Old English Classics in Slovenian Translation

by | Nov 23, 2018 | IBBYLink Autumn 2018

Darja Mazi–Leskovar

Slovenian literature has been traditionally open to translation, and generations of Slovenian children and young readers have been offered books from various cultures and traditions. These are even more numerous than the books written by Slovenian authors (as evident from the annual reports of the Central Institute for the Research of Slovenian Children’s Literature). 

Nowadays, among the foreign books those with English as the source language are the most numerous – all in line with the position of English in the world system of languages and its impact on global translation trends. However, the tradition of translation of English books started long ago before English became world language number one. My research evidence shows that, for example, the international blockbuster Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) was first translated in 1907, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) in 1920 and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) in 1924.

In this article, I intend to illustrate how selected books, written in English and ranked as older classics of English children’s literature, made their way into the realm of Slovenian children’s literature and, later, through retranslations, conquered generations of target readers. Among the most popular retranslated texts that can still be borrowed in libraries or bought in bookstores, rank Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883), Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (James Matthew Barrie, 1906) and The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911). My goal is to reveal the outlines of the Slovenian publication history of the translations of these, now generally acclaimed as international classics, all of which are highlighted in chronological overviews in histories of children’s literature, such as Peter Hunt’s (ed) Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History (1995, pp.352–358) and were also included last year in the 100 Best Children’s Books of All Times https://www.bing.com/search?q=most+popular+children%27s+books+2018. Additionally, I will focus on the basic paratextual features: checking if the author’s name is printed on the front page and if the colophon contains all the standard information, such as the original title in English and the translator’s name.

Translations of Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson) have been present in the Slovenian book market since 1920. The book, translated as Otok zakladov, has retained this title, which is a transposition of the original title, in all 15 editions even though these have been the work of various translators, all but the first being named on the front cover. The second translation was published in 1950, thus 30 years after the first, and subsequently Otok zakladov became one of the classics for Slovenian children as the recommendation in school reading lists led to many following editions. All these books are illustrated and only four are adaptations. The adapted texts, targeting the audience that consists of younger readers, who prefer shorter texts, were translated from Italian, French and English. The most recent translations are the one published in 1997 and the Braille transcription published in 2017.

The famous children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated 15 times into Slovenian, even though the first translation was published as late as 1969. It was entitled Alica v čudežni deželi (1969), and most translations have retained this title which, translated into English, would read ‘Alice in Wonderland’. However, the editions which also include the text of Through the Looking–Glass (1872) indicate this in their titles. Thus the 1990 edition, is entitled Aličine dogodivščine v čudežni deželi in v ogledalu, which would read in English as ‘Alice in Wonderland and in Looking–Glass’. By now, the text has been translated into Slovenian by eight translators, all acknowledged on the front covers. All editions are illustrated but target different age groups.

In 1986 the story was adapted for the theatre as well as for the puppet stage so that the content thus addressed the youngest segment of the public as well as theatre goers. It is likely that these performances also contributed to the increasing popularity of the book: nine editions have been published since 2000.

In contrast, Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter Pan and Wendy has been translated only three times in the present century – but altogether eleven times. All translations are entitled Peter Pan and they are all illustrated. The first translation was published in 1960. Its translator also adapted it for the stage but it was 40 years before it became part of the repertoire of the national theatre. Not surprisingly, the play has enjoyed a huge success. Several translations of this story are translations of adaptations of the source text. As a rule, these translations address younger children. The translation of the full text is worth special attention due to its translation and illustration. It has been translated and retranslated by one of the best Slovenian translators of all times, Janko Moder, the recipient of most prestigious national and international awards for translation, and illustrated by Marlenka Stupica, a distinguished and price–winning artist of painting and illustration.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is one of those English classics which, despite the popularity of the eponymous film which attracted a wide audience also among Slovenians, has not been translated many times. In fact, it was as late as 1994 that two translations were published – by two different publishers and two translators. They are also different in length and in paratextual material. The title of the novel, Skrivnostni vrt, a version of the title Secret Garden, stresses the aspect of mystery of the English term ‘secret’; it is a translation of the English adaptation made by Arnold Keats and is illustrated. It is presumably addressing younger children in particular. The other translation, entitled Skrivni vrt, another version of the original title, highlights the idea of ‘hiddenness’ of the garden. It contains the full text and is not illustrated. It seems to be aiming at older children, teenagers and adults and it is the only Frances Hodgson Burnett book to be included on the school reading list 


This outline of the Slovenian publication history of the translations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and The Secret Garden reveals how these children’s classics have maintained their status within Slovenian children’s literature as they have in its English counterpart. With the exception of The Secret Garden, which was translated twice in 1994 and not again subsequently, they have been retranslated several times, to target specific age–groups or new generations of readers. Treasure Island, for example, has been present among Slovenian readers for almost 100 years in which period it was published 15 times.

The study also reveals that all the translations are presented in accordance with present–day bibliographic standards. The colophon includes the author’s name and surname, with the original title in English; in the case of illustrations there is also the name of the artist and when the text is an adaptation, there is also the title of the adaptation the Slovenian edition is based on. The translator’s name is omitted only in the first translation of Treasure Island, published in 1920. This is not a surprise since at that time translators were ‘invisible storytellers’ as Gillian Lathey claims in her book The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers (2010).

It is also worth highlighting the presence of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan in the theatre. This phenomenon of adaptation for the stage contributes considerably to the integration of these English classics within the larger Slovenian cultural context.

Works cited

Barrie, James Matthew (illus. Marlenka Stupica; trans. Janko Moder) (1960) Peter Pan [A translation of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens]. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga.

Burnett, Frances Hodgson (illus. Jevrem Milanovič; trans. Lidija Novak) (1994) Skrivnostni vrt [An adaptation by Arnold Keats’ of The Secret Garden]. Ljubljana: Karantanija.

–– (trans. Uroš Kalčič) (1994) Skrivni vrt [A translation of The Secret Garden]. Ljubljana: Karantanija.

Carroll, Lewis (illus. Arthur Rackham; trans. Gitica Jakopin) (1969) Alica v čudežni deželi [A translation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland]. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga.

Stevenson, Robert Louis (1920) Otok zakladov [A translation of Treasure Island]. Celje: Omladina.

–– (1997) Otok zakladov [A translation of Treasure Island]. Ljubljana: Mladinska.

Darja Mazi–Leskovar, PhD, is an associate professor, currently teaching English for Specific Purposes to university students at the MLC College/Management and Law College. Ljubljana, Slovenia. Her main research interests are related to literature, translation and culture; in particular to children’s literature, to literature for dual audience, and to issues connecting culture and literature.