge.
A note of caution: Amazon lumps all versions of this title together in reviews,
so be aware that this review applies only to the Dover Thrift Edition.
-- Posted by Norm Wolcott on Amazon June 12, 2006.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
These accurate, entertaining translations are all available from
Amazon: the 1876 Routledge (Dover, Modern Library, Bantam), Baldick (Penguin and
Puffin), Butcher (OUP). To search for the latter two, spell the title’s middle
substantive as “Centre”.
-- Posted by Frederick Paul Walter to the Jules Verne Forum, 14 Jul 2008.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics
Contains: Journey to the Center of the Earth; From the Earth to
the Moon; Circling the Moon; 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas;
Around the World in 80 Days
Translator & Critical Material: Frederick Paul Walter. Albany, NY: SUNY Press,
2010. 668 pages. some illus.
Softcover — ISBN-10: 1438432380, ISBN-13: 978-1438432380
See the review for this edition on this