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In 2020, when I seriously considered adapting Labyrinth of the World, I was first discouraged by one
scholar with some relatively strong opinions. The import of his investigative questioning was that there was no value in any work not directly translated from the Czech
into English. Yet, after four prior attempts to invent that wheel, I did not figure using that same approach was the way to go. This post is about my motives for adapting The Labyrinth of the World, which is also articulated more extensively in the Front Matters of the new edition of this book.
Over the years, I have read three of the four English copies of Labyrinth of the World. All three were difficult reads for one reason or another. Using a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level standard they would likely read at a level of 15-16—on a scale from 1-18. This would compare to a “history in time” or “academic paper.” That reading level is definitely not approachable for the average readers (8th to 10th grade). It seemed to me that Labyrinth is a book that could suit young adults, families with young to mild age teens as well as any incurable book reader.
Secondly, older historical editions of Labyrinth all had illustrations, like many editions of Pilgrim’s Progress. In my formative years I’d come to appreciate books with pictures. If a book is going to be endearing or engaging to a broader audience, it needs to be illustrated. An old saying goes something like a picture is worth 1000 words. This new edition has 16 newly commissioned illustrations. This feature brings is an additional level of communication and adventure. John Amos Comenius knew this to be the case. Some of the earliest editions featured woodcut illustrations like the labyrinth featured to the left.
Thirdly, certain theological ideas have crept in to this story down through the last 120 years. I will not get into the weeds on the exacts of this point. I do not want to alienate and would-be readers of this new version or former editions. To me, it is not intellectually honest to weave various ideas or the buzzwords used to articulate those ideas into a translation. Those who did other edition may not even realize they made these inclusions. But the problems seemed obvious to me. What would a music purist think of an interpreter of Rachmaninoff who mixed in a little Rick James in an interpretation, and presented it as an accurate representation? Or, what about another person saying that combining the two really represents Rachmaninoff as part of Funk music before its time. I wanted to clear the story of these types of infiltrations out of respect for who Comenius was as an independent, premium thinker. He worked with virtually anyone of differing religious and philosophical ideals. However, he was definitely his own man. He should be allowed to speak instead of being filtered through someone else’s thought grid.
More about Adapting
I compared three earlier English editions of Labyrinth and looked into the Czech in certain instances so that I could pick out the most readable flow. Since earlier versions of the book had copious footnoting and extensive introductions, I felt a change was in order on these aspects. If someone wants a more academic read, the former edition are available for that very purpose. Readability to me meant that anything that would interrupt reading becomes an obstacle to enjoyment.
I took the immense English introduction out of the front of the other versions and made it into an appendix. In addition, I consolidated this section, made it chronological, and added photos significant to Comenius, his life, and his legacy. I felt this approach added to the book’s appeal and an understanding of Comenius as to why he remains important 344 years after his life.
Several individuals suggested I should make other changes. However, after much consideration, I felt it did not fit the mold of paying respects to a man who had put heart and soul into this work. I noticed that in former editions that, double punctuation was employed several places, which has a practical point. Comenius used almost everything as a point of education. Thus, I took the cue of these double punctuations to educate about a modern punctuative form called the interrobang. I think Comenius would have smiled about this detail.
Another feature of this edition is that I have made it available in the forms of Audiobook, eBook, and a collector’s hardcover edition. I love the tactile nature of a physical book with a nice layout, good paper, and art in it. Such cannot be had in audiobooks, and these features are not the same in an eBook. However, readers today are either so busy, or they use a different medium to absorb a book. This are in no way less legitimate. So for the first time in history, this book is now available in all three forms, in English.
I was a late bloomer as a reader. I was held back in 2nd grade because I couldn’t read. I didn’t really “get it” until about 5th grade. But books have become a life-long treasure to me. I found Labyrinth quite by accident. I was researching for another writing project, and I found a reference to it in a bibliography section of some other book. Had I not been piqued by the title, description, age, and the fact I had never heard of it, none of this would have ever come to pass. I got an initial copy through an inter-library loan. I then bought an earlier edition and found the Oxford edition online. Reading each convinced me there was a need for this edition.
Early on, I shared my vision for this adaption with Wade Burleson of Enid, OK. He is a historian, a voracious reader, and a fellow with a nose for a good story. After sharing he asked, with a sight note of incredulity, for me to send him a few sections. The next day he called me, effusively encouraging me, “you have to do something with this, you have to…” So, after 20 months of work, there is now this new adapted edition ready for a whole new audience of people like myself who never knew something like this existed. The story behind the story makes this book even more appealing.
If you think this post is the sum total of what you might read in this edition, guess again. There awaits you much more content, and if you are a book person like me, you will be astounded at what you didn’t know and what Comenius illuminates us within his allegory. This single book has shaped my mind, confirmed several things, and encouraged me in so many ways. This is precisely why I wanted to make it more approachable than in the form I discovered.
I hope this post has whet your appetite for a great book.