Friday, April 2, 2021

Jean Lang - A Book of Myths

Just as a little child holds out its hands to catch the sunbeams, to feel and to grasp what, so its eyes tell
it, is actually there, so, down through the ages, men have stretched out their hands in eager endeavour to know their God. And because only through the human was the divine knowable, the old peoples of the earth made gods of their heroes and not unfrequently endowed these gods with as many of the vices as of the virtues of their worshippers. As we read the myths of the East and the West we find ever the same story. 

Comment: I was browsing my local library's shelves and the title of this book caught my attention. I wasn't looking for it but I have read books on folklore and mythology before and without even looking at the index to see what types of stories would be addressed, I brought the book home with me.

As I started reading, there was a note by the translator of the edition I read that the author had written this in 1914 or 1915 and that some information included was connected to the author's reality. However, to not "bother" the reader with things not related to their reality, they were suppressed. 
As an legally trained translator myself, I just can't understand this tactic, unless this was meant for some specific purpose but in a simple work of translation the book to be published, without even any kind of academic/professional reasoning, I found it to be a bad start to approach reading this book. 
Nevertheless, one thing is the translation and how it was done, and another is the text itself.

Regarding this, I must say I expected a little more from what is marketed as "myths around the world" and I imagined some interesting and different stories to have been included. Most of the time, books where we find compilation of myths/tales tend to cover the same ones offering a repetition of what is more widely known. Having never heard of the author and seeing the "around the world" expression, I confess I imagined something broader but, in fact, most of the myths are Greek. 

It is true Greek or Roman myths have settled quite heavily in our imagination due to all the work and adaptations so often found in sources such as movies and fiction books but I certainly hoped to know about different ones so the title feels like it was misleading. Whether this was on purpose or not, I cannot say but it is something that can't escape one's notice. 

Edition I Read
As for the content, I won't specify anything here but let it be said one could pretty much summarize the moral intention of all these stories in a cautionary lesson to all of those who dare to go too much outside the box or who don't maintain their beliefs in a proper fashion; Man is weak and there is always something stronger/wiser/more powerful above, if not a God of any pantheon, then Fate or the Cosmos or whatever and people are mere pawns in the big scheme of things. Therefore, everyone should just live a quiet, steady life and hope for the best! I mean... to each their own way of thinking...

Regarding the writing, I can't really say much because if the translation has changed the final text's version, how much it affected the tone or the style too? By what I have read, it seemed the author was a fan of these myths, wanted to give a different spin in how they were presented, offering her (then contemporary) perception - which the translation apparently changed/omitted - but keeping a rather formal style, which can be taken by each person in different ways. I think the stories themselves were presented in a conventional way and that allows anyone to have their own opinions. What a pity the original text wasn't kept by the translator, I can only suppose that version would have been what differentiated this work fro so many others of the same subject.

Furthermore, I see many recent editions of this book published and perhaps the original has simply been adapted as the years went by and it might be complicated to have an original in good conditions? I'll admit I'm too lazy to actually go and investigate. This ended up being an OK read for me, even if the content can have more or less merit.

Grade: 5/10

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