The past twenty years have been a veritable “Golden Age” for Latin translations of children’s literature, from some of Dr. Seuss’s best-known titles1 to the first two books in the Harry Potter series,2 and even The Diary of a Wimpy Kid,3 as well as many others. The latest to join these ranks is Ubi Fera Sunt, a delightful translation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s classic by Rick LaFleur, himself a classic, best known for his thorough updating of Wheelock’s Latin.
The translation stays true in meaning to Sendak’s original and is as literal as possible in idiomatic Latin. One illustrative example is Max’s exchange with his mother at the beginning of the book:
mater eius eum appellavit “FERUM!”
et Maximus dixit, “COMEDAM TE!”
At the same time, LaFleur also strove to recreate in Latin the puns and alliterations that make the original text so entertaining. Therein lies the greatest virtue of this translation: while literal, it does not sacrifice the joy of playing on words and sounds. For example, to welcome Max, and (with a slight modification of word order) later to bid him farewell, the wild things:
terribiles fremitus fremebant et frendebant dentes terribiles
et volvebant oculos terribiles terribilesque ungues monstrabant.
The result is a text that sounds as amusing and engaging in Latin as Sendak’s original does in English. Even my non-Latin-speaking eleven-month-old found it funny!
Some readers may be dismayed to find no translation aids whatsoever in the text. The book looks exactly the same as the original version, except that the text is, of course, in Latin. This was the requirement stipulated by the copyright-holders, that with the exception of translating the text, the book was not to be altered in any way. Still, resources — including a vocabulary list, an audio recording of the Latin text, and a variety of quizzes for classroom use — are all provided free of charge on the Bolchazy-Carducci website.
Although Ubi Fera Sunt is more expensive than the average children’s book, it is not significantly pricier than the English-language original. Thus this book could be suitable as a fun extra text for middle-school or high-school Latin classes, as well as for family libraries, and as “chicken soup” for the tired Classicist’s soul.
1Dr. Seuss (author), Jennifer Morrish Tunberg and Terence Tunberg (trans.). Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit: How the Grinch Stole Christmas in Latin. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 1997; and Cattus Petasatus: The Cat in the Hat in Latin. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2000.
2J. K. Rowling (author), Peter Needham (trans.). Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2003; and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2006.
3Jeff Kinney (author), Daniel Gallagher (trans.). Diary of a Wimpy Kid Latin Edition: Commentarii de Inepto Puero. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 2015.
Richard La Fleur has published a Latin version of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, a picture book widely praised for its resonant narrative that stirs the emotions even after repeated readings. Latin students react with surprise and fascination to translations of well-known books, and this tale of Max, who defies his mother and takes a mysterious journey to rule over the Wild Things, is instantly recognizable to many. Shorter than books such as Cattus Petasatus (The Cat in the Hat), it can easily be read within one class period.1 It is an excellent starting point both for conversations in Latin and for discussions of the choices that translators make in reworking a story.
A common source of frustration for students is that even a short children's book can contain many unfamiliar Larin words. While Ubi Fera Sunt is no exception, its compelling narrative carries readers forward, and Sendak's illustrations provide opportunities to expand on the text. If students need help with "Ea nocte Maximus vestem lupinam gerebat et faciebat malum unius modi et alterius," the teacher can use Latin to point out the picture of Max in his wolf suit and ask what bad things he is doing. Advanced students will follow the story and appreciate the playfulness in the Latin, such as the sounds of "Fera fremebant fremitus terribiles et frendebant terribiles dentes" ("The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth"2). With less-experienced students, teachers will need to provide a bridge to LaFleur's text by retelling the story in simpler Latin and supplying unknown vocabulary.
Ubi Fera Sunt offers readers many useful expressions both old ("Amabo te") and new ("Turba fera incipiat!" for "Let the wild rumpus start!"). The Latin provides subtle lessons in usage, such as the distinction between "eating" and "eating up": Max tells his mother "COMEDAM TE!" (''I'll eat you up!"), whereupon "missus est, igitur, ad lectum sine edendo quidquam" ("so he was sent to bed without eating anything''). A few points pose special difficulties. In my high school classes, the "missus est" sentence confused students who associated lectus with reclining at dinner as well as with sleeping. At the story's emotional turning point, Max gives up dominion over the wild things to return home because "bona quae esset olfecit." Even strong readers had trouble making out the meaning "he smelled good things to eat," especially since the verb is easily confused with "to be." Here is an opportunity to prepare students by giving them some extra examples of the "to eat" esse, and perhaps to point out the very different constructions that can be required in Latin and English.
The book is printed on substantial, creamy paper, and Sendak's illustrations are as sharp as hand-colored engravings. These details make the book pleasurable to examine and easy to see in a group setting like a classroom. Useful ancillary materials are provided on the Bolchazy-Carducci website3. Of special note are a short essay "About the Translation ," which goes a long way toward gratifying readers who are curious about the translator's choices, and a delightful recording of Dr. LaFleur reading the book aloud. Brief yet evocative, Ubi Fera Sunt will enchant those who know the English version and provide much pleasure to new readers.
1See the 75-page Latin translation of this Dr. Seuss favorite by J. Tunberg and T. Tunberg. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers (2000).
2The English given here is from Sendak's original text.
3''Digital Content" available at http:/ /www.bolchazy.com/Ubi- Fera-Sunt-Where-the-WildThings-Are-in-Larin-P3892.aspx
Sarah K. Penso
SAR High School , Riverdale, NY
This appears with permission from The Classical Outlook
Ubi Fera Sunt is the first ever Latin rendition of Maurice Sendak's classic children's picurebook, Where the Wild Things Are. Skillfully translated by Richard A. LaFleur, Ubi Fera Sunt is a new way to enjoy this long-beloved favorite, and features the remastered artwork of the fiftieth anniversary edition. Ubi Fera Sunt is especially recommended as a delightful enhancement to introductory Latin classrooms!