Earlier in the summer I went to France for a week and whilst I was there, I picked up two Enid Blyton books that had been translated into French. I had previously discovered that my A-level French was sufficient to be able to read children’s literature – despite not really practising the language much in everyday life! – so I decided to give them a go
The first one was Le Club de Cinq aux sports d’hiver and the second one was La Famille Tant-Mieux en Croisière. I shall do a short review of each in turn, to avoid things becoming confusing!
Le Club de Cinq aux sports d’hiver (literally The Famous Five (do) winter sports) has been – as far as I can tell – directly translated from the English version, known as Five Get Into a Fix, which was first published in 1958. This translation was first published in 1964, so any French fans of Blyton had to wait quite a while for it! I’m not quite sure why the title is focused on the winter sports aspect of the story, rather than the adventure-y bit, but anyway. I don’t think I had actually read this particular Famous Five book in English before, so the story was entirely new to me.
The basic plot of the story is as follows: the Five are ill for most of the holidays with flu, so for the last week of the holidays, as they’re slowly recovering, Julian’s mother (who’s looking after them all) sends them off to stay on a farm in the Welsh mountains, on the advice of the local doctor. Once there, they become embroiled in the mystery of the big house whose elderly and eccentric owner has not been seen for some time and the mysterious lights and noises that seem to come from underneath the mountain on which they are staying. Thrilling stuff!
For anyone who has not encountered the French translations before, I should point out that the names of the Five have all been changed to sound more, well, French.
Julian – Francois
Dick – Mick (short for Michel)
Anne – Annie
George – Claude (Claudine)
Timmy – Dagobert
The names of other characters in the stories are also changed – in this book, for example, Mrs Jones, who owns the farm where the Five stay, becomes Madame Joncs, which essentially sounds like a Frenchified version of Jones. But I am somewhat baffled as to why they changed Julian’s name, because I always thought Julian was a French name anyway – or at least Julien is!
I had never heard of the name “Dagobert” before (it gets shortened to “Dago” several times in the story when the Five are talking to or about him) so I googled it and apparently it means something like “bright day” and is Germanic in origin. I couldn’t quite work out why such an unusual name would have been chosen for Timmy, but apparently it was also the name of a long-ago king of Austria, who features in a French nursery rhyme called Le bon roi Dagobert, so I guess that’s how French children would be familiar with it.
In Five Get Into A Fix, the Five are sent to the Welsh mountains, but in Le Club de Cinq aux sports d’hiver they go to the mountains of either France or Switzerland – unfortunately I can’t remember which and I don’t have the book to hand, sorry! So obviously the translator(s) decided that Le Club de Cinq live in France, which I guess makes sense, but it’s a good job they have mountains in or near France, or the first part of the story would have to have been changed a bit!
The Five make friends with a strange, half-wild, young girl called Miette (Aily in the original version) who has a pet dog and a pet goat and lives right up in the mountains with her parents. She helps them solve the mystery of the uncanny lights and weird noises, as well as unravelling the enigma of the eccentric owner of the big house. I won’t say too much more about the story, just in case there are some people who haven’t read it yet!
The second book I read, La Famille Tant-Mieux En Croisière, is a translation of The Pole Star Family. I had never heard of the English title before, so it took me a while to work out what the original version was called, because the French version of this series gives the family the surname Tant-Mieux and this then features in all the titles of that series e.g. La Famille Tant-Mieux en péniche. However, the original, English, series re-names the family in each book, based on what adventure they’re having e.g. The Pole Star Family because Pole Star is the name of their cruise ship or The Caravan Family because they end up living in two caravans. Again, the characters’ names have been changed, although apart from that, I would imagine that it is pretty much a direct translation. I think (although I’m not certain!) that Tant-Mieux means something like even better, or much better, reflecting the family’s eternal optimism in the face of whatever difficulties they might encounter – these, it has to be said, are very few in any case!
The name changes are as follows:
Mike – Nicholas
Belinda – Elisabeth
Ann – Marijo
By complete coincidence, both this book and Le Club de Cinq aux sports d’hiver start with the family having been very ill with flu and thus missing out on most of their school holidays! Once again, a trip away is recommended to help the children re-build their strength, so their grandma decides to take all of them with her on a cruise! The story follows their journey from France to Portugal, Spain, Madeira, the Canaries and Morocco. They visit a local market, see flying fish and experience a storm at sea and of course enjoy every single minute of their adventures. I liked the fact that their grandma is involved in the story, albeit in a very minor role – it’s nice to see an older relative featuring in a children’s story – and Blyton’s descriptions are vivid and colourful – my favourite bit was probably when they see the flying fish – having seen some myself, I know how spectacular they are and I can just imagine the children being absolutely entranced by them.
I found out after reading the book that Blyton herself had done exactly the same cruise on a ship called Stella Polaris, so that would explain how she was able to describe the scenes in the book so clearly. Both books were fun stories to read, although the “mystery” in the Famous Five one did seem somewhat far-fetched, even for a Famous Five story! It was also nice to be reading about people going on holiday trips, because I was on holiday myself – although thankfully I hadn’t suffered from a severe attack of flu beforehand! Added to this the fact that I was reading them in another language and it felt like it was practically educational!