Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Arabian Nights, Fairy Tales of Brothers Grimm and Anderson

Last weekend, in a bookstore, I saw a new translation of Arabian Nights but decided not to investigate further. I have read it when I was in elementary or middle school, in Chinese translation. Several year ago, I tried to read it in English but gave it up soon.

It was not due to the qualities of either Chinese or English translation; rather, it was due to the clear images my original read conjured up and most crucial, the atmosphere it generated, which was so vivid and strong that no other way of telling the story (other version of translation, or even the original if I could read it) could bring out the magic I originally felt. The rather strange turn of phrases (Chinese translators tend to keep the original language structure, and worry less about being in idiomatic Chinese) and the very words used in those books were rather new and they were part of the magic. Probably the first time heard of witches, slaves, princes, gingerbread, swans, nettles, vampires were the time I read about them in those fantastic stories. The magic and fantasy were firmly espoused to the words I read.

There are several other books fell into this category, most of them were book I read when I was very young and have much to do magical elements, such as Fairy tales by Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Klyrov's Fables.

Other books I read in both Chinese and English don't pose such trouble for me -- I enjoyed reading Jane Austin, Leo Tolstoy, and Honoré de Balzac in both Chinese and English. As for Shakespeare, Chinese translation was only an approximation, and my new read of English version supplanted my old memory easily. English translations of several classical Chinese novels won't do either, such as Red Chamber's Dream - the English translation, however faithful and artful, won't convey the full multiple-layered meanings it contains.

Red Sail / 紅帆 / Rotes Segel
Red Sail
© Matthew Felix Sun

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