11 April 2009

Dear Signet Classics: Stop the Jules Verne fraud

I was walking through my local Borders bookstore today when I noticed that a copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth was sitting in a special hanging display along the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. Some employee at the bookstore wanted to bring this book to the attention of the casual browser. Great idea. It’s my favorite Verne novel and I applaud anyone making it noticed over a lot of middling recently published treacle.

Except . . . the edition placed in the display was the Signet Classics one. Which isn’t Verne’s novel at all, but another resurfacing of the dreaded “Hardwigg” version of the book, an 1871 American re-write originally published from Griffith & Farrar with only tenuous connections to Verne’s French text.

The Signet Classics cover and publishing info make no indication that the book isn’t the real Journey to the Center of the Earth, so I can’t blame the bookstore employee for grabbing it and putting it on display. I checked the shelves and found three copies of the Signet non-version, and only one of an actual translation, the Bantam (an outdated translation as well, but at least the translators were actually translating). That’s really sad. This means someone who came to that store to purchase Journey to the Center of the Earth would have a 75% chance of buying a bogus book, a complete fake. That Leonard Nimoy’s name is attached to it (he wrote the Afterword) would only increase the feeling that this is a legitimate translation.

To Signet Classics: stop it now. There are other public domain translations that, while not anywhere near the level of William Butcher’s great translation for Oxford World’s Classics, at least present the book they claim to. For example, you can use Frederick Amadeus Malleson’s 1877 U.K. translation for Ward, Lock, & Co., Ltd. It’s free. Discontinue this fraud. Calling this book Journey to the Center of Earth by Jules Verne is false advertising.

To Leonard Nimoy: Are you aware that Signet Classics is putting your Afterword on a false version of the book? I would feel pretty angry if I were you. I would feel abused. Betrayed. Give Signet Classics a quick call and request that they pull your Afterword unless they use a real translation. This volume is deceiving poor school children!