The Castle in Transylvania

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The Castle in Transylvania

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 
“This book is an illuminating rarity among Verne's output, a Gothic-steeped romance whose scientific aspects are kept hidden till the climax…. let us pay homage to the fine new translation by the experienced and talented Charlotte Mandell…. This creative upgrade in the quality of the prose and fidelity to the original text persists throughout the novel, and sets high standards for the reader's enjoyment….Verne's tale remains compulsively readable.”
Paul DiFilippo, Salon
The Barnes & Noble Review

From Paul Di Filippo's "THE SPECULATOR" column on The Barnes & Noble Review


Few people some twenty years ago, near the start of the administration of George Bush, Sr. -- when cyberpunk was still a fresh notion, when there existed only three Star Wars films, all good, and when the word "steampunk" had only just been coined -- would have predicted that in the early twenty-first century some of the most entertaining and deftly rendered science fiction being currently published would derive from the pen of a Frenchman dead for a century, whose legacy had long been set in cement as amounting to nothing more than ham-handed adventure novels for juveniles. And yet at that distant time, the re-discovery of this Gallic genius was actually well underway, and today his stature is almost completely restored to its former glory.

The author under discussion, as you might well guess, is none other than Jules Verne, one of the two generally acknowledged fathers of the science fiction genre, along with his co-daddy, H. G. Wells. Recent years have seen a flood of "new" Verne titles, including re-translations of familiar classics (The Mysterious Island), first-time English versions of lesser-known novels (The Kip Brothers), and even heretofore-lost manuscripts brought to light (Paris in the Twentieth Century). Taken as a whole, this mass of Verniana has permitted and encouraged a reassessment of the writer's career and reputation among scholars and critics, as well as providing real pleasures for the average reader and fan.

My own reawakened interest in a figure I had long ago stuffed into his unfairly assigned pigeonhole stems from my attendance in 2004 at the Utopiales Festival held yearly in Nantes, Verne's hometown. There a handful of guests were given a generous and highly educational tour of the official Verne archives that hold almost one hundred of his extant manuscripts. This focus on Verne's craft and accomplishments, primed me to appreciate the new editions when I encountered them: a raft of reissues as entertaining as they are scholarly and lovingly translated.

Credit for kicking off the English-speaking world's recalibration of Verne should go to Walter James Miller, a professor at NYU whose efforts along these lines began in the far off year of 1965, with his essay “Jules Verne in America: A Translator’s Preface." This piece famously exposed the number one rotting albatross fastened to poor Verne's neck: inexpert translations. For instance, Verne's original straightforward geographical reference in one book to the "Badlands of Nebraska" emerged through the boneheaded efforts of such early interpreters as W. H. G. Kingston as "the disagreeable territories of Nebraska." And in his notes to The Begum's Millions, scholar Peter Schulman gives the example of how Verne's fanciful metaphor of Paris as a competitive social arena somehow got turned around via bad anonymous translation into a depiction of the protagonist as a professional wrestler!

Aside from inexcusable moronic infelicities, Verne's works in English were also plagued with unauthorized cuts and interpolations which had the cumulative effect of simplifying the textual complexities and controversies. No wonder publishers began to market the books solely as adventures for boys. And lastly, Verne suffered from the cack-handed ministrations of his heirs: his final bequest of posthumous titles were shamelessly recast to their detriment by his son Michel, further sullying the father's legacy.

The latest installment in the restoration of Jules Verne is, admittedly, one of his lesser works: the late-period Le Château des Carpathes from 1893, usually presented in English as The Carpathian Castle, but in this incarnation offered as The Castle in Transylvania -- possibly with a somewhat commercial eye toward luring all lovers of things vampiric.

And with some justification, since this book is an illuminating rarity among Verne's output, a Gothic-steeped romance whose scientific aspects are kept hidden till the climax. And so, yes, we have here Verne's very own pioneering entry in what the invaluable TV Tropes website identifies as the "Scooby Doo Hoax" mode of storytelling: "The characters investigate a site with reported paranormal activity. By the end of the episode, they discover that the supposed supernatural activity is nothing but an elaborate hoax taking advantage of local lore to frighten off the curious from discovering and interfering with their main criminal activity." Verne's villain even manages to satisfy the "You Meddling Kids" trope well known to fans of Scooby and Shaggy's adventures: "And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

Chalk up another visionary accomplishment for the Sage of Amiens! What a television scripter he would have made!

Before delving into the actual story of The Castle in Transylvania, let us pay homage to the fine new translation by the experienced and talented Charlotte Mandell.

My battered Ace paperback of The Carpathian Castle from 1963 opens with this line: "This story is not fantastic; it is simply romantic and nobody would think of classifying it as legendary." Mandell offers: "This story is not fantastic; it is only romantic." So far, so close. But then the 1963 version begrudges us merely two more prosaic sentences prior to launching the plot. Mandell, however, gives us an almost postmodern observation: "We are living in a time when anything can happen -- one can almost say, when everything has happened." Then follows the restoration of one of Verne's charming infodumps, nearly a page's worth, on the myths of Transylvania, before reaching the same jumping-off point of the story's real-time action.

This creative upgrade in the quality of the prose and fidelity to the original text persists throughout the novel, and sets high standards for the reader's enjoyment.

Now, what of Verne's tale itself?

We are in the small mountain village of Werst, where a castle, abandoned for twenty years, broods from on high. No one visits the decrepit yet sturdy place, for fear of spooks and reverence toward the last owner, Baron Rudolf of Gortz, who left the region under mysterious circumstances. But then a shepherd spots smoke coming from the castle, and the village goes into a panic. Plainly, the devil has taken up habitation there! A local skeptic, handsome young Nic Deck, volunteers to go investigate. He co-opts Dr. Patak as his partner. Patak, previously a bold unbeliever (at least in conversation), is now revealed in the face of the unknown to be a cowardly old lady. But pride forces him not to back down.

At the castle mysterious supernatural manifestations occur, Nic is shocked insensible, and the investigators are forced to retreat. At this point, Verne makes an unexpected lateral move. A visitor to the village arrives by chance, one Count Franz of Telek, accompanied by his loyal manservant. We get Franz's backstory, which involves a doomed love affair with an opera singer -- a woman who was literally frightened to death by none other than the creepy Baron Rudolf of Gortz and his sinister henchman, the Faustian Orfanik! Learning this, Franz of course vows to solve the mystery of the castle, or die trying. He discovers Gortz and Orfanik in hiding -- really up to nothing more evil than having a good morbid pity party and trying out a few cutting-edge electrical inventions on the medieval townsfolks -- before the whole place gets blown up in a suicide move by Gortz.

This simplistic plot, predictable by even the most naïve reader of 2010, was probably no big surprise even to the Castle-of-Otranto-savvy Gothic fan of 1893. Nonetheless, Verne's tale remains compulsively readable for a number of reasons.

First is the craftsmanship at work. After so many books, the sixty-five-year-old author was an expert at pacing, characterization, and scene-setting. His villagers are all solid and utilitarian as firewood, yet a gentle mocking humor pervades. He ladles in just enough of his customary background detail -- cultural, scientific, geological, historical -- to render everything plausible and tactile. Moreover, there is a real manifestation of Verne's love of the natural world here, in his lush descriptions of the forests surrounding Wertz.

The reader can also take pleasure in the cleverly contrasting natures of the three sets of protagonists. Nic Deck and Dr. Patak represent the unsophisticated, clownish but earnest peasants, living remnant of a fading age. Franz and his servant stand for urban sophistication, wiser but still limited. And Gortz and Orfanik are doomed scientific seekers after hidden knowledge, advancing civilization even through base and selfish motives. The interplay among these three paradigms provides plenty of complexity.

Verne's handling of a love affair is anomalous and intriguing for him. A biography of the author by his niece speculates about an actual secret love affair occurring around this time. But whatever real world impetus, the story prefigures the then-unwritten The Phantom of the Opera in fascinating ways.

But the essential science-fictional aspect of the book lies in its clash of cultures. The theme of a superior outside power deranging the isolation of an obsolescent backwards enclave is prime SF matter -- see Samuel Delany's archetypal "We, in Some Strange Power's Employ, Move on a Rigorous Line." In the end, The Castle in Transylvania stands as an example of Verne at his most pleasurable and educational, exploring the remarkable reality of our simultaneous technological plummet and ascent.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935554080
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/6/2010
  • Pages: 223
  • Sales rank: 1,370,817
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jules Verne
Jules Verne
A legendary French author and pioneer of the science fiction genre, Jules Verne wrote visionary tales of space, air, and underwater adventure in classics like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

Biography

The creator of the roman scientifique, the popular literary genre known today as science fiction, Jules Gabriel Verne was born in the port town of Nantes, France, in 1828. His father, Pierre, was a prominent lawyer, and his mother, Sophie, was from a successful ship-building family. Despite his father's wish that he pursue law, young Jules was fascinated by the sea and all things foreign and adventurous. Legend holds that at age eleven he ran away from school to work aboard a ship bound for the West Indies but was caught by his father shortly after leaving port. Jules developed an abiding love of science and language from a young age. He studied geology, Latin, and Greek in secondary school, and frequently visited factories, where he observed the workings of industrial machines. These visits likely inspired his desire for scientific plausibility in his writing and perhaps informed his depictions of the submarine Nautilus and the other seemingly fantastical inventions he described.

After completing secondary school, Jules studied law in Paris, as his father had before him. However, during the two years he spent earning his degree, he developed more consuming interests. Through family connections, he entered Parisian literary circles and met many of the distinguished writers of the day. Inspired in particular by novelists Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas (father and son), Verne began writing his own works. His poetry, plays, and short fiction achieved moderate success, and in 1852 he became secretary of the Théâtre lyrique. In 1857 he married Honorine Morel, a young widow with two children. Seeking greater financial security, he took a position as a stockbroker with the Paris firm Eggly and Company. However, he reserved his mornings for writing. Baudelaire's recently published French translation of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as the days Verne spent researching points of science in the library, inspired him to write a new sort of novel: the roman scientifique. His first such novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, was an immediate success and earned him a publishing contract with the important editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel.

For the rest of his life, Verne published an average of two novels a year; the fifty-four volumes published during his lifetime, collectively known as Voyages Extraordinaires, include his best-known works, Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Begun in 1865 and published to huge success in 1869, Twenty Thousand Leagues has been translated into 147 languages and adapted into dozens of films. The novel also holds the distinction of describing a submarine twenty-five years before one was actually constructed. As a tribute to Verne, the first electric and nuclear submarines were named Nautilus. In 1872 Verne settled in Amiens with his family. During the next several years he traveled extensively on his yachts, visiting such locales as North Africa, Gibraltar, Scotland, and Ireland. In 1886 Verne's mentally ill nephew shot him in the leg, and the author was lame thereafter. This incident, as well as the tumultuous political climate in Europe, marked a change in Verne's perspective on science, exploration, and industry. Although not as popular as his early novels, Verne's later works are in many ways as prescient. Touching on such subjects as the ill effects of the oil industry, the negative influence of missionaries in the South Seas, and the extinction of animal species, they speak to concerns that remain urgent in our own time.

Verne continued writing actively throughout his life, despite failing health, the loss of family members, and financial troubles. At his death in 1905 his desk drawers contained the manuscripts of several new novels. Jules Verne is buried in the Madeleine Cemetery in Amiens.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Good To Know

In 1848, Verne got his start writing librettos for operettas.

When Verne's father found out that his son would rather write than study law, he cut him off financially, and Jules was forced to support himself as a stockbroker -- a job he hated but was fairly good at. During this period, he sought advice and inspiration from authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo.

Verne stands as the most translated novelist in the world -- 148 languages, according to UNESCO statistics.

Read More Show Less
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 8, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nantes, France
    1. Date of Death:
      March 24, 1905
    2. Place of Death:
      Amiens, France
    1. Education:
      Nantes lycée and law studies in Paris

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Awesome!

    It is good at the begining but scary at the end

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    This book is the stupidest book ever!!!!

    DON'T BUY THIS BOOK.the begining was okay but the end was horrifying!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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