Andersen & translation

— feeling confused
The Complete Fairy Tales - Hans Christian Andersen, Hans Richter, Lily Owens, Arthur Rackham

I’ve been reading Hans Christian Andersen in preparation for the class I’m taking with FutureLearn and I’m experiencing a strange dichotomy. Last time I read his tales was when I was reading them to my young children. Before that – when I was a young girl myself. Both occasions happened in Russia, and I read the tales in Russian translation.

At the time, before perestroika, religion wasn’t encouraged in the USSR. No god or angels were mentioned in any Andersen’s tales in Russian. Now I’m reading an English translation, and the tales are saturated with religious connotations, even The Little Mermaid. According to Andersen, the poor girl doesn’t have a soul because she is not human. To get a soul, she must go through all the rigmarole of losing her fish tail, getting a human man to love her, blah, blah. Without a soul, she can’t ascend to heavens. When she dies, she will turn into sea foam.

What a beautiful image. I wouldn’t mind turning into sea foam myself instead of becoming worm food when I die. But then, I’m not religious. Maybe because of that, The Red Shoes made me want to puke from its religious fervor and the level of pious cruelty.

I rather like the Russian translators’ old approach to the tales. By removing religion from the equation, they made the tales more magical and simultaneously more humane. On the other hand, they made them less Andersen. Talk about ‘lost in translation.’