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Reviewed by:
  • Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature: Adaptations, Translations, Reconsiderations ed. by Benjamin Lefebvre
  • Balaka Basu (bio)
Textual Transformations in Children’s Literature: Adaptations, Translations, Reconsiderations. Edited by Benjamin Lefebvre. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Just a glance at the contemporary landscape of popular culture informs us that we live in an age of textual transformation, where nearly every “new” narrative is one kind of reimagining or another. As Benjamin Lefebvre points out in his excellent introduction to this edited collection, children’s texts, even when engulfed by this postmodern sea of bricolage, are singularly receptive to transformation. Because children tend to incorporate texts into play, franchises aimed at the children’s market necessarily cater to multiplatform demands, carrying narratives from the bookshelf to the screen, the console, the playground, and the tabletop. Suggesting that the profitability of these transmedia franchises may overshadow their potential to shape a new generation’s sociopolitical perspective, Lefebvre focuses this collection on the various ideologies encouraged by and concealed within the cultural translations required by adaptation. Considered together, these eleven thought-provoking essays thus begin to provide a global, [End Page 482] transnational account of the ways in which textual transformations for children must comprehend and contend with difference, marginality, borderlands, migration, alterity, and other cultural collisions.

Setting the theoretical tone for the collection, David Whitley’s chapter one builds upon Robert Stam’s distinction between “liberal pluralism” and “polycentric multiculturalism” (Stam, Film Theory 271). Using Stam’s dichotomy, Whitley argues that although Disney’s Pocahontas and Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke both use their adapted origin-stories to “make substantial contributions to the way dominant perspectives on national identities can be explored and internalized by young audiences” (8), Disney’s apparently benevolent pluralism is actually bound to the systemic exploitation and injustice embedded in its dominant cultural paradigm, whereas Miyazaki’s radical multiculturalism is nuanced and polyvocal, emphasizing rather than erasing otherness. It must be said that Whitley’s compare-and-contrast of these two films rather glosses over the overlapping complexities of their authorship and their audiences. Not only is the English-language version of Princess Mononoke already a collaborative translation, but it is also, just like Pocahontas, produced and distributed by Disney. Furthermore, it’s debatable whether the original Japanese version is indeed intended for “young audiences.” Despite these slight oversimplifications, however, Whitley’s invitation to privilege fragmented polyphony over homogenizing universalism remains genuinely appealing.

The next two chapters continue in the same vein but even more effectively, as Malini Roy and Hanh Nguyen show how multiplicity may be developed not through an either/or distinction between narratives and cultures, but rather through their cross-pollination. While Nguyen praises English translations of Vietnamese folk-tales for providing Vietnamese American children with essential counternarratives to Disney and other mainstream stories, Roy’s discussion of Indian graphic novels for young people is more critical of the Campfire imprint’s neocolonial universalism. Both chapters focus on the cross-cultural and transnational dialogue made possible by the dissonance between divergent narrative layers; Roy’s essay, which discovers subversive qualities in the visual semiotics of the illustrator’s additions, is particularly impressive.

Further exploring the interplay between word, image, and culture are two attentively researched and beautifully delineated essays by Andrea McKenzie and Emily Somers, both of which examine international reconsiderations of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. While McKenzie’s chapter eight focuses on the various cover images that depict Anne throughout the twentieth century in countries ranging from Sweden to Palestine, Somers’s chapter nine concentrates on the anime adaptation of Montgomery’s novel, Akage no An (Red-Haired Anne). Both authors find polarization in the adaptive space of the Anne universe. For McKenzie, the multiple cover portraits of Anne in conflicting characterizations embody the character’s “duality, [her] ability both to be and to act” (148; original emphasis). Meanwhile, for Somers, Akage no An is likewise caught between the poles of irrepressibility and politeness, individualism and collectivism, and even “minute flatness” and “spatial magnitude” (170). Already existing within the disparate formal conventions of the original text, the new language, and the new medium [End Page 483] of animation, Akage no An must...


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pp. 482-485
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