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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Joystick Jabberwocky

How do you translate a poem like Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky"?

Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach offers a French translation he calls "Jaseroque", which includes stanzas like

Garde-toi du Jaseroque, mon fils!
La gueule qui mord; la griffe qui prend!
Garde-toi de l'oiseau Jube, évite
Le frumieux Band-à-prend!
...That would be the Jubjub bird and the frumious Bandersnatch, shown at right.

So how does this translation do? The Babelfish translation of "Jaseroque" doesn't quite return us to the original. The stanza

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
One two, one two, by the medium,
The sword vorpal makes stalemate-with-side!
The demolished animal, with its head,
It returns gallomphant.
Not bad, but "stalemate-with-side" is disappointingly literal.

I imagine that no other poem has been rewritten for satire as many times as "Jabberwocky". (There's a whole page of such poems, though the page incorrectly calls them "parodies".) I first learned of the poem when I was in grade school because of a brilliant satire in MAD magazine, written by veteran Frank Jacobs. Here it is, annotated with inspiration from Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice:

You've just wound down nineteen straight hours of Nintendo. Your brain is totally waxed, and as you crash you find yourself mumbling incoherently verse after verse of MAD's...

"Joystick Jabberwocky"
by Frank Jacobs

'Twas Billy, and the Shyguy Clones [hero of Double Dragon; common enemies in Super Mario Bros. 2]
Did Grax and Grumple in the Kraid; [evil emperor in 3D Worldrunner; Bubble Bobble final boss; Metroid boss]
All Lizzie were the Hanger Zones, [Godzilla lookalike in Rampage; penultimate level of Contra]
And Phanto Renegade. [mysterious face that chases you in Super Mario Bros. 2; awful early Nintendo brawler]

"Beware the Shadow Boss, my son! [final enemy in Double Dragon, who turns out to be your brother, a poor excuse for making game only single-player]
The Killer Clams, the Mummy Men! [Karnov; Castlevania]
Don't Goombah with a Neul, and shun [mushroom enemies in Super Mario Bros.; Solomon's Key enemy]
The Death Breath known as Ken!" [boss in Kid Niki: Radical Ninja,; hero of Street Fighter: 2010]

He Holtzed at Zigmos from afar, [Metroid flying enemy; Hudson's Adventure Island enemy]
Dodged Zombie Slime with lightning scroll, [combination of two Dragon Warrior enemies; not sure, but such a scroll appears in Domino's Pizza-licensed game Yo! Noid]
While Zelda in her Mamda Jar [Solomon's Key]
Made Yuki with a Troll. [evil samurai in Legend of Kage; various, including Joust, Shadowgate]

And as he Beaked for Pyradoks, [Alfred Chicken, others; pyramid enemy in Arkanoid]
The Shadow Boss Twinbellowed through, [Kid Icarus enemy]
Backed up by Pengs, Chicago Ox, [Mega Man ice enemies; ridiculously named Double Dribble basketball team, often beaten by the Boston Frogs]
Twelve Ninjas and McGoo. [various; Kid Icarus enemy]

Dagoom! Dagoom! Zabs met their doom! [two kinds of Gradius enemy]
And when the final Folfu fell, [Alpha Mission enemy]
Lay Bloopered ranks of Battletanks [squid enemy in Super Mario Bros.; Battle Tank]
And Mario as well.

"And hast thou zapped the Shadow Boss?
Well, spike my Foss! No Sniffit thee! [unknown; actually 'Snifit', a shyguy with gun mask in Super Mario Bros. 2]
Kello! Kello! O Porcupo!" [frog in Hudson's Adventure Island; porcupine in Super Mario Bros. 2]
He Dakkered in his Skree. [cannon in Gradius; spinning enemy in Metroid]

'Twas Billy, and the Shyguy Clones
Did Grax and Grumple in the Kraid;
All Lizzie were the Hanger Zones,
And Phanto Renegade.