Literary translation facts you probably didn’t know, from Harry Potter to the Little Prince

When Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, he could never have predicted its success. First published on 26th November 1865, the whimsical adventure has become one of the most iconic examples of children’s literature. 150 years on, Carroll’s legacy lives on with a big screen Disney adaptation of the Wonderland sequel Through the Looking Glass in post-production.

Alice in Wonderland is one of the most widely translated books with 174 different language adaptations. While words easily translate, imagination does not. Interpreting the enchanted land of curious creatures and oddities into hundreds of different tongues created some interesting variations. In a Provençal dialect, the phrase for “he’s crazy” literally means “he broke the marble” and so the Mad Hatter became the Marble Mason. In the Japanese edition, Alice doesn’t argue with the Mad Hatter because it is frowned upon to disrespect one’s elders.

Other famous literary works have faced similar translation problems:

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