When a book is written in English by someone who doesn’t use U.S. English, they are nearly always “translated” for the U.S. audience. Most of the time, this is innocuous (changing neighbour to neighbor, for example). Occasionally, it’s off-putting (changing a UK idiom to a US one, especially when it’s dialogue) or aggravating, and once, just once, it made me see white hot shards of anger. I won’t go into that particular example right now. Instead, I want to talk about the first Molly Moon book.
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism was recommended to me by a friend, so I did a little research and found out it’s the first of a five-book series written by Georgia Byng. Ms Byng grew up in southern England, so I guessed there might have been some small modifications to make it easier for kids in the US to read.
I downloaded a sample to my nook, and pulled up the page from Amazon’s UK site for the book. Using the “look inside” feature, I was able to compare the two fairly easily. The first couple of edits seemed fine: “bath water” in the UK version was replaced with “bathwater” in the US, likewise “colour” with “color”. But then the phrase “at the fluorescent strip light above her” was removed from the US version. What? OK, “fly-filled” was changed to “fly-specked”; seems fine. Also, the first mention of Hardwick House was changed to “Hardwick House Orphanage.” The UK version doesn’t note that Molly is an orphan this early, so it’s killing a bit of the tension that builds up later. But never mind.
Next, we find out that the US editor doesn’t like starting paragraphs with “She”, so it becomes “Molly”. After a “grey” to “gray” and a “packet of sweets” to a “packet of candy” (wait, really? not “bag of candy”?) we start getting lost. There’s a “pavement” that goes untranslated, and a “tap”, and “no one ever mended anything here” instead of repaired.
Next, one of my pet peeves when “translating” works: changing the idioms. Miss Adderstone says ‘Molly Moon, will you open this door at once!’ in the UK version. In the US, we don’t get the words “will you”.
Another pet peeve: wanting to edit the book differently to the way it was edited in the UK.
UK English Sentence
US English Sentence
|She jumped up, pulling the plug out as she did so, and reached for her towel.||She pulled the plug out and wrapped herself in her towel.|
|Miss Adderstone was in and darting like an adder to the bathtub, her scaly nose wrinkling as she discovered the deep, draining water.||Miss Adderstone was in and darting to the bathtub, her scaly nose wrinkling as she discovered the deep, draining water.|
In the first sentence, I see absolutely no reason for it to be changed at all. In fact, it makes it seem like she’s still almost completely submerged when she wraps her towel around herself. In the second, someone doesn’t understand the imagery Byng is using here: clearly she’s making Miss Adderstone out to be reptilian, but in the US version she’s not allowed to dart as snakes dart. She can only dart as humans dart?
Going further, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lots more sentences are butchered, or even eliminated because, well, because I guess “Molly loved adverts. They showed how comfortable life could be, lifting her out of her world into theirs. A lot of the ads were silly, but Molly had her favourites, which weren’t.” is too confusing for US kids, and must be edited down to “Molly loved ads. They showed how comfortable and happy life could be”.
I reckon I’ll be buying the UK versions then.