Back To Top

On translating the work of Jules Verne

Kim Seok-hee shares his respect for the French novelist through translation

He was neither an engineer nor a scientist. But he participated in the most groundbreaking science and technology establishments of this generation. He was a dreamer with inspirations and a prophet who wrote about the future long before it happened.

So did translator Kim Seok-hee praise the French novelist Jules Verne (1828-1905).

“I have never paid this kind of respect to any other writer before,” said the 62-year-old, who has translated more than 100 books including Nanami Shiono’s 15-volume series “The Story of the Roman People” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Kim is known as a Verne expert for translating his 10 novels into Korean since 2002, which include “Around the World in Eighty Days” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”

He recently added another three-volume book to his Verne list, “The Children of Captain Grant.”

“There are no areas on this earth ― from sky, ground to ocean ― where his imagination did not extend,” Kim told a press conference in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Tuesday. 
Translator Kim Seok-hee talks about his newly translated book, “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne, at a restaurant in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yeolimwon)
Translator Kim Seok-hee talks about his newly translated book, “The Children of Captain Grant” by Jules Verne, at a restaurant in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yeolimwon)

Verne is a pioneer who brought the science fiction genre to the fore, through incorporating both fictional fantasy and scientific accomplishment of the time the book was written, explains Kim.

“It is amazing to see how Verne’s written predictions have become today’s reality,” said Kim. “He was able to do that because Verne weaved the stories around scientific calculation, such as the distance between Earth and the moon, and the speed of Earth’s rotation.”

That is why Verne’s books are still relevant to today’s readers, says the translator. “People who are used to making decisions based on emotion can learn something from his stories derived from well-thought-out scientific calculation.

“But most of all, his books are a lot of fun,” Kim added. “Translating his work is such an exciting job.”

Kim also mentioned another reason for translating Verne’s books: “I want to translate good books for my 4-year-old grandchild to read when he grows up.” Two other translated Verne books, “Five Weeks in a Balloon” and “The Eternal Adam,” will be published next year, which will complete Kim’s Verne collection.

Verne’s first published works were printed in a French magazine for youths, “Education and Entertainment.” That is why many people regard Verne’s novels as only suitable for teenagers. But actually, adults are the fanatics of his novels. “This translated version is also for adults,” said Kim, who plans to publish Verne’s book for children in the future.

“The Children of Captain Grant” is Verne’s 1868 adventure novel centering on a tale about a worldwide search for Captain Harry Grant, whose ship the Britannia was lost two years before. The book takes the readers on a voyage from South America to Australia to New Zealand on the ocean.

Kim believes that Verne’s work should not be evaluated in terms of its inherent characteristics ― such as writing style ― of classic literature, but more weighted on the context of the stories.

“We need classic literature, but other kinds are necessary as well,” said Kim.

“Good balance between reality and fantasy is critical,” said Kim. “We have to see the ground to avoid falling down, but at the same time, watch the stars for direction.”

Kim resides on Jejudo Island, where he was born. “When I walk around the island with my wife, good ideas pop up and I want to write about them,” said Kim.

With his insights, he is planning to publish a novel next February, after a 17-year hiatus since his last novel in 1998.

By Ahn Sung-mi (
Korea Herald Youtube