Keeping “the Spirit of the Text”: A Publishing and Translation History Case Study of Nils-Olof Franzén’s Detective Series Agaton Sax

Charlotte Berry


This article reconstructs a publishing history of 20th century Nordic-British translated children’s literature, that of the Agaton Sax detective series published by André Deutsch, London, 1965–1978. The methodology of Gideon Toury’s Descriptive Translation Studies forms the theoretical framework in order to identify preliminary translation norms. Bibliographical data, editorial files and personal contact with the editor and illustrator provide the prerequisite material needed for revealing how a British publisher found and translated the series. This article demonstrates how an innovative (and expensive) publishing model created the most successful Nordic detective series for children in British English. Factors found to be crucial to the success of this series in the United Kingdom are the “series factor” and its good fit with Deutsch’s existing children’s list as well as the adopted translation strategy of balancing the “spirit of the text” with the needs of a British readership. Key preliminary norms identified include self-translation by the author of most of the series and the unusual supplementary role of editor Pamela Royds as a second translator. Equally significant is the extensive self-adaptation and writing in English of the eighth and ninth titles of the series respectively by the author. Bibliographical research has not revealed any other instances of self-translation, self-adaptation, new writing and use of second translators within this corpus and it is likely that this publishing model is rare if not unique within modern translated children’s literature in the UK.


publishing history; book editors; children’s literature; translation history; descriptive translation studies; preliminary norms; self-translation; Nils-Olof Franzén; Agaton Sax; detective fiction

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Barnboken – Journal of Children's Literature Research eISSN 2000-4389
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