Saturday, May 17, 2008

Same Story, Three Versions

I'm doing a complete read-through of our J 398.2 section, which includes our fairy tale/folktale section. I had a delightful time reading Verna Aardema's African folktales; if you're looking for some fun and unusual folktales, take a look at her folktales.

The next major author/folklorist after Aardema is Andersen. As in, Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen is a fascinating and tragic man; a very different man from Danny Kaye's portrayal (in a lovely movie, but not a biographical one). The storylines of his writings-The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Little Mermaid (whose ending will surprise those only familiar with the Disney movie, which boasts one of my favorite Disney soundtracks), etc-are so familiar to us that we forget that, as an English reading and speaking audience, we are reading his tales through a translator.

It is fascinating to read different translations of Andersen's tales in one sitting. That's exactly what I did with three different translations of The Emperor's New Clothes.

If you're looking for a read aloud version of The Emperor's New Clothes for young children (preschoolers), I recommend Nadine Bernard Westcott's The Emperor's New Clothes. The Emperor's New Clothes is one of the few, in my opinion, Andersen tales that are suitable for very young children; the others are a bit too long (The Ugly Duckling) or nearly overwhelmingly morose (The Little Match Girl). While the underlying theme of the story will probably be lost on them, they'll appreciate the wacky behavior of the emperor and his people.

Riki Levinson's translation is a great read aloud, but slightly older children will appreciate it more than their younger brothers and sisters. Robert Byrd chose to use animals when illustrating the book. The vivid illustrations and comic expressions on the animals' faces will definitely attract everyone's attention.

Although those two translations are fine and worthy editions, Naomi Lewis's translation and Angela Barrett's illustrations take their version to a completely different level. Lewis's poetic translation undoubtedly captures the beauty and elegance for which Andersen is known, making it a treat for patient and sophisticated listeners.

Angela Barrett's illustrations are incredible and ingenious. Barrett chose to illustrate in the style of the early 20th century (a bit later than Andersen's time period). The clothes, the transportation, and the court are very reminiscent of early 20th century European city life and court life prior to World War I. With the underlying political viewpoint of the story, this decision makes a delightful and intriguing enhancement to the tale. Andersen read his tales to European courts; did he read this particular tale to a reigning monarch?

If you're in the mood for a lengthy but engrossing biography of the storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller is a must read. And for more insight into his stories, check out The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen.

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