SAILING ON THE TERROR, PART
Catchy title, that. Of course, if you’re a regular
visitor to this site and have read the novel’s first
chapter, you know that HMS TERROR doesn’t sail any more,
thanks to Captain Dan Simmons. But, even
though I considered titles like FREEZING MY ASS ON
THE TERROR for five seconds or so, I decided against
As you probably know if you follow this column, I’m
going to translate Dan’s latest novel for Editions Robert
Laffont, with a May ’07 deadline. I’ve only done
five chapters to this day, but I’ve gone quite far in
researching this monster.
Not a lot of quotes to track down, here. Besides, Dan was
kind enough to identify them in the text.
No, if I do some hair-pulling over the job, it’ll be
thanks to that blamed Navy terminology–all these decks
with funny names like orlop deck (sounds like the name of
an East European villain)–plus these fershlugginer nuances
about ice–serac, pressure ridges and sastrugi–plus
all the varieties of ice–pancake ice, anyone?
And let’s not forget the various ranks. French Navy
is funny that way. The English word “captain”
translates as “capitaine”, but when you talk to
a “capitaine”, you have to call him “commandant”.
Same for a “lieutenant” (“lieutenant”,
of course), whom you’ve got to call “capitaine”.
Whom do you call “lieutenant”, then? Simple: a
sub-lieutenant, a second lieutenant, an ensign–you got
it: any officer under the rank of lieutenant.
Anyway, I soon realized I would need some reference works.
A quick search on the web, a visit at the local bookstore–well,
several visits, as it turned out, but I don’t mind–and
I’ve started to acquire a small collection.
and foremost, Jules Verne’s VOYAGES
ET AVENTURES DU CAPITAINE HATTERAS. This novel, admittedly
one of Verne’s best straight adventure stories, tells
of a polar expedition at the time of the Search for Franklin.
A gold mine for nautical terms, as well as that darn ice terminology.
(How did Jules Verne render the term “ice master”,
for instance? Well, as “ice-master”–but
he added “pilote des glaces” in a footnote) For
a look at the wonderful illustrations of Jules Verne’s
novels, go there: http://jv.gilead.org.il/rpaul/
Next, two contemporary books: Jennifer Niven’s
PRIS DANS LES GLACES (THE ICE-MASTER, a book Dan mentions
in the acknowledgments–one of the few that got a French
translation), and William Vollmann’
LES FUSILS (THE RIFLES), which I picked up simply because
it had just been released here. I intend to study closely
the work of my esteemed colleagues, translators Claro
and Jacques Martinache.
The following find is a virtual one. In 1848, French historian
Auguste Jal (1795-1873) published his magnum
opus, the GLOSSAIRE NAUTIQUE, a compendium of nautical terms
from several languages–mostly French, of course, but
also English, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and even
ancient Greek! Monsieur Jal’s book is 1600 pages long
and–will wonders never cease?–available on the
web, thanks to the Bibliothèque Nationale.
there is Melville’s MOBY DICK, and
herein lies a tale.
I already owned the 1941 French translation by Jean
Giono and friends–not the only one available,
but the more accessible– but I learnt that a new one
had just been published, as volume 3 of the complete works
of Melville. The publisher was Gallimard, in their prestigious
Pléiade line– think Library of America, only
more highbrow–, and the translator’s name was
Philippe Jaworski, who had already overseen
volumes 1 and 2, as well as written several essays about Melville.
Yesterday, December 14, 2007, Monsieur Jaworski was visiting
my hometown and meeting interested readers at the Ombres Blanches
(“White Shadows”) bookstore. I spent a fascinating
90 minutes listening to him as he talked about his work: finding
the exact terms used by French whalers in the 19th century
(French whalers had it easy: they took the English terms and
changed the spelling), looking up how French writers of the
time wrote dialogue for Black characters, in order to translate
the cook’s speech (French writers had it easy: their
Black character spoke perfect French, as long as they were
freed slaves), agonizing over Melville’s puns–Queequeg/Quohog/Hedgehog,
the candidate for archbishoprick–and finding acceptable
An eye-opener for yours truly: the gentleman worked exactly
as I did.
Now it’s back to work, but with a vengeance: while
analyzing Melville’s masterpiece, Monsieur Jaworski
gave me new insights on THE TERROR, and on the ILIUM/OLYMPOS
diptych, to boot. But that’s another story.
Now, back to those pesky ranks: anybody here know the difference
between a first mate and a second mate? And how do I translate
this into French?
PS 1: Remember my last column about James Tiptree,
Jr.? Well, writer Clare B. Dunkle,
a regular on the Dan Simmons Forum, has decided to play the
game and ordered HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER before she finished
reading my prose. I can’t wait to see how she reacted
to this wonderful writer. I’ll keep you posted.
PS 2: A few months ago, I mentioned that French paperback
publisher Pocket would issue a new edition of the Hyperion
Cantos. Well, this has been cancelled: they’ll
keep on reprinting the books, of course, but each of the four
novels will still be split into two volumes.
PS 3: While looking for the spelling of archbishoprick, I
found this Tennyson quote I wanted to share
with you: “Shall I forget my new archbishoprick/And
smite thee with my crozier on the skull?” (BECKET, Act
I, Scene I)
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