Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in several Danish Translations:


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A paper written when I attended the course Children's Literature and Translation in 2004 at Copenhagen University with Professor Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen. The paper investigates several different translations of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, it subjects the different versions to a small comparison with regard towards different translation methods. How many of the books are missing plot elements, and how significant is that to the overall story?

Daniel Defoe wrote the book about Robinson Crusoe after seeing how popular the true story of Alexander Selkirk became. That story was written down by Commander Woodes Rogers, it is named Voyage round the world. Defoe pretended that his "Crusoe" was a true story and it outsold the Selkirk story.

Before this course I had read the Danish version of Robinson a few times and I found it to be an interesting and action filled book. Once quite a few years ago I tried the original, but I felt slowed down as if everything in the book was written in slow motion, I never really finished it then!

For this class I decided to begin with rereading a Danish version in order to be able to pinpoint the specific places where I suspected "creative" translation, creative as in judgmental or selective translation. When I finally turned to the original I was deeply surprised. Many unexplained incidences in the Danish version suddenly had a reasonable explanation. I kept being surprised all the way to the end!

The biggest surprise was that no Danish version of Robinson I ever read told the story of how Robinson and Friday acted when they travelled up through Europe on their return trip to England, they met wolves and all. I never knew Friday killed a bear with a bow and arrow.

The Second surprise was, that it is never mentioned that Crusoe sells the boy Xury to the captain of the ship that saves him from Turkish waters. Danes don't like to admit that Denmark earned big money in the slave trades. They don't like slavery and they would rather ignore it, than write it in a book for children. Though the Lademann version has mentioned in the prelude something about "the somewhat archaic master, servant relationship between blacks and whites in the book".

In Samlerens version Robinson sells a lion pelt he had in his boat when he escapes from the Turks, and I thought, how did the pelt get there? In the original Robinson stops briefly at the shores of the African continent.

I felt cheated and began wondering how much the translator had cheated me off?

After I had read both the Danish translation and the original I made a raid at the public library in Copenhagen carrying any book away that answered to the name. Those books I "normal page counted" in order to approximate how much of the original was included in each version. In order to normal page count a book you count how many characters are on a page and divide the number with 1600 if the result is approximately 1 you have a page. If you count a paper written by a student you have to divide with the number 2000. (That is Danish university bureaucracy at its best).

The versions I found were:

Samlerens from 1983.

Gyldendals Udødelige from 1987.

Lademann from 1974 possibly a relay translation from France.

Gyldendal from 1991 a relay translation from Germany.

Sesams klassikere from 1980.

Forlaget Flachs from 1999.

Previous translations might be found in the library but I haven't checked it.

Normal pages = ns, counted with 1600 characters on a page. (Even the original).

418 ns. Penguin Original (if the book is used at an exam it counts as 836 ns since it was written so long ago).
This edition had 55 characters 42 lines and 290 pages.
No pictures, but layout emphasises the important plot element of the "good and bad" list.

218,9 ns. Samlerens Perlebøger
This edition had 57 characters 37 lines and 166 pages (169 pg. in all).
No pictures, no layout emphasis.

169,1 ns. Gyldendals Udødelige
This edition had 56 characters 32 lines and 151 pages (175 pg. in all).
Pencil drawings, no colour, but layout emphasises the "good and bad" list.

141,75 ns. Lademann
This edition had 70 characters 36 lines and 90 pages (150 pg. in all).
Pencil drawings, some coloured, layout emphasises the "good and bad" list.

105 ns. Gyldendal
This edition had 50 characters 42 lines and approximately 80 columns.
Colour drawings, lifelike, few explanatory drawings, no "good and bad" list.

91,9 ns. Sesams klassikere
This edition had 51 characters 28 lines and 103 pages (107 pg. in all).
No pictures, different layout emphasises the important "good and bad" list.

49 ns. Text Forlaget Flachs
14,7 ns. E.
This edition had 49 ns Text and 14,75 ns of Explanatory boxes including background.
Text had 68 characters 36 lines and 32 pages (approximately).
Explanatory boxes had 29 characters 9 lines and 90 fact boxes.
Colour drawings, lifelike, many explanatory drawings, photographs, paintings and cinema posters, picture of "good and bad" list.

In conclusion some of the children's translations mentioned above have been translated with more respect towards the original than others, the most heavily edited of the mentioned books is also the one I am most impressed with, the Danish edition from Flachs translated directly form the English version of Robinson Crusoe published by Dorling Kindersley.

After the original books' popularity became apparent a load of robinsonades saw the light of day, notably Johann Wyss': "The Swiss Family Robinson" and Jules Verne's: "Two years holiday" both really good stories, worth reading, enjoy them.

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