rushthatspeaks: (platypus)
Would it be wrong of me to do a translation of William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land into modern English?

It's out of copyright. I checked.

The reasons I would want to translate it are the same reasons one wants to translate anything: it is a text I love, in language many people cannot read. If it were something out of copyright in French, or Latin, I wouldn't hesitate to translate it into English.

I certainly wouldn't try to profit off this, and if anyone for some reason or other threw money at it I'd pass that along to charity. Basically I'd put it up on my website (which, when I get my act together, will also contain all the daily reviews indexed, and a feed to this blog, and so on, but there's nothing there yet).

The thing is, though, Hodgson chose his style and selected the words he wanted to use. Readers can still, with effort, understand it (though the same is true of, say, Chaucer, who gets translated all the time). But Hodgson was a modern writer-- well, modernish, we are talking about a century ago now. He wrote pseudo-archaically on purpose. And the text's unreadability, while it is intimately bound up with the style, is not entirely because the vocabulary and grammar have gone out of usage; a lot of it is because the style is badly done. I mean, it would never occur to me to do a translation of Eddison, because Eddison was grammatically correct.

Which... this gets into a knot about the ethics of translation, which I did take a course in, and my professors there would have debated this for months. You know-- if you're translating something that is terribly written in the original, does it have to be in the translation? Does making it well-written and readable make it not representative of that work anymore? I mean, the reason I am thinking of this as translation in the first place is that outright rewriting the book would be wrong (I found out today that Harold Bloom did that to Voyage to Arcturus (!), a venture which sank out of print, and if I have one major life ambition it is Not To Be Harold Bloom). I would be translating: maintaining as much of the core text, sentence structure, etc. as possible while putting it into a modern/undatable idiom.

So I cannot for the life of me figure out whether this would be an ethical thing to do. I don't know Hodgson well enough to know what he'd have said (if he left essays/letters/diaries I've never found them). Lin Carter chopped like fifteen thousand words out of the thing without asking, but that was his decision, you know? And I can agree with it or not as I like, and as a reader I do but I don't know if I do as a writer.

I would certainly enjoy the work immensely.

I have a long time to think about it, as there is no way in hell I would start something like this while still reading and reviewing a book every day, but I am really so incredibly ambivalent that I thought I'd throw it open to general argument, because I'm sure other people have thoughts that I haven't considered yet.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I sometimes think that the authors of reference books may not be fully aware of the awesome responsibility they have taken on: which is that a certain sort of bookish child, when encountering a reference book that seems at all good, will laboriously go through and find absolutely everything that it refers to, or mentions in the bibliography, on the grounds that this is clearly How One Is Meant To Use Reference Books. Which is not to say that it isn't-- only the writers of reference books do not, I think, expect you to do it. Otherwise a great many more people would have read at least some William Hope Hodgson. Lovecraft tells you to, after all, and as an adolescent I would read anything Lovecraft told me to*, which is why I occasionally have the literary tastes of someone who began reading seriously in the Mauve Decade. It seems obligatory to talk about Hodgson in articles on the history of horror and early fantasy and what not, but I don't run into a lot of people who read the books. (If I am wrong on this let me know! I would love to be wrong.)

Mind you, there are perfectly good reasons not to read William Hope Hodgson. The best way I have of describing The Night Land, for example, is that it is like reading the greatest novel of the sheerly eerie weird ever written, the one that is so inexplicable and yet so badass that you will never get a single image from it out of your head ever again, through a tightly-meshed fishing net in which someone has painstakingly knotted stray bits of broken glass. That net is the hideous tin-eared pseudo-archaic language. ("And," [personal profile] sovay said, thoughtfully, in conversation, "the net is made partially out of the King James Bible, but not the good bits." Yes.) My edition of The Night Land is the two-volume reprint by Lin Carter, from which he slashed several thousand words of terrible Victorian slushily pink maudlin wibbling romance, because he thought it was too awful to inflict on the readers.

I repeat: Lin Carter, a man who wrote a series with a protagonist called, and I am not making this up, THONGOR LORD OF LEMURIA, thought that this book was TOO TIN-EARED NOT TO REVISE. I love the book, I reread it every so often, and my cast of mind during it can be summarized as 'this is awesomely amazingly wonderful, why the fuck do I do this to myself again?'.

I do not suggest trying to read the uncut Night Land. It only wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Seriously, though, one of the greatest novels ever written, as long as you put your fingers in your ears every so often and go LA LA LA I CAN MANAGE. And The House on the Borderland, while not in great prose, should be perfectly readable to anybody, and I highly recommend it.

This one, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, is Hodgson's first novel, drawing directly on his experiences at sea in the earlier part of his life, and it is not in the genre I usually expect from him, namely dark fantasy edging on horror. There's very little that is supernatural here, and almost nothing that really has to be except that crabs don't grow that big. It is mostly a competent, workmanlike, and atmospheric thriller set in a world in which all the myths about the Sargasso Sea are absolutely true.

The protagonist and his party are in lifeboats following the wreck of their vessel somewhere in the south Atlantic, and keep washing up in various places in a frying-pan-to-fire sort of way. The very first place they make landfall is probably the most interesting, a giant mudflat full of inexplicable noises which can be summed up in some ways as 'R'lyeh if it had just happened instead of being built by anything intelligent' (remember, Lovecraft read these), but the island they spend the most time on has an interesting combination of killer cuttlefish, giant crabs, and Life Not As We Know It going on. There's not much in the way of characterization, but this is a great entry in the Man Uses Stuff genre-- you know, we must fight off this crab the size of a table using only the following six items it has been previously mentioned we have in the lifeboat, plausibly and in a manner somebody would think of in a hurry, that sort of deal. The physical realities of food, water, fire, and shiprigging are ingeniously done and always feel completely real, and with that and the attacks by various monsters Hodgson has wound up with a consistently entertaining book which never lags for a second.

The language, although intentionally archaicized, is not archaicized to be from a period as far back as he tries to fake in other works, so it's clunky but nowhere near as terrible as he can get. But then I don't know, I have such a readability threshold with Hodgson because I know what he is capable of, so persons unfamiliar with him might find this more annoying.

I do recommend this to people who don't usually like horror or suspense, though, because due to the era in which it was written it has a much lower body count than this sort of book would nowadays, and feels much more like a survival-on-an-environmentally-hostile-planet piece of SF than I would ever have expected.

Now of the novels I've only not read The Ghost Pirates. The title is promising.

* If anyone can tell me, for a fact, with citations, whether Lovecraft read Moby-Dick and what he thought of it I will bake you brownies, seriously. It doesn't say in Supernatural Horror in Literature, I can't afford the complete collected letters, and I really want to know because Moby-Dick by my lights is the great novel HPL would have wanted to write.


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