- Never-ending Stories: Adaptation, Canonisation and Ideology in Children’s Literature ed. by Sylvie Geerts and Sara Van den Bossche
The Inter-relationship of Adaptation and Canonization
For years, adaptations have been at the center of attention within children’s literature studies, which is why it was a risky decision to devote yet another symposium and book to the topic.
Tarzan, Cinderella, who has not heard of them? Their narratives belong to the canon of (children’s) literature, but in many cases, we are not familiar with the original stories but rather with strongly simplified retellings of those originals. Even more often, we are only acquainted with them through film adaptations, by means of which these figures have come to belong to our collective cultural heritage. The original stories are still known mainly because they are adapted for new audiences in different times. Hence, Geerts and Van den Bossche argue, canonization and adaptation are inextricably entwined. The canonical status of a text can be a motivation to adapt it, while at the same time adaptations can guarantee that the canonical status of a given text is maintained. As such, they facilitate the creation of “never-ending stories.” [End Page 62]
In a clear and well-researched introduction, the volume editors distinguish between three ideology-laden components, which determine the process of adaptation: socio-political, socio-cultural, and transmedial aspects. The contributions in the book are organized according to this categorization.
The section on socio-political aspects covers transformations of a text that are explicitly laden with political ideologies. Sanna Lehtonen shows how, in a Finnish adaptation of the Tarzan stories, the tension between a discourse highlighting a common national identity and a reality characterized by differences among people is used to present a hierarchy within one’s own group. At the same time, she offers a considerable contribution to the theoretical foundation of this area of research. Convincingly, she connects the adaptation of the Tarzan stories with Finland’s national history as well as with the adapter’s personal history. The other two articles in this section are more descriptive. Tahereh Rezaei and Mohsen Hanif demonstrate the interconnection between Iran’s tumultuous history and the ideologically charged adaptions of the canonical text Shahnameh. Sylvia Warnecke discloses how in the former GDR adaptations of canonical texts were used explicitly to spread the socialist ideology among children.
The section on socio-cultural aspects zooms in on the role of adaptations in the canonization of narratives. Even here, ideology plays a crucial role, as Geerts and Van den Bossche emphasize. This can work in two ways: either because an adaptation subscribes to a dominant ideology or because it contradicts it and finds an audience for that subversion. Vanessa Joosen reveals that the fame the Grimm fairy tales acquired is not entirely self-evident. She proves that the selection of the tales and the adjustments with regard to content and style caused differences in reception. Lien Fret demonstrates how the cultural context in which fairy tales are received can be decisive. She does so by dealing with the different guises Cinderella’s fairy godmother has taken on over the course of time. Jan van Coillie compares Andersen’s little mermaid with her alter ego in Disney’s movie adaptation and notices three significant shifts: from earnest to entertainment, from tragedy to romance, and from an inner moral conflict with a religious message to an outer conflict with a pedagogical message. Finally, based on an analysis of the reception of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Nussknacker und Mausekönig both in German and in international (children’s) literature, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer concludes that canonization depends not merely on adaptation but also on the appreciation of literature written for children as a whole.
Section three, covering transmedial aspects, contains contributions that deal with transpositions to different media. By transmedial aspects, Geerts and Van den Bossche mean both the aspects involved in adjusting a text to a different...