Friday, November 09, 2007

Bertha Big Foot, or Queen Berta and King Pippin

Bertha Big Foot is the direct translation of Berte as grans pies (Old French), or Berthe aux grands pieds (Modern French). Sounds terrible in English, doesn't it? That's why I've been calling it Queen Berta and King Pippin. In fact, in Medieval times, having long elegant feet was a sign of being refined, noble. I like that thought. I'm a size 11 (42 in French sizes).

I just had a conversation with Beth Horner about loglines, one-sentence descriptions of a story. Here's one for Queen Berta and King Pippin: Queen Berta's identity is stolen, she's taken to the forest to be killed, she escapes only to face brigands, bears and brambles. How will her big feet save her from this terrible treachery? Okay, two sentences, it's hard to be brief with a story that will take over an hour to tell.

I've been working on this story for months in preparation for next April's Going Deep Festival. I first found it a few years ago in Norma Lorre Goodrich's book The Medieval Myths. I went searching for a version in French. No dice. All I could find was the Old French. I read it once, then set out to make my own translation. A couple of weeks ago I decided to put that on hold and just read it again in Old French without trying to write out my version. In the meantime, I went online and found a couple of copies of the story.

I thought there wasn't a translation into Modern French, but I was wrong! How could I have missed this?! One arrived yesterday from an antiquarian bookseller in Brussels. It's by Gaitan Hecq, published in 1897. This copy had never been read--the pages were unopened (that's the term used when they need to be cut apart). Because I wasn't collecting it for its worth as an object, I used an index card to cut the folds.

I've been reading this translation and am quite pleased. I did fairly well with the Old French. Still, there are some things I missed. For example I don't remember reading about two brigands who attacked Berta in the forest and then got into a fight over her, enabling her to escape again. Good stuff. I think I'll spend some time this afternoon reading the rest of it.

3 comments:

Mary said...

Sorry, but I think you have four sentences there, three of which are separated by commas.

Instead of living happily ever after with her new husband, Queen Berta loses her identity, faces brigands, bears and brambles, almost dies, but in the end rises above it all on her elegantly long feet.

Boy, this is hard! I think you can get away with those four sentences. They're a lot snappier than my one.

PriscillaHowe said...

Oh, I like yours better! Can I use it?

Anonymous said...

This comment is partly in response to your post and partly just to tell you that you have a huge fan, and she's never even heard or seen you tell any of your stories! This afternoon I had an Emergency Dept. patient, 83 years old, who after 40 years as an English teacher, went and got her Masters in Library Science. I told her about you, and she insisted I give you a big hug for her and tell you she loves you -- "Because hardly anyone tells stories anymore and it's such a wonderful thing". She volunteers at the local school and tells Greek myths, and she listens for people's stories everywhere. She said "Do you know what a shannachie is?" I ranged around in my brain and came up with the answer, which delighted her, and she told me that she knows one, and that you're never supposed to identify them by name. I told her about you telling stories in 2 languages, about Going Deep, and about the frisson it gives children to call you simply Priscilla, rather than Miss Priscilla or Miss Howe, and she was thrilled. So now you know! We had a dandy time gabbing about stories and you.