a book blog about reading all of astrid lindgren's books

Posts tagged ‘gerry bothmer’

Mardie vs. Mischievous Meg Translations

Astrid_MadickenAfter reading Eva-Maria Metcalf’s book about Astrid Lindgren’s writings, I was blown away by her opinions on the vast differences between the British and American translations of the Swedish Madicken (1960).  I will present her thoughts on the translations after I discuss my own findings.

My dad, who is my most loyal follower, went online and ordered the British translation Mardie for me because my library did not have it.  Thanks Dad!

Mardie was translated by Patricia Crampton in 1979.  It includes pictures by Ilon Wikland.  It was printed in Great Britain.

Mischievous Meg was translated by Gerry Bothmer in 1962.  The pictures are by Janina Domanska.  It was printed in the USA.IMG_6907

I read these two books side by side, paragraph by paragraph.  It takes a lot longer to read two books at the same time than it takes to just read two books.  But only this way could I discover their differences.

1. Names.  It is not just the title character who has been renamed!  Here are just some of the name changes:

Main character: Mischievous Meg/Mardie
Home: June Hill/Junedale
Sister: Betsy/Lisbet
Friend: Albert/Abe
Chocolate Dolls: Perker & Smerker/Jerry & Berry
Neighbors: Karlsson Family/Carlsson Family
Neighbor kids: Tore and Maja/Tom and Marie

I’ve never been a fan of name changes in Astrid Lindgren’s works.  I believe Madicken would have been a fine name for either edition.  Neither the names Mardie nor Meg has the lilting cadence of the name Madicken.  Although I haven’t name-checked with the Swedish edition (the library doesn’t want to share their Madicken copy, sigh!) I would bet Mischievous Meg stays closer to the originals than Mardie does.  “Tom and Marie Carlsson” just screams “unnecessarily translated names!”

2. The Missing Chapter and Characters. The next most obvious difference in the two books is that Mardie includes an extra chapter.

Chapter 5 of 9, “Lisbet sticks a pea up her nose,” is a rollicking chapter that was not included in the Mischievous Meg edition, perhaps due to a fight scene deemed unseemly.  The two characters introduced in Mardie’s Chapter 5 are Mattie and Mia.  They make an additional appearance in Mardie, Chapter 8 (Christmas in Junedale), but this scene is completely omitted in Mischievous Meg.

Mattie and Mia are from a poor family.  This is obvious in the way they are described, illustrated, and in the way they act.  Mardie/Meg is much more well-off, but the discrepancy between the children is only obvious when faced with this scene with Mattie and Mia.  Mischievous Meg is weaker for losing out on this chapter.

3. How much Mardie/Meg understands. Mardie, for example, tackles the true nature of Mr. Nilsson much better than Mischievous Meg does.
Here are two translations:

Mardie: There was no sign of Mrs Nilsson, but Mr Nilsson was asleep on the kitchen sofa.  “He’s probably drunk,” said Mardie, “he usually is on Saturdays.” (page 32)

Mischievous Meg: Mrs. Nilsson wasn’t around, but Mr. Nilsson was lying on the sofa, sleeping.  “What a lazy man!” Meg said. (page 38)

I find it very interesting that although drunkenness is the topic of the Mardie translation, there is more judgment in Mischievous Meg.  In Mardie, she is aware of Mr. Nilsson’s habits but has accepted them without needing to put him down.

4. The geographical, cultural, and historical context of the book.  Often when reading the translations, I came across situations where Mischievous Meg loses a bit of context due to an omitted sentence or two that I am sure the translator thought was unnecessary or unfitting for an American audience.

Example One: “People can’t fly,” said Betsy.
“Yes, in airplanes they can,” Meg corrected her.  “Albert has told me all about airplanes.”  Meg would have given anything to see an airplane, although Ida had told her it was a sin to fly. 
“If God wanted people to fly, he would have made birds of them,” said Ida. (page 42)

Compare to Mardie’s text:
‘People can’t fly,’ said Lisbet.
‘Yes they can, in flying machines,’ said Mardie.  Abe had told her about flying machines.  There were flying machines in the war but in Sweden too they had a few.  Mardie would have given anything to see one, though Ida was sure that it was sinful to fly.
‘I tell you, I tell you, if God wanted people to fly He would have given them wings,’ said Ida. (page 36)

Including the sentence about the war and Sweden places the book firmly in a time and place, whereas Mischievous Meg is a little more open to interpretations.  I, for one, believe that the details enhance the text.  Also, notice the rhythm and character portrayed by Ida in her Mardie sentence, versus the harsh and lackluster tone of Ida in Mischievous Meg.

Example Two:  When Albert/Abe gives Meg/Mardie some money (that had supposedly been buried for ages) for her “mental anguish”/”toil and sweat,” Meg/Mardie describes the money like this:

Meg: […] it’s shiny and looks real.”  Yes, it looked exactly the way a coin should.  (page 86)

Mardie: […] yet it was so bright and looked so real.  […] And there was the king’s picture on it.  Yes, it looked just as a coin should look!” (page 97)

In this instance, Mischievous Meg’s lack of additional description is a real loss for the book, as the king’s face drives home the fact that this money was not hidden for quite as long as her friend said.  I suspect that America’s lack of a king is what killed this sentence in our translation, and that’s too bad.

5. The text coming to life. While Mardie is stuck in bed, she creates her own newspaper that, in one version, pops off the page.
In Mischievous Meg, her writings are included in the text in normal font and have been spell-checked.  In Mardie, her writings are recreated by hand with “her” misspellings and appropriate artwork “by” Mardie herself. IMG_6905 IMG_6906

Which of the following books would you rather read?  Mischievous Meg, left.  Mardie, right.

6. General translator differences.  There are so many minor differences that I can’t begin to cover them all.  In this example, compare the use of language in Chapters 4 of Mischievous Meg/Mardie (A Sad Happy Day/A Very Jolly, Sad Day).

Mischievous Meg: She just had a brain concussion, which isn’t as bad as being dead. (page 48)

Mardie: She just had [a] concussion, which is not so bad. (page 42)

In this example, I give the Whimsy Award to Mischievous Meg for the text, but the better chapter title clearly goes to Mardie.

Eva-Maria Metcalf’s opinions on the differences between the books helped spark my interest in reading all of Astrid Lindgren’s works.  There were definitely times when I would give the upper hand to Mischievous Meg – considering name changes, for example.  When it comes down to it, Mardie is a superior translation due to its inclusion of the pea chapter, its more complete translation of context, and its inclusion of Mardie’s hand-written notes.  And while Janina Domanska’s illustrations are cute and wonderful, Ilon Wikland’s absolute mastery of Lindgren characters makes this choice a no-brainer:  Mardie is better. Mischievous Meg isn’t bad – it is good.  It’s just that Mardie is excellent.

Eva-Maria Metcalf agrees in her book Astrid Lindgren: “In my estimation, Patricia Crampton’s British translation [Mardie] is far better than its American counterpart [Mischievous Meg], for it retains much of the tone and rhythm of the original.  The American version lacks much of the original’s stylistic exuberance and so does not quite reflect the original’s spirit.” (page 36)  Yup.

In closing, here is my favorite line from Mardie:
‘Mama, what would you like best of all?’
‘Two really good, sweet girls,” said Mama.
Mardie’s eyes turned shiny and her voice trembled a little.
‘But what would you do with Lisbet and me?’

Here is the same line from Mischievous Meg, because that’s how I read these books:
“Mother, what do you wish for most of all?”
“Two very good little girls,” Mother replied.
Suddenly there was a strange expression in Meg’s eyes, and her voice quivered a little.  “What will you do with Betsy and me, then?”


Rasmus and the Vagabond

Astrid_RATVRasmus and the Vagabond was translated by Gerry Bothmer from Rasmus pa Luffen (1960) and illustrated by Eric Palmquist.  It tells the story of an energetic and hopeful little boy with straight hair who runs away from the orphanage in search of parents who want him.  He finds Oscar, a vagabond who sings for his supper and sleeps in haylofts.  Latching on to his new best friend, Rasmus tags along and the two accidentally get caught up in the scene of a robbery.  Falsely accused, with Oscar potentially heading to jail and the threat of the orphanage looming over Rasmus, the two must escape and prove that they are innocent – and, if they can, bring the real criminals to justice.

This is a light-hearted, fun book and one of Astrid’s better efforts.  She perfectly manages to sum up the feeling of freedom as Rasmus takes off down the open road with Oscar, resting in meadows and “owning” everything in their sight.  It’s got enough nostalgia for adults to love it, but enough action (including possibly the most fulfilling chase scene I’ve ever read) to keep even screen-junkie kids interested.  It’s a shame this book isn’t more popular than it is.

Oscar’s life philosophy is pretty much perfect: “It’s like this, you see.  Sometimes I want to work and then I want to work very hard, but sometimes I don’t want to work at all.  People seem to think you have to work all the time, and that I can’t get into my poor head.”

This book was also published under the title Rasmus and the Tramp.

Lotta on Troublemaker Street

Astrid_LOTSLotta on Troublemaker Street was published in Swedish in 1962 under the title Lotta pa Brakmakargatan.   The translation was done by Gerry Bothmer with pictures by Julie Brinckloe.

This Lotta book is in that funny area between a picture book and a novel; it has chapters, but they are short and feature lots of quirky illustrations.  It would be a perfect book for those learning to read chapter books.

In this installment of the Lotta books, Lotta has a bad dream that she confuses with reality.  Angry at everyone, she moves out.  Living in Mrs. Berg’s shed is fun for awhile until it is dark and she makes peace with her family.  It’s funny to watch her family’s reaction to her moving out: they react perfectly, bringing a housewarming gift, talking about the delicious supper they’re about to have, and later playing in their yard where Lotta can see them out the window.

I’m such a huge fan of Bamsie Bear, so of course I enjoyed this description of him: Lotta’s Bamsie was a fat little pig that Mother had made of pink cloth and given to Lotta on her third birthday.  Bamsie had been clean and pink then, but now he was dirty and looked like a real little pig.  Even so, Lotta was convinced that Bamsie was really a bear and insisted on calling him Bamsie Bear.

“Ha, ha, it isn’t a bear, it’s a pig,” Jonas kept on saying.

“You’re just silly,” said Lotta.  [. . .] “He’s a piggly bear.”

Pippi Goes on Board

Astrid_PGOBPippi Goes on Board (Pippi Lanstrump gar ombord, 1946) takes us deeper into the adventures of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking.

Pippi passes her time by doing incredible things like buying seventy-two pounds of candy and distributing it to the children of town, writing herself a letter, crashing the school picnic, causing all kinds of trouble at the fair, and meeting up with her long-lost father who is now a cannibal king.  But my favorite story is when Pippi arranges for Tommy and Annika to get shipwrecked with her after they jealously heard about her experiences being shipwrecked.  The shipwrecked chapter may just be my favorite Pippi story of all so far.  Who wouldn’t want to be shipwrecked Pippi-style?  The description of Annika falling asleep with her mouth full of chocolate, Tommy almost caring that they didn’t brush their teeth, sums it all up.

Throughout the book, Pippi expresses her love through food – the tree that grows soda (and chocolate on Thursdays), keeping Tommy and Annika well-fed while shipwrecked, the feast before she goes on board . . . She loves Tommy, Annika, and Villa Villekulla very much.  And she has been the excitement they have needed for so long.  When faced with the possibility of losing their friend forever, Tommy and Annika’s world is turned upside down. Lindgren perfectly captures the feelings that they are going through: happiness that Pippi is about to become a princess and be reunited with her father, but utter devastation to their summer plans and future happiness.

My favorite scene takes place when Pippi is watching a play at the fair starring Countess Aurora: “Is there anyone as unhappy as I?  My children taken away from me, my husband disappeared, and I myself surrounded by villains and bandits who want to kill me.”
“Oh how terrible it is to hear this,” said Pippi, whose eyes were getting red.
“I wish I were dead already,” said the Countess Aurora.
Pippi burst out crying.  “Please don’t talk like that!” she sniffed.  “Things will be brighter for you.  The children will find their way home, and you can always get another husband.  There are so many me-e-en,” she gasped between her sobs.

The Children on Troublemaker Street

Astrid_COTSThe Children on Troublemaker Street is where I first met Lotta.  Although this story does not focus on Lotta, I will count it as a Lotta book.  This is the story of Lotta, Jonas, and Maria (the narrator).

The version I read was translated by Gerry Bothmer with pictures by Ilon Wikland, who I’m coming to regard as the illustrator who best captures the characters that Lindgren creates.  Its Swedish title is Barnen pa Brakmakargatan.

The story follows the family throughout a full year of adventures and mischief.  None of the adventures are terribly exciting, but when seen through children’s eyes, they are.

One consistent theme that I find in Lindgren’s works is sibling cooperation and love.  In every book I’ve read so far, if there are siblings, they love each other and play together with few to no problems.  This trio is another example of that flawless camaraderie.

Books like these capture childhood as it once was – a time when children were not attached to screens.  Jonas does not have a Nintendo; Maria does not have an iPod.  It’s good for our culture to have books like this so we can remember what life was like, back when people actually lived.

Favorite scene:
“So you’ve been to Mrs. Berg’s?” Mother said.  “Was she glad to see you?”
“Oh, yes, answered Jonas.  “She was glad twice – first when we came and then when we left.”