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  • Tales and Translation: The Grimm Tales from Pan-Germanic Narratives to Shared International Fairytales
  • Karen Seago (bio)
Tales and Translation: The Grimm Tales from Pan-Germanic Narratives to Shared International Fairytales. By Cay Dollerup. Benjamin's Translation Library 30. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1999. xiv + 384 pp.

Central to this ambitiously conveived book is a detailed study of the translation of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen (KHM) into Danish. However, Dollerup not only charts the history, diffusion, and impact of Grimm translations in Denmark but also addresses the context which determined the emergence and status of the German source texts themselves as well as the role that translation played in the creation of fairy tales as an international genre. Hence, the two key terms "tales" and "translation" in the title outline not only the disciplines involved but more importantly their relationship with each other: Dollerup's discussion attempts to bring insights and conceptual frameworks from translation studies to folklore research, but it also proposes that the outcome of research into the translation of fairy tales is central to issues in translation theory.

The study is interdisciplinary in conception and its argument addresses itself to and evolves out of a range of conceptual strands. However, it is clear that translation studies is Dollerup's homeground, and it is here that the book is most authoritative. The Danish reception of Grimm is extensively documented with an impressive list of translations from 1816 to 1986. Giving detailed bibliographical data, information on texts translated, illustrations and publishing formats as well as comments on translators, reprints, unacknowledged prints etc., this is an invaluable resource. Dollerup's study is unusual in that it also addresses paratextual features such as the role of publishers, illustrations, or format as determining factors in the establishment of a "body translational" in the receptor culture. Indeed, as Dollerup's discussion shows, internationalization—that is, the establishment of a Grimm canon in translation—is largely determined by [End Page 119] extratextual features such as international co-printing where layout determines how much space is available for the text regardless of how long the narrative might be in its source format or when realized in different languages. Dollerup convincingly shows how translation is instrumental in creating an international Grimm canon which is quite different from the German canon in terms of (a) its corpus and (b) the form and content of individual tales. The international canon reinforces the most popular stories which conform to the format of a happy ending and which foreground female heroines. Such standardization as well as uncontroversial linguistic reduction, a content cleaned of cruelty and other potentially offensive features, and a reliance on illustration mean that the international concept of a "typical" Grimm tale will show marked differences to the German Grimm corpus.

These outcomes are confirmed by research on Grimm translation into other languages (Marcia Liebermann's " 'Some Day My Prince Will Come': Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale"; Seago's "Some Aspects of the English Reception of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen in the Nineteenth Century"; Martin Sutton's The Sin-Complex), but Dollerup also argues that the Danish translation history of the KHM is fundamentally different from the reception and translation into other cultures because of the high status accorded to early translations and their continuing influence on subsequent work. As a consequence, the body translational in Denmark shows an unusual preference for the first German edition of the KHM, considering it more authentic than later editions which had been heavily revised by Wilhelm Grimm. Thus some tales survive in Danish which have been superseded by substantially different versions elsewhere. Danish translations are also less marked by didactic considerations and do not have a problem with the depiction of cruelty which some translations even enhanced (after periods of war with Germany). Interestingly, there are also hardly any pirated versions claiming to be genuine translations as is the case in other countries; but to claim that translation practice, in England for example, is mostly "hack work" is overstating the case.

And while there are distinct differences in the Danish reception of Grimms' tales, they nevertheless do share with translations into other languages the need...


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