- “Moomins in English Dress”: British Translations of the Moomin Series
A veritable Moomin mania is currently sweeping the United Kingdom, with a proliferation of soft toys, stationery, board books, and comic strips available in bookshops across the country. New translations of Tove Jansson’s work for an adult audience continue to emerge on a regular basis, alongside the recent appearances of Puffin gift-edition hardbacks of the Moomin novels and retranslations of her three Moomin picture books. The series is now an indisputably well-established global phenomenon, and the British translations have played a vital part in making these books widely available across the international literary community (Warburton, “Tretti år på Schildts”).
This article presents a chronological and descriptive overview of the history of Jansson’s works in British translation, and as such falls into the field of publishing and book history. Little is known about the history of this publishing gamble by London-based firm Ernest Benn, who persevered unwaveringly in their commitment to the series at a time when Tove Jansson was an entirely unknown Finnish author with no established reputation or record of commercial success within the English-speaking publishing world. Conversely, such is her standing now in the United Kingdom that Jansson’s obituary featured prominently in major British broadsheet newspapers such as The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, and The Daily Telegraph on her death in June 2001.
British researchers have shown little sustained interest in the world of Tove Jansson, despite the fact that the Moomin series has been in continual print since 1950 when the first title in English made its debut. Ironically, there has been slightly more academic interest demonstrated in the United States where the series has had an extremely patchy publishing history since the appearance of The Happy Moomins by Bobbs-Merrill in 1952, with the complete series only available for the first time in the 1970s as [End Page 145] Avon Camelot paperback reissues. The British Scandinavian scholar W. Glyn Jones has proved an exception to the rule (1979, 1981, 1983, 2001) with his full-length study of Tove Jansson (1984) published as part of the Twayne’s World Author series and forming a significant part of his research within the wider field of Scandinavian literature. Otherwise there has been little less than a blank British silence in all matters Moomin until the 2007 Tove Jansson conference held at the University of Oxford (Mazzarella, 2007) with its excellent proceedings subsequently published (McLoughlin and Lidström-Brock, 2007). Although papers were given by four British-based academics, certainly the lack of any contribution here by British-based Scandinavian specialists is to be regretted, demonstrating a research gap that is in need of attention and which this article hopes to begin to address. Translation only featured to a minor extent in the shape of one unpublished conference paper on the French Moomin translations and in Mareike Jendis’ well-researched chapter tracing the history of the two German translations of the Moomin series (2007) (see also Jendis 2001).
(Nordic) Children’s Literature in Translation in the United Kingdom
Compared to other countries where translated literature enjoys a high prestige and where imported children’s literature merits considerable research activity, relatively little is known about the modern history of children’s literature in translation in the UK. Gillian Lathey’s recent monograph The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers (2010) addressed this research gap for the first time, establishing a sound historical reference point for future studies. In my own work (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014a, 2014b) I have developed this research area further, focusing in particular on the publishing history of modern Nordic children’s literature in British translation. My prolonged bibliographical study of this topic since 1950 has permitted some basic facts and figures about Nordic children’s literature in British translation to be calculated for the first time.
British juvenile fiction and picture book translations between 1950 and 2000 are dominated by Swedish authors and works. Of a total corpus of approximately 750 entries (as cited in the British National Biography), some 550 entries are Swedish, compared to 100 Norwegian and Danish respectively. Methuen emerges...