24 August 2015

+JMJ+

"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 123

"Warum sollen wir vor einem Hute Angst haben?"
("Why should we be afraid of a hat?")

In fairness to the grownups who have so greatly disappointed our narrator, his drawing really does look like a hat. Perhaps he should have added some scales to it? =P

Der Kleine Prinz is the first "Two or Three" Book Club reread in a very long time--not just for me, but for everyone who seems to be joining in. So I thought it would be good to compare old memories with new impressions. Today we're discussing Chapters I to IV.

. . . Das Bild der Riesenschlange, die einen Elefanten verschlungen hat . . .
(A picture of a giant snake that has swallowed an elephant)

I know that the very first time I read The Little Prince, the stories of narrator's drawings--both the giant snakes and the sheep--didn't stick at all. I'm sure of it because I recall being surprised by them during my second reading. Since then, they've been one of my favourite metaphors of friendship. I've known a bit of the narrator's aloneness in a world where no one understands what he draws from his heart. On the other hand, I've also experienced connecting very meaningfully with people who took a long time "to get" me (and whom I also took a long time "to get"), and now know that when there is good will, your drawings can be explained, understood, and truly appreciated. And then there's no real difference between the first type of friend and the second . . . unless you idealistically insist on one. But why make the perfect the enemy of the good?

Moreover, in fairness to the narrator, he seems well aware of this blind idealism that lonely people can have. While he is amazed that the Little Prince understands him at once and can speak on his level, he himself is not yet capable of extending the same understanding that he has always longed for. He has spent so much time judging others that he never considered how he himself might tip the scales.

What I didn't like too much about Der Kleine Prinz this time around was the sniping at "grownups." I know what he means by it, of course. But now that I'm one of the grosse Leute, I take it a bit personally. And I think he overlooks something important--the way people who say that a picture is worth a thousand words seem to forget that they couldn't have said made that point without words. That is, Antoine de Saint Exupery needed to grow up before he could have written this book. Perhaps one big problem in the age when he was writing was that people thought maturity meant despising the things of childhood. But one big problem in this age when we are reading is that many great things of adulthood don't get their due. One of these great things is the ability to bear your own fruit (which is not limited to having your own children); but as Mrs. Darwin recently reminded us in her latest foray into fiction, grains have to fall to the ground and die to themselves before they can do something so magnificent.

I also find it curious that in this translation, "grownups" is mostly translated as "big people" rather than Erwachsenen--the proper translation inasmuch as its root, wachsen, means "to grow." As far as I remember, "Erwachsenen" is used a whopping one time (the penultimate paragraph of Chapter I), while "grosse Leute" is all over the place. I have no idea if it is the same case in the original French text; and until I do, I can't form any hypotheses. But since we're looking at language as much as story for this "Two or Three" Book Club pick, I wanted to bring it up anyway.

Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Chapters I to IV:

1) What do you think of Antoine de Saint Exupery's ideas of friendship?
2) Do you think that what The Little Prince has to say about grownups is still an important or relevant message for our times?
3) If you're reading The Little Prince in another language, how do you find the experience?

Image Sources: Die Zeichnungen des Verfaussers

13 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

I for one know exactly what that is but since the age of six I decided I would never amount to anything as a painter.

What?

That's true BTW.

Brandon said...

The French consistently uses les grandes personnes; so the German seems to be following the lead of the French. And I think it's probably the better way to go, when one can get away with it: it contrasts nicely with le petit prince, and I think the story implies that a lot of 'grown-ups' get that way by not growing, and a lot of the things in 'grown-up life' are not things that grew up but instead are things that were imposed.

I'm not sure why, but the little prince sounds bossier to me in French than he does in English and more plaintive in English than he does in French. As I said, I'm not sure why this is.

In Chapter IV, incidentally, the classic English translation (by Walsh) has a notable translation mistake. Assuming I am not confusing it with another passage, in the penultimate paragraph, the French says once there was a little prince who lived on a planet only a little bigger than himself, and who needed a friend; the English says that once there was a little prince who lived on a planet only a little bigger than himself, and who needed a sheep. Either one actually makes sense of the story so far, so the 'sheep' mistake was not caught for a long time. But the result is that all translations break into two groups: those that say 'friend' and those that say 'sheep'. For lots of languages it is easier to find someone who can translate English than to find someone who can translate French, so a large family of translations are actually translations of The Little Prince, not of Le Petit Prince. So is yours in the Friend family or the Sheep family of translations? (Since it's in German I would guess it's probably Friend.)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Terry -- Then you were a prodigy of another kind! It didn't take me until I was fifteen or so to realise I would amount to nothing as a poet. (That's true, too.)

Brandon -- And now I'm upset that at least two English translations (Walsh's and mine by Katherine Woods) uses "grown-ups" so consistently! =( "Big people" does carry another meaning--especially, as you pointed out, in contrast to the "little prince."

My German translation is by Grete and Josef Leitgeb, and they definitely say that der kleine Prinz "brachte einen Freund!" (Woods' English translation is in the "Friend" family.) Then there is the Filipino translation, which I've always disliked because I could tell immediately that it was done from the English rather than of the French. If I can stop by a bookstore tomorrow, I'll check which family it belongs to.

The little prince and the narrator both seem slightly different to me in German--though, since it has been a while since I last read The Little Prince, I don't know if I'd have the same reaction if were rereading the English version. This time around, I find it a little rude of the little prince to insist that a complete stranger draw him a sheep and then not answer any of the stranger's questions. And I find the narrator much more curious and more active in trying to draw answers out of his new companion. In the English, he seems more passive, more inclined to go with the flow and wait for the answers to come.

Brandon said...

For some reason I was confusing translator names (yesterday was my first day of class, so I was away from the English translation all day and working on memory): Woods' original 1943 translation is actually in the Sheep family, and is the one that I meant:

But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference. I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say: "Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep . . ."

The French says:

J'aurais aimé commencer cette histoire à la façon des contes de fées. J'aurais aimé dire:

"Il était une fois un petit prince qui habitait une planète à peine plus grande que lui, et qui avait besoin d'un ami..."


Here's a website looking at the Sheep Test for Asian translations (apparently a lot of Asian translations are in the Sheep family):

http://www.cjvlang.com/petitprince/petitprinceengfr.html

MrsDarwin said...

This is me, being furious because for months that copy of Le Petit Prince has been sitting upstairs on a shelf, and when I went to look for it last week, it was gone and nobody knew anything (as usual!). So I'm sitting in until I can find the thing in this house. It was a sheep copy, by the way. What an exceptionally odd translation error to make, or perpetrate intentionally!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I'll ask St. Anthony to help you find it again!

Itinérante said...

Brandon:
I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say: "Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep . . ."

The French says:

J'aurais aimé commencer cette histoire à la façon des contes de fées. J'aurais aimé dire:

"Il était une fois un petit prince qui habitait une planète à peine plus grande que lui, et qui avait besoin d'un ami..." "

I am a little bit confused. J'aurais aimé translates as I should have liked? not I would have liked?

---

The sheep/friend mistake is funny! I remember one time giggling at church because in the prayers they referred to humans as "the talking sheep" of the Shepherd.

---

My theory why perhaps Little Prince sounds bossier in French would be this: The author did not intend to have it as a "sensational book" when he wrote it. People when they read it, found it as a sensational book for some reason and so when it was translated this spirit was added to the original one and mixed to make up a less bossy Little Prince...

---

Enbrethiliel : I laughed when I read "I'll ask St. Anthony to help you find it again!" Because I thought it was a cute coincidence with the author's name ^^ (It's Monday, my lameness must be excused hehe)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I didn't catch that one at all! I'm glad that it was amusing to you. And surely Antoine's name patron (perhaps aided by Antoine himself?!) will do this favour for Mrs. Darwin before our readalong is over!

Thanks for pointing it out, Itinerante! =D

Belfry Bat said...

"Aurais" is Conditionel Présent, but with "aimé" you've got primary Cond. Composé of "aimer"... the sentiment is: "if I had been honestly able to start this story 'once upon a time...' then I had been happier..."; of course, what he means is somewhat the reverse: "If this had been a different kind of story, then 'Once upon a time' had been the right way to start..."; and as you see, I'm trying to leave out the English cues to Conditional Mode.

Current English is a bit slippery about the words "would" and "should"; radix-wise, one has [would <= will] vs. [should <= shall] (not shill, thank goodness), but usage is less precise than that; some of the trickiness comes from "should" being used where "ought" might be closer to one's meaning. Perhaps it comes out of recognition that sometimes we do what we ought even though we wouldn't, if will had precedence over dughty...

If the English translator considered "would" at all, for that first sentence, perhaps they prefered "should" because we suffer our emotions, such as liking, and we don't, in the moment, choose them. In any case, whether the author is willing now to write a different beginning vs. indicating the logic of the situation just isn't expressed in the French.

Itinérante said...

Oh thank you very much Belfry Bat :) that makes it a bit clearer!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

In case anyone still cares about this thread, I have FINALLY checked out the Filipino translation! And I'm happy to report that it is in the Freund family. =)

Belfry Bat said...

hip-pip-huzzah!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I should have figured you would show up . . . *high-five* . . . ;-)