Essay: Translating the Biggles Stories for Czech Readers: A Case of Moderate Transposition

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Abstract:

Despite their Britocentric orientation, translations of Captain W.E. Johns’ Biggles stories have been well-received outside the UK, although certain of the stories create problems for non-British target audiences.

One country where Biggles is quite popular is the Czech Republic. Some passages in Biggles Goes To War, however, set in an invented small Ruritanian-type country located at the eastern edge of Europe, might be seen as causing problems for Czech readers. In her Czech version thereof Petruželková’s approach is to transpose the action to somewhere in the Middle East, changing many of the names, while leaving the storyline unchanged, even down to details. She also includes a degree of vagueness, leaving certain items in the source text unspecified in her transposition.

Following Whittlesey 2012’s framework for handling a wide variety of transpositions, this paper will ask whether Petruželková’s transposition has succeeded in preserving the original flavour of Biggles Goes To War. The answer is generally positive, with one or two reservations.

Johns, W.E, 1938. Biggles Goes To War. tr. Alena Petruželková, Prague: Toužimský & Moravec, 1994. (1940; Biggles Letí na Jih)

Whittlesey, Henry. 2012. A Typology of Derivatives: Translation, Transposition, Adaptation. Translation Journal Volume 16, No. 2, April 2012.

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I. INTRODUCTION – BIGGLES

From about the 1930’s to the late 1960’s Captain W.E. Johns’ Biggles stories, tales of fighter aircraft and dogfights, were very popular among young adolescents in the UK. Despite their emphatic Britocentric Imperial orientation the stories in translation also did very well outside the UK: I remember, aged 11, hearing a radio announcement of Johns’ death including the comment: “It is said that even the Germans liked them, although Biggles was always shooting down German planes.”1 Certain of the stories, however, create problems for target audiences outside the Britocentric Imperium and its cultural orbit.

One country where Biggles apparently continues to be quite popular is the Czech Republic,2 before and after the split; nearly all the hundred-odd books have been translated into Czech (see http://www.knizniarcha.cz/johns-w-e-biggles-kompletni-rada-95-knih). In fact, turning points in the history of Czechoslovakia from the late 30’s until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact may be matched to the availability, or lack thereof, of Biggles translations. Thirteen were translated during the period 1937-1940 (e.g., Biggles of the Camel Squadron (1937); Biggles in Africa (1938); Biggles in Spain (1939), and Biggles Goes to War (1940))3. The period 1946-1948 saw a further four: Biggles Flies East (1946), Biggles Learns to Fly, Biggles in Borneo (1947), and Biggles Defies the Swastika (1948). The coming of Socialist Czechoslovakia saw them become unavailable again, although they reappeared briefly in 1968.

II. THE CONCEPT OF RURITANIA AND ITS CONNOTATIONS

Ruritania was first conceived in literature and culture by Anthony Hope in The Prisoner of Zenda. He depicted it as a German-speaking, Roman Catholic country, under an absolute monarchy, with deep social, but not ethnic, divisions, as reflected in the conflicts depicted in the stories. However, some of Ruritania’s placenames (e.g., Strelsau, Hentzau), suggest that some of the superficially German names have a Slavic substratum, similar to, e.g., Leipzig, Dresden, Breslau, Posen, Gdingen, etc., as with some of the personal names, e.g., Marshal Strakencz, Bersonin, Count Stanislas, Luzau-Rischenheim, Strofzin, Boris the Hound, Anton, etc.

Geographically, Ruritania is usually located between territories that would have been called Saxony and Bohemia in Hope’s time. It has become a generic term, both concrete and abstract, for an imaginary pre WW1 European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and the plots of adventure novels. Its name has been given to a whole genre of writing, the Ruritanian romance, and it has spread outside literature to all sorts of other areas.4

This paper will discuss Petruželková’s (P) (1994 (1940))5 Czech version of the short- novel-length Biggles Goes To War (BGW; Biggles Letí na Jih (BLJ) in Czech), set in Maltovia, described in outline as a small Ruritanian-type 6 country with a German-type upper-

class located “slightly to the north-east of the Black Sea, described by its ambassador to London as “…..only just in Europe. …. Asia …. is not far from our eastern frontier”.7 Its nomenclature echoes Hope’s to some extent, e.g., Max/Ludwig Stanhauser, von Nerthold, Janovica, Bethstein, Menkhoff, Vilmsky, Klein, Nieper, Gustav, etc. Maltovia is threatened by its neighbour Lovitzna, a slightly larger polity, also Ruritanian as far as can be judged, described by the Maltovian ambassador as: “… another state, not large, as countries in Europe go, but larger than we are.” Johns provides little enough actual information on Maltovia, and even less on Lovitzna, although the names he does cite for the latter country, e.g., Zarovitch (the name of the ruling dynasty), Hotel Stadplatz, Shavros, Stretta Barovsky, do project a Ruritanian image similar to that of Maltovia. Lovitzna is developing an air force with the assistance of European instructors, and the story begins with the Maltovian ambassador in London asking Biggles, Algy, and Ginger to develop one for Maltovia to counter the threat from Lovitzna.

BGW includes scenes such as, e.g., Biggles telling a German pilot that the locals “are not like us, you know, they are excitable (93; No. 17 below)”, which might have evoked unwelcome images and connotations among Czech readers, especially during the period when BGW and BLJ were first published.8 The solution opted for by P to handle such situations has been to go one small step further than translation, and to transpose the story, moving Maltovia to some undefined spot in the Middle East, possibly around Northern Iraq, see below, and renaming most of the characters, placenames, and geographical features accordingly, e.g., Nieper is replaced by Kismid, (Cigaretten) Greta by Fatima, etc., while leaving the actual storyline entirely unchanged, even down to details. This paper will discuss the extent to which the transposition has succeeded in preserving the original flavour and form of the story: a rattling good yarn for late pre-teens of all ethnoi.

III. TRANSPOSITION

Whittlesey 2012 sets up a comprehensive continuum for any transfer of any content from one medium to another, mainly, but not exclusively, involving language to language, language to other mediums, e.g., images (movies, cartoons, etc.) or from other mediums to other mediums, with translation, understood as word-for-word replication in the narrow sense, at the one end, transposition involving various degrees of free rendering of the source, and adaptation viewed as the furthest removed from the source. He points out that actual translation in the narrow sense he suggests is rather restricted on the other hand, with many rules: omissions of words, phrases, and sentences, let alone whole sections, is frowned upon, as are additions, or distortions of the source or its intent. Translations must evoke the same image as the source texts and convey their content.9 The accuracy of a translation must be verifiable, which is much less easy for transposition or adaptation.10

Whittlesey also cites such examples as abridged versions of the classics, making old texts more accessible purely by modernizing the language; embellishing, supplementing or actually

substituting texts with images. This need not deviate too far from the source text; e.g., Grant, Kennedy & MacDhomhnaill’s (2008) Gaelic version of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, which remains as faithful to the original story-line as a graphic novel can be, even with the two transfers.11

One excellent example where some form of transposition is actually necessary is provided by Priestly’s rendition of Chekhov’s Лошадиная фамилия (“The Horsey Name”; Chekhov & Priestly 1989), which “exemplifies in extreme form a feature that may make the text ‘untranslatable’ in the normally accepted sense of the term: namely, what may be called CULTURE-SPECIFICITY .” Briefly, Chekhov’s Russian text is centred round trying to remember a surname with equine connotations, and all sorts of possibilities are suggested to jog memories; with the listing of such possibilities taking up most of the story. To merely transliterate the suggested names, simply rendering, e.g., “Кобылин” as “Kobylin”, no matter how extensively footnoted, would lose “the whole point of the story.”

Sometimes transposition may be done as an exercise. Paterson & Macnaughton (1953): suggest another context of transposition, much less common nowadays, when rendering English into Latin: a description of the campaigns in India during the Seven Years War could be transposed in time and space to Caesar’s Gaul, with “Clive” being replaced by “Caesar”, the Indians by “Galli”, and “Suraj ud-Dowlah” by “Vercingetorix”. The result might be “a piece of Latin that looks very classical”, although Paterson & Macnaughton caution against “… falling into geographical absurdities”.

Whittlesey does not discuss poetry in this context at all, which would add several layers of complexity, as illustrated by Makkai 2002: 11), who cites: “two striking cases of literary translation of a different sort, the kind of translation where the imagination of the translator takes flight and the text departs from the original rather drastically”, involving Russian (Lermontov) and Faroese renditions of Goethe’s famous “Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh”.12 In the context of Whittlesey’s framework these might be cited as examples of transposition, or even adaptation.

IV. BGW/BLJ: VERY LITTLE ACTUAL TRANSPOSITION

Whittlesey outlines the following pathways that transposition might take, according to the points of view of the transposer and the original author: transposing the content, character, setting, maintaining the character’s consciousness, transposing identity, transposing/recreating voice in a different language: the content, form, or both, or else using a different medium. Viewed within Whittlesey’s framework P’s rendition of BLJ shows very little actual transposition, with very few actual changes, and including some straight omissions, which do, however, form a pattern and might be seen as transposition in a broader context: from the specific to the opaque. A list of the transposed names is given below. Only a handful of them evoke the Middle East (ME), and

not always obviously, e.g., Harran, Sirmak, Fatima, Kismid; Mosyr itself appears to be taken from Ukrainian, although there may also be echoes of Mosul, which would make some sense from the point of view of geography. Forty translated extracts of varying length are provided below for illustrative purposes, and commentary. Comment-worthy items within these extracts will be bolded, and notes will be provided in square brackets under each extract.

The transposition of BGW to the ME is left fairly vague (see Nos. 1; 6; 9; 10; 16; 21).13 Many of the changes simply involve omissions,14 including some referring to Mosyr itself (e.g., Nos. 24; 28). BLJ either leaves Lovitzna unnamed, cf. 15; 16; 17; 18; 20; 25; 28; 29; 30; 31; 32; 34; 35; 37; 38; 39, or simply refers to it as “nepřítel/nepřátelsk-”, Nos. 8; 14; 22; 27; 29; 37, sometimes when the two co-occur in the same passage in BGW. Twice it is connoted by “za hranice[mi] (Nos. 7; 26)”, or is glossed over in some other way (e.g., No. 34), although its capital, Shavros (Sirmak), is translated on nearly every occasion it occurs in BGW (e.g. No. 18, etc., but see also No. 32). Surprisingly, references to Britain are also completely omitted, in contrast to, e.g., Biggles in Africa (Biggles v Africe), albeit for obvious reasons in some cases, cf., 2, 3, 13, 14, 18, 25, 40, even two oblique references to WW1 from the British point of view (Nos. 5 and 34).

Names:

Maltovia/Mosyr

Max/Ludwig Stanhauser Petr/Ludvík Saurin Zarovitch/Harran

Baron von Kestler/Baron Trevier Nieper/Kismid

Weisheim/Lerna

Janovica /Gomal Bethstein/Roland von Nerthold/Nerold Menkhoff/Mentov Klein/Fabre Wengel/Dinaud Shavros/Sirmak

Hotel Stadplatz – Hotel Grand Stretta Barowsky – Hlavní ulice/ulice Albertova (Cigaretten) Greta/Fatima Vilmsky/Malon

Major Berner/Pan Christian

Quotes (page numbering according to P 1994): ***********************************

1.

‘Maltovia is a principality lying slightly to the north-east of the Black Sea.’ ‘In Europe?’ …..’Of course, but only just. Still, we can claim to be Europeans, and there is much difference between Europe and Asia, which is not far from our eastern frontier.’ …. ‘The sky. Up to the present there has been little flying in our part of the world, which may account for the fact that we now find ourselves in need of pilots.

“Mosyr je knížectví, ležící nedaleko Černého moře (8) …. “Ano, vzduch. Letectví je v Orientu – a my jsme částečně Orient – velmi málo rozšířené, dosud se o něm uvažovalo nanejvíš teoreticky.” (9-10)

[P makes the location of Maltovia (Mosyr) even more vague than in BGW (“nedaleko Černého moře”, without even citing a point of the compass …. a my jsme částečně Orient; see No. 6 below. The name “Maltovia” itself recalls “Moldavia/Moldova”, although Johns’ location of it “slightly to the north-east of the Black Sea” would dim this association]

************************************************************************************ 2. ‘[Ludwig] was educated in England. It was upon his suggestion that I came to see you.’

‘Good! Any one else?’ ‘The Princess. She has also been to England and speaks your language.’ (19)

[P omits this short passage completely] ************************************************************************************

3.

‘We are not doing this for money, Count Stanhauser,’ he said quietly. ‘If you want the truth, we are doing it because there is in us, as there is in most Englishmen, a love of justice, a sense of right and wrong, and sympathy for the underdog. That is why we shall be proud to wear our Maltovian uniforms.’

“Já to nedělám pro peníze, hrabě Saurine”, odpověděl jako obvykle Biggles. “Chcete-li vědět plnou pravdu, dělám to z lásky ke spravedlnosti a z učty k právu. Proto budeme take hrdě nosit mosyrské uniformy (21)

[P omits the bolded part, for rather obvious reasons; see also No. 19 below] *************************************************************************************

4. ‘ … you said you would make arrangements for us to land in Weisheim, which is about half-way.’….

‘ … vy jste mi odpověděl, že se postaráte, abychom mohli přístát v Lernu, ležícím na jihu asi v polovině naší trasy (17)

[ležícím na jihu is an addition in the Czech text, which appears to be related both to the title and the

transposition, in the context of which it makes sense, if the final destination is around the Mosul area] *************************************************************************************

5.

‘In which case you’d put up a fight, I imagine? Is that why you had the guns loaded?’ ……’Great Scott, no! Don’t be an

ass. Do you suppose I want to start another Great War?

“Střílel bys také? Proto jsi nabil zbraně?” ….. “Nesmysl! Nevykládej mi to pitomnosti! Myslíš si, že toužím po nějaké mezinárodní zápletce?” (31)

[Johns’ precise reference to WW1 (called the “Great War” in the 1920‘s and 1930’s, and looming very

large in British consciousness at the time) is made vaguer here by P’s “mezinárodní záplet[ka]”. *************************************************************************************

6.

7.

8.

“Eight o’clock should see us at the River Danube, which runs pretty well at right angles across our course at the point where we ought to strike it. It’s the only big river, and therefore unmistakable. …… shortly afterwards the silver ribbon of the Danube crept up over the misty horizon.

“Asi v osm hodin bychom měli uvidět řeku Tenderez. Ta nás dovede až k cíli. Zmýlit se nemůžeme.” ….. Potem se na obzoru objevila stříbrná hladina moře a vedení se ujal Biggles.” (31-32)

[P changes the “silver ribbon of the Danube” to “stříbrná hladina moře”, which probably refers to the Black Sea. If Mosyr were actually to be located in the Mosul area, the flight path suggested here would make perfect sense].

General Bethstein gradually withdrew from my court. Then for a while he travelled abroad.’ ‘Not in Lovitzna, by any chance?’

… odešel od dvora a potom odcestoval za hranice.

“Kam odjel?” (50)

[P omits mention of Lovitzna by name in answer to Biggles’ questions, referring only to “za hranice”] *************************************************************************************

‘What would happen if Lovitzna seized Maltovia?’

‘I should be deposed.’

‘And General Bethstein, if he made the conquest easy for the enemy, might step into your shoes under the protection of the Lovitznian government.’

“A co by se stalo, kdyby nepřítel obsadil Mosyr?”

“Byla bych zbavena trůnu.”

“A vaším nástupcem by se stal generál Roland, nad nímž by váš nepřítel držel ochrannou ruku? Je to tak?” (51)

[P calls Lovitzna “nepřítel” here, and does define it further, without actually naming it] ************************************************************************************

9. ….. two aides-de-camp, one a dark, sallow-faced man with Muscovite features, and the other a hard-faced youth with pale grey eyes, and a cruel thin-lipped mouth.

….. se dvěma pobočníky, z nichž jeden měl zažloutlou tvář a druhý světle šedé oči a úzké rty. (55)

[P’s Czech version omits “Muscovite”, albeit banal for BGW’s Maltovia, which would be incongruous in

Mosyr] ************************************************************************************

10.

Biggles ….. returned blandly. ‘I acquired them from an old woman. No doubt she thought they’d bring me luck. ….. ‘So she told you they would bring you luck?’ ….. ‘That’s right.’ …….’I didn’t know you spoke our language,’ flashed back the general. ….’Fortunately the old woman happened to speak a bit of German, of which I, too, know a little.’

…. přikývl dobromyslně. “Koupil jsem je od jedné stařeny a nepochybuji, že mi přinesou štěstí”. … “Tak vy věříte nějaké stařeně, že vám květiny přinesou štěstí.” …. “Ano “ ….. “Netušil jsem, že rozumíte našemu jazyku,” přejel ho s žíravým pohledem generál ….. “Vaši řeč neznám, ale ta stařena mluvila arabsky, a tento jazyk jsem kdysi studoval.’ (56)

[it was actually this passage that suggested the idea for this article to me, with the transposition of “German” to “arabsky”, which fixes the location in the ME in a way that other passages do not]

Josef… : ‘There vos peen murder!’ he said in a hoarse voice. ….. ‘Oh, and who has been killed?’ asked Biggles calmly. …. ‘Der Colonel Menkhoff.’ ….. ‘Really! Where did it happen?’…. ‘Right by der general’s ‘ouse.’ …. Biggles was about to pass on, but he pulled up short. ‘Where did you say?’ …..’In der drive of der General Bethstein’s garten. Colonel Menkhoff – shot froo der brains.’ …..’And where is General Bethstein’s house?’ …..’Down der road, just past der new aerodrome.’

… “Být se stát vražda” hlásil přeskakujícím hlasem. …. “Tak? A kdo byl zavražděn?” dívil se Biggles. …”Plukovník Mentov.” …. “Opravdu? A kde se to stalo?” ……”Přímo u generálova domu.” …. Biggles sice už odcházel, ale ještě se zastavil a otočil se. ». Kde že se to stalo?” “V zatáčka hned u zahrada generála Rolanda. Plukovník Mentov – mít rána v hlavě – zlá rana, hlava prýč!” “A kde má generál Roland dům?” – hned za ten nova letiště” (68-69)

[Passages such as the above are always very difficult to render in translation. P could have handled it by simplification and omission, as she does elsewhere, but in this case she has conveyed the sense and image of the source quite well. In her rendition of Josef’s heavily accented speech, which recalls attempts to satirise English as spoken by Germans, P makes no attempt to transpose Josef’s English phonetics, in contrast to her transposition of his grammatical errors. Josef’s language in BLJ is less consistently error- filled than in BGW, as illustrated by the phrase “mít rána (ungrammatical) v hlavě (grammatical)”. Czech morphology, far more complex than English morphology, offers more scope for transposition here. On the other hand, Josef’s phonetics in BGW are easily recognisable to the Britocentric reader as close to stereotypes of speech from what might be loosely dubbed “the German cultural orbit”. Transposing Maltovia out of the “German cultural orbit” would make choosing a phonetic stereotype much more difficult, and P’s solution of concentrating on the morphology and syntax is probably the best available, but see also No. 21 below.]

11.

********************************************************************

12.

‘Klein – who’s he?’ ‘He’s a banker; to be precise, the president of the Maltovian National Bank.’ ‘Is he a Maltovian?’ ‘No.’ ‘What nationality is he?’ ‘I don’t know; I don’t think anybody knows. He calls himself a cosmopolitan; actually he is, I imagine, an international financier.’ ……. a short, rather fat, middle-aged man with a large nose and no hair on the front of his head ……

“Fabre? Kdo to je?” Bankéř. Totiž, abych byl přesný, je prezidentem mosyrské Národní banky.” “Je to Mosyřan?’ “Není’. “A jaké je národnosti?’ To nevím – a pochybuji, že někdo jiný to ví. Sám o sobě říká, že je kosmopolita, já se

13.

14.

15.

16.

myslím, že je především mezinárodním finančníkem.’ (72) ….. ‘menší[ho], obtloust[ý/ého] muž[e] středních let s mohutným nosem a velkou pleší nad čelem …… (153-154).

[During the early part of the last century “cosmopolitan” was often a sort of “dog-whistling” term in English, connoting “Jew” in a negative sense. Coeval popular literature of the time was full of examples, e.g., Austin Freeman’s “a gang of cosmopolitan revolutionaries who were all known to the police” (1928); (1931) “a sort of cosmopolitan adventurer …… distinctly shady customer in my opinion ….. he has picked up a foreign wife ……. may be a Jewess for all I know.”

In the 1930’s “cosmopolitan” had similar connotations in Czech. In that meaning it received a new lease of life through subsequent events in the postwar eastern Bloc, including Czechoslovakia, such as, e.g., the Slánský trials, and related procedures, e.g., the Eduard Goldstucker trial, which involved freely thrown charges of “international Zionism”, “petty bourgeois nationalism”, “cosmopolitanism”, even to the extent of charges of actually being Gestapo agents.

Memories of that situation lasted for years afterwards. As late as the 90’s the following joke was current: “Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? A: A rootless cosmopolitan. Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? A: A nationalist [non-Russian Soviet citizen]. Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language? A: An internationalist… [Russian]”. This is an example wherenotranspositionisneededtoconveytheimagesofthesourcetext,orsimilarones. Paradoxically, therefore “kosmopolita” may be more a part of recent memory for BLJ readers than “cosmopolitan” for BGW readers.]

“Why in the name of heaven did your uncle who, as far as I can see, should be the princess’s right-hand man, go to London?”

“A proč váš strýc, jenž je podle všeho princeznou pravou rukou, odjel do Evropy?” (72)

[P’s substitution of “Evrop[a]” for “London” contributes to the overall opacity in BLJ] ********************************************************************

The princess must form a Ministry of Defence, …… The new ministry appointed, the general will have to take his instructions from it – that’s how it’s done in Great Britain, and if it is good enough for Great Britain it ought to be good enough for Maltovia.

Princezna by měla vytvořit ministerstvo ….. Novému ministerstvu by měl podléhat generál. Tak je to dnes zavedeno v mnoha jiných zemích a velmi se to osvědčilo (75)

[P renders “that’s how it’s done in Great Britain” more opaque by transposing that phrase to “Tak je to dnes zavedeno v mnoha jiných zemích”] ********************************************************************

‘You see, if a Lovitznian aeroplane blows up a Lovitznian bridge, Lovitzna can’t very well accuse Maltovia, can she?’ ‘Vyhodí-li do povětří nepřátelský most jejich letadlo, jak by z toho činu mohli obviňovat Mosyr, co myslíte?” (79)

[see No. 8 above; in this case the omissions lose some of the humour and punch of the English source text.]

‘Yes, there is a big crowd waiting to greet you at the aerodrome, and the chief wants to celebrate the occasion by

presenting you with a decoration – the Purple Pigeon of Lovitzna.’ …….

‘Na letišti čeká dav lidí, aby vás uvítal, a velitel vám chce předat řád Zlatého půlměsíce.” (93)

[As usual, Lovitzna is simply omitted in the target text. Meanwhile replacing the “Purple Pigeon” with

“Zlat[ý] půlměsíc” contributes to the atmosphere of transposition to the ME] ************************************************************************************

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