Finally, an Accurate Translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales

A new English translation of the original volume of fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm was just published… and it’s nothing like the wonderful world of Disney.

The first edition of Grimm’s “Children’s and Household Tales” was published in 1812. The brothers collected tales from a variety of sources, including stories by French writer Charles Perrault, folk tales told by Wilhem Grimm’s wife Dortchen and her family, and a variety of tales collected from friends, acquaintances and German peasants the brothers met during their travels.

The 1812 edition features the type of grim, nightmarish stories that Old Nan would tell Bran in “Games of Thrones,” including such child-friendly fare as “How the Children Played at Slaughtering” (in which baby brother plays the pig) and “The Children of Famine.” The brothers began to clean up the stories in subsequent editions, and there has has never been an English translation of the original edition. Until now, thanks to scholar and German professor of German literature Jack Zipes.

Zipes told the Guardian,

“Though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition.”

Aside from all the added blood and gore, the new translation reveals some other interesting differences between the tales we thought we knew and loved and their originals. First of all, that whole “wicked stepmother” thing? That was not in the original stories; it was added into later editions by the brothers. The original evil queen was Snow White’s biological mother. Zipe told the Guardian he believes they made the change both because they “put motherhood on a pedestal” and because they were

“reflecting sociologically a condition that existed during their lifetime – jealousy between a young stepmother and stepdaughter”, because “many women died from childbirth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and there were numerous instances in which the father remarried a young woman, perhaps close in age to the father’s eldest daughter”.

Zipe wholeheartedly recommends reading the original stories to children, by the way. Use your own judgement here – I never thought I’d say this, but I think we might stick with Disney for a while!

Photo Credit: “Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood+” by Arthur Rackham Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5 Epic Literary Translations

It’s no secret that literature can be difficult to translate. That said, some books are definitely more challenging than others. Here are five novels that required epic levels of time and/or devotion from their translators.

1) Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

From a translator’s perspective, David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece could not have been more appropriately named. At one thousand pages of prose, with footnotes and 388 endnotes, the length alone makes translation an intimidating prospect. On top of that, there’s Wallace’s stream-of-consciousness prose style, packed with sly humour, allusions and hints that need to come through in the target language if readers are to have any chance of making sense of the tangled plot.

Nonetheless, Infinite Jest has been translated into six languages: German, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and French. The French translation just came out this year. It took two translators a dozen years to finish! Read more

Alice Learns a New Language

Her French skills may have been notoriously poor, but Alice, of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” fame, just learned a new language: Jèrriais.

Jèrriais is also known as Jersey French and is spoken only on the island of Jersey. The story of a little girl falling through a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world has long been a favorite of children all over the world. It’s already been translated into at least 97 languages, and as of this month, children in Jersey now have a version to call their own.

According to the BBC, Jèrriais author Geraint Jennings initially began translating the original book into the Jèrriais language as a side project, just for fun. Everytype, a publishing company that specializes in minority languages, found out about the project and requested a complete translation.

The island of Jersey has a long-standing literary tradition that goes back to the twelfth-century poet Wace. However, little early literature has survived the ages, and the language itself has been largely replaced by English. UNESCO classifies is as “severely endangered.”

These days, Jersey children grow up speaking English, though they may study Jèrriais in school as part of a program to revitalize it. This new translation gives them a little bit of an extra incentive to learn the language of their ancestors. Not only has the story been translated, it has been adapted so that Alice is from Jersey instead of England. Many other aspects of the story have been localised as well. For example, when Alice encounters a mouse after falling down the rabbit hole, she assumes it is a French mouse that arrived in England with William the Conqueror. For the Jèrriais translation, Jennings changed the scene somewhat to use local history instead.

He told the BBC,

“[Alice] is familiar with the Battle of Jersey in this version as it would make no sense when she meets the mouse in her lake of tears for her to imagine he speaks French and for him to have come over with William the Conqueror. As we know, William the Conqueror didn’t speak French, he was a Norman, so I make it that she knows the mouse as a French mouse who came over for the Battle of Jersey.”

The title also had to be tweaked to accommodate the local dialect. Jèrriais is closely related to French, and the French translation of the title is “Alice in the Land of Wonders.” In Jersey, however, “wonder” essentially means “donut.” Alice in Donutland, anyone?

Here’s how he handled the translation:

“I wanted to make it sound more like a country, so used Emervil’lie, which is a verbal noun that could translate as a state of wonderment. You could translate it as Alice in a state of wonderment or Alice in a wondering or Alice in a country which happens to be wonderland.”

All in all, this translation should make for interesting reading for anyone who speaks Jèrriais.

Dracula in Translation

Dracula in Translation

It’s almost Halloween! That means it’s an excellent time to reread your old horror favorites like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most cultures have some sort of indigenous vampire mythology. But Stoker’s novel helped spread the modern, Western image of the vampire around the world.  What dark, supernatural powers made it so influential?

The power of translation, of course! Here are 6 facts about Dracula around the world that you might not have heard before.

Dracula is available in at least 29 languages.

Dracula has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1897. During that time, it has been translated into at least 29 languages. That’s not quite Translation Hall of Fame material but it’s not too shabby, either.

Dracula’s origins are lost in translation.

Many people think Stoker based Dracula on the historical Wallachian ruler Vlad III, or Vlad the Impaler. But this is likely a myth. There are certainly some similarities between the two figures. For example, some English speaking texts call Vlad Tepes “Voivode Dracula.” And the Count talks about fighting Turks as a mortal. But there’s not much evidence that Stoker modeled his fictional vampire on Vlad the Impaler. Read more