Monday, 10 October 2016

Grand Anciens - a partial translation

Long time readers may recall a frivolous piece I wrote some time ago which made mention of a French graphic novel called Grand Anciens, by Jean-Marc Laine and Bojan Vukic.

It's a mixture of Herman Melville's Moby Dick and H. P. Lovecraft's dark mythos god Cthulhu. It looks lovely and has a particularly fine cover, but it's in French, and unlike a few other popular graphic novels like Blueberry and Blacksad, it hasn't been translated into English.

Over-ambitious fool that I was, I thought I might be the person for the job.

I managed eight and a bit pages. Jeez, 19th century French whaling terminology is hard to translate. And this self-imposed project has hung around my neck like a Gallic-Cthulhu-shaped millstone ever since

So the time has come to put away failed projects like this and move on. I'm giving the Grand Anciens book(s) away and putting the sorry affair out of my mind. But to preserve what little progress I made for anyone who fancies getting ahold of a copy and continuing my work, I include here the first few pages and my efforts and translation.

Grand Anciens, or The Great Old Ones
Part 1: The White Whale
By Jean-Marc Laine and Bojan Vukic
Translated into English by Helena Nash

Page 3
Caption:               The whaling port of New Bedford
…on the Atlantic coast of Bristol county, in Massachusetts…
…a misty autumn in the middle of the 19th century…
Caption:               My name is Ishmael.
Melville:               So.
Tell me, my young friend Ishmael…
…you want to be a sailor?

Page 4

Melville:              What could induce a well-respected, educated young man to share the life ​​of salt, blood and death of whalers?
I’m quite curious to learn the answer to this mystery!
Ishmael:               I’m afraid I have no extraordinary reasons like those in the great novels.
My life wouldn’t even warrant a chapter, Mr Melville.
Melville:               Nonsense, my young friend. Don’t be so modest.
I tell you, if I were to look for characters, I’d have my hands full. Look around us. The Admiral Benbow is full of characters.
Ishmael:               “The Admiral Benbow”! The landlady was having a laugh when she named her inn!
Melville:              Oh, Moira’s not the landlady. She just serves the beer and kicks drunken sailors out the door.
The real landlord’s James Hawkins. His story’s well-known throughout Bristol county. People say he found treasure and built several inns like the one in which he grew up in England.
The inns are all called “The Admiral Benbow”, and they all serve the same English beer!
Ishmael:              The same English beer? That’s stupid! Why would people want to drink the same beer in places that all look alike?
Melville:              Haha! The world is full of surprises.
Melville:              I believe that you do have reason, my young friend Ishmael.
You want to board a ship and travel the world. You’ll love it!

Page 5

Melville:               Yes, truly, the life of a sailor will teach you much.
But you already have your sea legs, if I am not mistaken.
Ishmael:               You… you know how to read people, Mr Melville…
Melville:               It’s my job, my young friend.
Ishmael:               I… don’t know where to begin.
Melville:               At the beginning. What convinced you to leave the merchant navy?
Caption:               The open sea, Mr Melville. The sea!
Look at New Bedford! This town sprang up thanks to the whaling industry! Look at the ships, all the inns and the stalls that live off that trade.
And Nantucket, off the coast! It’s the greatest whaling port of them all, greater even than New Bedford…
Nantucket is Whale Town! They’ve got a whalers’ chapel over there!
Ishmael:              It even seems that when a girl gets married in Nantucket, her father gives a whale as a dowry!
Melville:               You wouldn’t be a little obsessed by sperm whales would you?
Ishmael:              Obsessed? Me?
No! Not at all!
Ishmael:              Don’t be angry, my young and impetuous friend!
Obsession is something I can understand, believe me!

Page 6
Ishmael:               You’re obsessed by what, mister writer? Sailors?
Melville:              This will surprise you, Ishmael, but I have found something more exciting than sailors or the creatures of the sea.
Even though sea monsters fill many pages of this notebook.
Melville:              No, for my part, I am obsessed by obsession.
Or rather, fascinated by fascination.
Melville:              It’s been almost thirty years now, since the whaling ship Essex sank in the Pacific ocean.
Melville:              The Essex left Nantucket in 1819 and must have sailed for two and a half years before returning. No survivors were recovered.
Melville:              The whaling ship sank after a fight for several hours with a white whale.
Melville:               At least, that’s what they said.
Ishmael:               How’s that?
You think that it wasn’t a sperm whale that destroyed the Essex?
Melville:              The story that I am going to tell you, my friend, goes back several years and has as a protagonist Captain Ahab when he still had both legs.
Have you heard of Captain Ahab, Ishmael?

Page 7

Caption:               What I am about to recount to you took place some years ago.
As usual, Captain Ahab was on the quarterdeck.
The look-out alerted the crew as he spotted their prey…
…the white whale!
The sailors had seen the snowy white, wrinkled head of a great sperm whale, and the Pequod sped over the waves in the wake of that gigantic shroud-coloured body.
On his two legs, Ahab kept his eyes fixed on the whale.
His form seemed cast in bronze, and his skin was that of a man pulled from the pyre just as the flames were about to consume him.

Page 8

Caption:               The harpooners were like javelin throwers.
Stubb was Ahab’s second mate during that time. He was without equal at harpooning whales.
Stubb:                   Onward lads! Onward!
Caption:               Whalers who took to the sea flew over the waves, and cut through the water like air.
And the harpooner cried: “Make it afraid! You’re like the thunder!
The crewmen followed Stubb as they followed the other mates Starbuck and Flask.
Because as well as being their bosses, they were also sailors.
And because they were on the Pequod.
And because Captain Ahab was at the helm.

Page 9

Caption:               You will discover many things when you sign on with your first crew, Ishmael!
You will learn the tales and legends of the ocean.
You will listen to the most incredible stories, like the one about the white whale being everywhere at once, and in both hemispheres at the same time.
You will hear stories about the wildest fishing, the farthest voyages, and you will learn that your fellow sailors are a taciturn and secretive breed of men, but superstitious.
Because among the fables that plague the hearts of men, they will tell you of the scourge of the whalers…
… the Wrecker
… the Kraken!

Page 10

Ishmael:               The Kraken?
Are you…
Melville:               The sea is full of myths, especially for whalers…
Caption:               …and Captain Ahab is a sailor, without a doubt one of the best.
He knows the legends that frighten his crew. He knows that men of the sea, who come from all walks of life and speak every tongue, invent stories to warm the heart…
…stories that end up haunting them.
Ahab is not a man who believes in bogeyman tales.
But the captain is a man of decisions.
Quick decisions.
Ishmael:               And what did Captain Ahab decide to do?
Set sail to hunt the Kraken?
Melville:               It’s not that simple.

Page 11

Melville:               Rumours being what they are, they spread.
While they circulate and the sailors are still on deck, running scared or with laughter on their lips, it doesn’t matter.
But when it comes to pass that sailors refuse to go to sea, then it’s the turn of the owners to be concerned.
Ishmael:               You seem to know all of the workings of New Bedford, Mr Melville.