What the essay I read really bothered me with was the ending, where the writer in essence declares that Lowe-Porters translations are garbage and that John E Woods' is infinitely better. He provides the following example, Lowe-Porter's last line. You might not want to read this if you prize surprises in novels although the line doesn't give away much of the plot.... just skip to my text below if that's how you like it...
Out of this universal feast of death, out of this extremity of fever, kindling the rain-washed evening sky to a fiery glow, may it be that Love one day shall mount?
Contrast Porter-Lowe's leaden, awkward prose with Woods's infinitely more supple phrasing:
And out of this worldwide festival of death, this ugly rutting fever that inflames the evening sky all round -- will love someday rise up out of this, too?
It's impossible not to see the improvement. Mann's original German prose is notoriously difficult: circuitous, occasionally labyrinthine and filled with elaborate constructions. Woods succeeds admirably in translating the hefty style without sacrificing tone or flow. This is a translation for the ages.
I have difficulty understanding the fights between translators. I suppose I haven't compared too many translations of the classics, except for Constance Garnett's Crime and Punishment to that of Pevear and Volkhonsky. And I liked Garnett's more. Call me old-fashioned... But I think a novel from 1924, like Magic Mountain, should read like it is old-fashioned. I don't value modern language in old novels.