Scottish Children’s Literature in Russian Translations

In this blog post, Ekaterina Shatalova, Erasmus Mundus Scholar 2020/2022 researching children’s literature at the University of Glasgow, highlights the significance of BOSLIT’s database for Scottish and Russophone users. Pointing out a few gaps in BOSLIT, especially regarding twenty-first century children’s literature, Shatalova hints at ways to complement the bibliography’s Russian corpus.

Scotland and Russia have a long and fascinating history of cultural exchange with literature playing a crucial role. The poems of Robert Burns alone have sold millions of copies back in the USSR, making him second only to Pushkin. Thanks to Marshak’s brilliant translations, Burns’s poetic heritage has become so deeply integrated in the Russian literary system that it was not uncommon to come across comments from some surprised readers, who did not realise that all this time they were reading and quoting the Scottish poet in translation.

As a rule, most memorable literary encounters tend to happen in childhood. Ivanhoe, Peter Pan, Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows – these books are familiar to Russian children of both the Soviet era and the present day as they read them for both pleasure and school. If we look at the BOSLIT, a hugely valuable database of Scottish literature in translation, we will see that Scottish stories for children translated in Russian contain 126 entries ranging from early translations of Peter Pan to the lesser-known translations of Andrew Lang and George Macdonald. The most translated title is, of course, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, however, there is no information about the first two Russian translations published in 1886 and 1904 correspondingly which somewhat limits the representation of the corpus.

Russian translation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904).

The BOSLIT database is easy to navigate, and one can narrow down their search to one specific title or to all the titles translated by a particular translator to then track the picks and drops of (re)translations and reeditions, which opens up a path of inquiry in the issues of translation demand and readership trends, apart from the mere bibliographic statistics. It is worth mentioning that the database records not only separate stand-alone editions, but also collections of stories, which offers potential insight into the translated author habitus and the rationale behind the transmission of classics and canonisation process in the targeted culture – an important area of children’s literature studies.

It would have been beneficial to researchers if the BOSLIT database also featured the covers of translated editions or at least mentioned the names of illustrators (if any) as this would provide a research avenue for considering image-text relations in translations. There is also no indication of the number of copies printed.

As we know, Scottish children’s literature is not represented solely by JM Barrie and Stevenson. We can remember wonderful works by Therese Breslin or Debi Gliori, to name but a few, who are translated into Russian and very much enjoyed by Russian readers, but sadly this is not reflected in the database yet. Breslin’s adaptations of traditional folk and fairy tales from all over Scotland (translated in 2013) is an excellent opportunity for Russian readers to learn more about Scottish folklore as it has so much to offer apart from the elusive Loch Ness Monster. As children’s literature owes much of its imaginative power to legends and folklore (Fimi, 2017) and since a mythologised past is essential in the construction of national identity (Sundmark, 2014), it is of crucial importance to track down the promotion and translation of Scotland’s folklore heritage in the receiving culture.

Russian translation of Debi Gliori, No Matter What (1999)

As for Debi Gliori, her works were first introduced to the Russian market in 2004 (Pure Dead Wicked). However, it is Gliori’s powerful and heart-warming picturebooks that gained her immediate popularity in Russia. Having sold over 150,000 copies, No Matter What (1999) has never been out of print and received over 160 reviews on the main Russian online bookstore Labirint.ru. Surprisingly enough, some readers even suggested their own versions of translations! These are just two examples indicating a whole new period in the history of the development of Scottish children’s literature in Russia.

According to the French comparatist Paul Hazard, each translated children’s book is ‘a messenger that goes beyond mountains and rivers, beyond the seas, to the very ends of the world in search of new friendships’ (1944, 146). Despite some limitations, the BOSLIT is aimed at helping all the interested parties, be it researchers, librarians, translators, or the curious public, to navigate through these sometimes-complicated friendships.

Ekaterina Shatalova

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