Quest for Fire ‘undeserving of translation’

Found with the press cutting about Anthony Burgess inventing a grunt language for the 1980 movie Quest for Fire, this reader's report for Souvenir Press about the possibility of publishing an English translation of the original 1911 book. The report is by the distinguished translator Eric Mosbacher (1903-1998) who had translated Freud and Silone and at the time of the report would have been working on Pitgrilli's novel Cocaine. Not noted is the fact that J.H. Rosny's book  had already been translated by one H.Talbott and had appeared in America in 1967 under the Pantheon imprint. The mention of 'strip cartoons' is fortuitous as the book had appeared in France more than once in this format.

La Guerre du Feu. 
By J. H. Rosny Aine.

Published by Bibliotheque-Charpentier, 11 Rue de Grenelle Paris (1911)

This remarkably uninspired story is totally undeserving of translation, and the Souvenir Press Ltd. should firmly decline it. It was obviously written many years ago and half-heartedly masquerades as literature, but belongs to a genre which has long since been overtaken by the strip cartoon. The time is prehistoric, thousands and thousands of years ago, when the aurochs and the mammoth still flourished.

A primitive tribe called the Oulhamr has just suffered a heavy defeat by its enemies, who not only inflicted heavy casualties but put out the saved fire. It is essential to the tribe's survival to get the fire back, and Faouhm, the tribal chief, promises his daughter to anyone who succeeds in this. Two warriors, Naoh and Aghoo, compete for this prize. Naoh is a relatively nice chap and eventually kills the disagreeable Aghoo as well as his two undesirable brothers and comes back with some fire. Everyone is delighted with him, and he is promoted to share the chieftaincy with Faouhm, who grabs his daughter Gammla by her hair and unceremoniously deposits her at his feet. The caste also includes mammoths, tigers, cats. Eric Mosbacher 8/5/79

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