Friday, July 5, 2013

BiblioFile: La Pendule d'Halloween

The House with a Clock in its Walls was first translated pour françaises in 2001 when it was published by Editions du Rocher Jeunesse. There it was known as La Pendule d'Halloween (The Halloween Pendulum), which is not a bad title – we get the gist of what the publisher was going for – but there’s something missing. The cadence of the original words and the comes-across-as-mundane-but-actually-isn’t mentality seems lost on the French readers.

American readers might feel lost themselves when they dig into the book (more so, see the cover) and discover the adventure is about Kévin Barnavelt. True, most European translations change "Lewis" to "Luis" but it’s entirely different. And there's a reason for that says La Pendule d'Halloween illustrator Lalex, who went on to provide artwork for what became the 10-book “Kévin et les magiciens” series:
It was the decision of the publisher for Lewis to become Kévin Barnavelt and Rose-Rita to become Emily Pottinger. "Kévin" and "Emily" feel American to the readers.
For the cover of the hardcover edition Lalex has illustrated Kevin and Tarby advancing toward the gloomy Izard mausoleum in the cemetery. Even though the story takes place during the late-1940s we have to chuckle at the boys’ appearance: baggy pants, stylish haircuts, and bright colored shirts featuring bats and jack-o’lanterns. It may not be how you’d expect to see these characters illustrated but it’s fun seeing a contemporary take on the Barnavelt clan.

Contemporary seems to be a key word here. Thumbing through the text we don’t see anything that jumps out to point us toward a specific year when this takes place. The setting in the original American edition takes place in 1948 – could it be that this edition steers clear of pinpointing an exact time period? If so we’d be curious in understanding the reasoning behind such a move.

Strange, too, is that the publisher – more so the translator – has elected to enlist the use of footnotes to help explain some of John’s vernacular to French readers. References to Sherlock Holmes [25] and the American Civil War [35] as well as baseball terms home run [64] and single [65] are further explained by a few additional sentences to assist the European audiences.

Oh – for those keeping track of what the Fuse Box Dwarf sounds like, here he is in French:
Croâ! Croâ! Je suis le Nain de la Boîte à Fusibles!

The book is 234 pages, expanded somewhat by the larger-than-usual font we’re used to seeing as well as the numerous illustrations by Lalex. Like the American edition, Lalex has also produced images for each chapter heading as well as a handful of full-page black-and-white scenes from the story. There are just as many spot illustrations mixed in as well – small close-up images of various things such as a crescent moon, a clock, playing cards, and a bat (both the mammal and baseball varieties).  Plus the smiling faces of the main cast pop up throughout the book (or frowning - the Izards are pessimistic in any language).

The reverse of the book features, Kévin’s uncle, Jonathan - a portly, red-haired fellow with a beaming smile. There’s also a plug for the now-offline Kévin et les magiciens website: Retrouve Kévin sur le site internet

Back in 2001, contributor James Card made mention at the Compleat Bellairs of something he found unique about the translation of a certain French phrase from the book:
From glancing over it, the translation looks pretty faithful. One exception: Remember the description of the "Bon Sour One Frank" coins? Here's what it says:

". . .sur lesquelles on pouvait lire Bon pour un franc. Kévin ne connaissait pas le français, mais cette inscription lui plaisait."

". . .on them could be read Bon pour un franc. Kevin didn't know French, but this inscription pleased him."

French readers probably would not understand the humor in "Bon Sour One Frank," I suppose.
La Pendule d'Halloween was later included as one of three books in a “Kévin et les magiciens” anthology (in which Lalex again provided artwork), and published later by Editions Gallimard with cover artwork by Jean-François Martin.

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