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Fairy Tale Translation Gone Bad
December 15, 2010 - By: - In: Translation - 7 comments

The latest Chinese translation of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales was recalled after outraged parents complained that the X-rated content was not suitable for children.

As reported in China Global Times, in the version published by China Media Time, Snow White crosses the incest line to carry on with her father, also mixing it up with the Seven (Sleepy too?). Following her death from eating the poison apple, a necrophiliac Prince Charming develops a crush on her corpse and keeps her under glass rather than awakening her with a kiss.

Yuck. What a nasty surprise. That could put you off bedtime stories all together.

An executive of China Media Time, identified only as “Mr. Yuan,” blamed the mistake on an inexperienced translator. “We cannot read Japanese, so we cannot make a comparison, but we trusted the translator, who is a postgraduate student,” he told the Zhejiang Morning Express.

The problem apparently started when the publisher ran into problems finding a German version of the fairy tales. “‘We couldn’t find the original German edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so we took Japanese editions as our references and translated those,’ Yuan said.”

Well, those German versions can be hard to find. I just did a Google Book search for Die Brüder Grimm and only came up with 165,000 results.

So if no German was available, then the logical next choice would be for China Media Time to source translation from Japanese porno, right? Perhaps the publishers had read in the Onion last year about Japan’s pledge last year to halt production of weirdo porn that makes people puke.

But it turns out the translator was not quite the bone-head painted in the press. When tasked by the publishers to get to the original, that’s exactly what he did. Nonouwa Osoroshii Grim Douwa, (本当は恐ろしいグリム童話) is author Kiryu Misao’s (桐生操) look at the really horrible versions of the fairy tales that the Grimm brothers heard from peasants when they were collecting their tales. So, in fact, the version that so outraged Chinese parents may be closer to the original than the anodyne version imprinted into our heads by countless replayings of Snow White (which I have personally grown to hate with a passion. Give me Bambi any day).

So the depravity in Kiryu’s book is folk depravity, which makes it much more acceptable, and evidence of serious literary analysis, but definitely not intended for tykes, or at least not since the Disneyfication of our global culture.

The publisher got more than he bargained for when he asked his translator to come up with the original version of Grimm.  Had the publisher not been attempting to pirate the book, they might have given it the correct title, which translates as something like “The Really Horrible Facts: Grimm Fairy Tales,” and credited the correct author, so that parents and book clerks might have had some idea of what they were getting into. But that might have involved royalties, which is the kind of happy ending avoided by many Chinese publishers.

And for you prurient types interested in authenticity, here’s a version that I suspect Kiryu was drawing on in his research: “Sun, Moon and Talia,” an earlier version of a tale first adapted by the Grimm Brothers to sell books to 19th century German hausfraus (they didn’t approve of incest either) and then further repurposed in the 20th century by Disney to move movie tickets.

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