Friday, January 18, 2013

Von Otfried Preussler's THE LITTLE WITCH

Fellow blogger Monica Edinger pointed to a story in The Guardian about changes made to Von Otfried Preussler's The Little Witch. Though I'm not certain, I think the English language version was published in 1961. It was first published in 1957 in Germany.

From what I've been able to piece together, its a story about a good witch who goes to a gathering of witches. She's told she can't be there until she becomes a 'good' witch, with 'good' meaning one who does bad deeds, not good ones.

The Little Witch is in the news because in its newest version, some words have been replaced, including "neger" which translates to "negro" in the English versions. Here's an excerpt from the article:
The word "Neger", seen as politically incorrect in Germany today, is used during a section of the story when the witch and her raven Abraxas see a group of children in fancy dress for a carnival. "The two little Negro boys didn't come from the circus," writes the award-winning translator Anthea Bell in an English edition. "No more did the Turks and Indians. The Chinese women, the cannibal, the Eskimo girl, the desert sheikh and the Hottentot chief were not part of the show either. No – it was carnival time in the village. The children had a half-holiday from school because of the carnival, and they were romping about the village square in fancy dress."
The article doesn't say what neger/negro was replaced with. Course, I wondered about the Indians and Eskimo, so did a bit of searching and found this image:


I don't know if that is the page in question. I can't find (on the source pages for that image) what version of the book the image is from (German or English or one of the 47 other languages The Little Witch is available in). If it is the illustration for the page(s) that have been "modernised," I wonder how the text for the page was rewritten, and, if they removed "neger" and the two boys, too.

I wondered, on reading "Indians" and "Eskimo," how they'd be shown. The boy in the headdress above provides a partial answer, and I think the character behind him might be the Eskimo. What do you think? Of course, we're in stereotype-land here. Though the publisher used "politically correct" to describe their changes, they could have used "stereotype" instead and they could have done a bit more revising...