Jean de La Fontaine: Selected Fables

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Slater, Maya
Wood, Christopher
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I was happy to find this text available when I needed a La Fontaine text for an undergraduate course in fable literature. It had advantages that I liked: an broad selection of fables with explanatory notes in an inexpensive format. Thought it is not a high priority, I also like students to be able to see what the French actually says. I am sorry to report that my experience with the book was largely negative in two ways. First, my recollection is that I too often found the translation saying things that I did not find in the original, and so I had the bad experience of telling students that the original did not really mean what the translation said that it meant. Ouch! Now a year later, I check through my text for some examples. In WD (I 5), La Fontaine stresses the wolf's abhorrence of servitude by saying that he fled and is running still. Wood translates He's running still, I'm told. Why add the possibly damaging phrase I'm told except to fill out a rhyme with the prior line's for gold? For me, that kind of price for buying a rhyme is too high. Again, La Fontaine finishes FS (I 18) by mentioning his audience (Tricksters, it's for you I write) and commanding them to expect the same (Attendez-vous à la pareille). Woods translates the latter biters will be bit: don't bite. We have both a new image and a new command. In The Master's Eye (IV 21), La Fontaine writes that each servant struck the beast, and the tears he shed in vain appeal were not able to save him. Here is Wood's rendering: They all stabbed the Stag, and though he couldn't talk,/his tears spoke most eloquently, but in vain…. Why bring up in a fable the point that this stag could not talk when the poet himself did not raise it? At the end of The Lark and Her Young (IV 22), we do not even learn from Wood whether the little family flew! Instead we get flittering, fluttering,/skittering, scuttering,/hush!/shush!/all in a row… What?! Secondly, there were many fables needing to be read that I did not find included in this selection. Some of the fables I miss here are: The Lion's Partnership (I 6), The Double Sack (I 7), The Middle-Aged Man and His Two Would-Be Wives (I 17), and The Cock and the Pearl (I 20). And this is only within Book I! One hates finally to come across a typo--I assume it must be such--like that in these lines on 311: the smallest Merchant is too fly/to sigh, because he has to hide/his losses if he is to keep/his creditors at bay. Should that fly be sly?
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