Alice in a World of Wonderlands — Part II: The Books

As I was saying in my previous post, Alice in a World of Wonderlands is quite the heavy thing. At first, its general editor, Jon Lindseth, aimed at roughly 1,000 pages. As it turns out, the three volumes represent a grand total of 2,656 pages of essays on the various translations, back-translations, checklists and many other things, such as a list of the translations that Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell) possessed, general essays, analyses, etc. It is a work of epic dimensions.

It apparently all started in 1964 when mathematician Warren Weaver (1894-1978) published Alice in Many Tongues (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press) in which he analysed fourteen back-translations to English of a passage of “The Mad Tea-Party” from Chinese, Danish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Pidgin, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swahili and Swedish. The passage read as this:

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Weaver proposed to analyse five parameters in those back-translations: the verses, the puns, the use of specially manufacture words or nonsense, the jokes involving logic, and the twists of meaning with underlying humour. He then evaluated their success with regards to the original and concluded:

Examining these fourteen instances of translation of a typical passage from Alice makes one (at least it makes me!) very curious indeed about the degree of success of other languages. What success do Arabic and Welsh and Thai and Turkish and Hindi have? I can only hope that someone will be inspired to find out. (Weaver 1964/2006: 108)

Alice in a World of Wonderlands provides us with a literal answer to Weaver’s last paragraph. Of course, Arabic, Welsh, Thai and Turkish are among the languages dealt with in the book, but they are just a drop in the ocean compared to the 207 back-translations of 174 editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland across the globe.

With its 251 contributors and 8,484 editions listed in the various checklists, Alice in a World of Wonderlands surely was, at the time it was printed, the most up-to-date work on the translations of Alice. Alas, if just one more edition is published anywhere in the world, it will be out of date. Nonetheless, it gives us a wonderful state of affairs in the translations of Alice business in 2015, and will, without any doubt, be the reference for the years to come to anyone wishing to know more about the excruciating process of translating the beautiful children’s classic.

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