Saturday, November 14, 2015

526-528 (2015 #83-85). 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - Three Versions

by Jules Verne,
abridged children's version adapted by Diane Flynn Grund,
audio English version read by Michael Prichard,
unabridged translation by Emanuel J. Mickel

I wanted to read this classic because it was being read by the main female character in Anthony Doerr's  All the Light We Cannot See, and there were references to it in the story that were unfamiliar with me. Although often considered a children's book (for reasons that will be made clear soon), I hadn't read it, probably because I wasn't interested in science fiction and adventure stories as a girl.

I first read the children's abridged version pictured at left, which I borrowed from the juvenile fiction section at my local public library.  It's part of a series called "Treasury of Illustrated Classics" originally published in the 1990s that took long classics (some considered appropriate for children, some not), drastically abridged them, added (rather poorly done) black-and-white uncredited illustrations, printed them on poor quality paper and bound them with a colorful cover designed to attract the kids.

Even so, it was enough for me to understand the basic plot of the novel and how it related to Doerr's book.  I did want to read a more complete version of the book, however.

So next, I borrowed an e-audiobook from another public library.  Although this version is definitely longer (11 hours, 23 minutes duration) and its description in the library catalog describes it as unabridged, it turns out it is not (although I did learn from the description that Nemo is Latin for "no one" - how appropriate!)

I do agree with a 2003 AudioFile review that "Michael Prichard's deep, pleasant voice does no accents for the three languages involved [English, French, and the language invented by Captain Nemo for his crew] but, nevertheless, captures the action and drama of this classic novel."  I do feel Prichard did well distinguishing between the four main characters (the French professor Pierre Arronax, his servant Conseil, the English-speaking Canadian harpoonist Ned Land, and Nemo).  However, the quality of the audio was poor.  Nevertheless, the book met my need to understand a little more of the story.

Finally, I compared some passages in this so-called unabridged audiobook to a 1991 translation by Emanuel Mickel of Verne's original work (written in French and published in 1869 and 1871), available at my university library.  I found a lot had been cut in the audiobook.

Indeed, Mickel explains (near the end of his 63-page introduction) that  Verne's work was drastically cut, 25% or more, in translations and in French in 1928, after his death.  Hardest hit were long scientific passages where he names or describes fish and other marine life, as well as archaelogy, geology, and exploration history, and much of the dialogue (some of which is humorous).  According to Mickel (page 61-62),

These sections are so severely truncated that the emphasis of the novel is shifted in a fundamental way.  Those chapters and parts...that deal with scientific topics give the novel its weight and balance.  They draw the reader away from the fast-paced adventure narrative to issues of greater intellectual significance.
Mickel's unabridged version also has chronologies (of Verne's life and of the events in the book) as well as an eleven-page bibliography, and extensive footnotes throughout the text.  The latter are especially helpful in explaining names and places Verne mentions with which the modern reader might not be familiar.

Verne's novel is remarkable for the way it predicted some technologies we take for granted today.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

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