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The Translator’s New Clothes Translating the Dual Audience in Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

  • Jan Van Coillie

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Corps de l’article

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” certainly is one of Andersen’s most popular fairy tales. It is also one of the most universal. The story about an emperor who is unwittingly tricked into parading about in the nude appeals to young and old everywhere in the world. Children, particularly, grasp and enjoy the literal meaning of the story: for them an emperor (an adult authority figure) who walks around stark naked is funny in itself; adults gloat over the figurative dimension: the vanity and the puffed-up authority which are shattered. Although Andersen modelled this famous fairy tale after the 14th century story El libro de los exemplos de conde Lucanor et de Patronio by the Spanish author Juan Manuel, it fit in with his own life and work. In many of his fairy tales authority figures are ridiculed and he makes it clear that only the innocent in heart can reveal the truth. Moreover, Andersen knew the feeling of “public embarrassment” like nobody else ever since he had walked as a child in the church with his squeezing red boots on.

Jan Cech (1987: 22) finds the secret of Andersen’s success in the fact that his fairy tales “deal with secrets that all of us keep in common, but are unable to tell.” Such secrets are shared by children as well as by adults. Although Andersen wrote down his fairy tales for children, he certainly had his adult public in mind. As to this “double audience,” Anette Øster quotes the author himself: “Nu fortaeller jeg af met eget Bryst, griber en Idee for den Aeldre of foraetller saa for de smaa, medens jeg husker paa, at Fader og Moder tidt lytte til, og dem maa men give lidt for Tanken!” (Now I tell stories of my own, I take an idea from adults and use it with little ones, always remembering that mother and father often listen in and you have to give them something to think about) (Øster 2004). In a letter to his American publisher, May Scudder, Andersen writes: “and though I know that my tales are read by young and old, and that the former enjoy what I would call the exterior, the latter the inner part” (Lanes 1989: 43).

Andersen’s fairy tales aim at a double audience in yet another way. Andersen wrote his stories to be read aloud. As such, he takes both the adult reader and the child listener into account. For the first, it is important that the text reads fluently and pleasantly, for the second that he or she can easily follow the storyline, remains captivated, and can empathize. In that way, stories read aloud take aim at a complex reader. As I concentrated on the texts and not on the real readers, I studied the “implied reader,” i.e., the image of the reader as it appears in the text. [1] This complex “implied reader,” which is in fact an “implied double audience,” implies not so much the image of the child as a reader, but of a child as a listener and of the adult both as the silent reader and he/she who reads the story aloud.

The double audience makes Andersen’s fairy tales particularly challenging for translators of children’s literature. [2] For the researcher, it is interesting to study how translators deal with this double audience. Do they stick to it or do they rather adapt the stories to children, guided by their child image? More particularly, I studied the “implied dual audience” in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” on the phonological, lexico-semantic, syntactic and pragmatic levels in source and target texts. [3] To structure the comparative study, I used the five transformations from the classical rhetoric: Adiectio (addition), detractio (omission), transmutatio (rearrangement), immutatio (substitution) and repetitio (repetition, literal translation). For a study of this scope, they offer a more useful tool than the models of, for example, Chesterman or Vinay and Darbelnet.

In all I studied fourteen translations and adaptations of the fairy tale, chosen at random from different languages: six Dutch, two English, two French, two German, one Spanish and one Italian version. I composed a varied selection with versions in volumes and picture books, printed texts and internet versions, versions that keep close to the original and “free” adaptations, ranging from 517 up to 1874 words (the source text counting 1468 words, Tabel 1). [4]

Taking into account the length of the text and the number and kind of omissions and additions, my corpus can be split up into two divisions. In DVE, DVH, DVD, EH, EI, FP, FI and GI, omissions with respect to content turn up in a few paragraphs at the most. Henceforth, I will indicate this group as “translations.” On the other hand, there are but few paragraphs in DVA, DVR, DSM, GR,SP and IT that remain unaltered with regard to content. I will refer to these texts as “adaptations.” Paratextual elements too characterise them as such. DVA, DVR, DSM and GR explicitly aim at reading aloud in the subtitle or blurb, SP is meant for the smallest children (“los más pequeños”), IT contains a “fabulario” with explanations of difficult words.

Model of analysis

For the actual analysis I first split up the source text into meaningful units or constituents and marked words and passages that were relevant to the double audience of the text. As the implied audience concerns the image that I as a researcher deduce from textual data, it is inevitably coloured by my own experience and knowledge. Firstly, I concentrated on passages that could evoke a different effect with adults than with children and secondly on difficult and distant phrasing. In this part of my analysis the source text was at the centre, and I concentrated on substitution and omission. Next, I focussed on the target texts to detect additions. My hypothesis was that especially in these additions, the child image of the translator/adaptator would become obvious. I worked out how these additions influence the functioning of the text.

Survey of strategies determining the implied audience

  • Substitution and omission

    • multiple audience fragments

    • unfamiliar words and phrases

    • formal words and phrases

    • abstract words and phrases

    • complex sentences

    • cohesion (anaphora and connectors)

    • repetition

    • passives, indefinite pronoun ‘one’

    • nominalizations

    • neutral perspective

  • Addition

    • making descriptions more concrete or visual

    • making conduct, feelings, thoughts more explicit

    • making connectors explicit

    • intensifying humour

    • intensifying suspense

    • intensifying fantasy

    • intensifying morals

    • intensifying emotional involvement

  • Rearrangement

    • story and plot

Substitution and omission

Multiple addressed/multilayered fragments

I chose six multilayered fragments. Three deal with the adult living environment, two offer a special form of humour and one refers to a general truth that especially appeals to adults.

  1. He did not trouble himself in the least about his soldiers, nor did he care to go to the theatre …

  2. […] and as one would say of a king “He is in council,” so one could say of him, “The Emperor is in his dressing-room.”

  3. the wonderful quality of being invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or …

  4. Personally he was of opinion that he had nothing to fear, yet he thought it advisable to send somebody else first to see how matters stood.

  5. Never before the emperor’s clothes were more admired.

  6. Listen to the voice of innocence.

The difference between translations and adaptations is remarkable (table 3). Apart from some smaller changes, all the translations translate the fragments literally. The most interesting change affects the fragment “hør den uskuliges Røst” (Listen to the voice of innocence). DVE and DVH use another general truth: “Ach heer, de waarheid hoort men uit de kindermond.” (O Lord, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings comes forth truth) (literal translation: The truth comes from the mouth of children). EH makes the saying less abstract: “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” In three out of the six adaptations, this fragment is omitted. DVR substitutes it for a combination of a concrete warning and a general truth. The father tells his child: “Stil toch” (Be quiet!) after which the mother adds: “Kleine kinderen zeggen de waarheid” (Small children tell the truth).

Telling as to the child image are the changes DSM and GR introduced in the fragment “unfit for his office.” Smulders replaces it with ‘dom’ (stupid) and Rühmann with ‘der nicht fleissig arbeite’ (who does not work diligently), which are much more familiar to children. Jacques Vriens clearly adapts his language to the child reader/listener right from the beginning: “Heel lang geleden leefde er eens een keizer. Eigenlijk moet een keizer op zijn troon zitten en de baas spelen over zijn land. Maar deze keizer zat de hele dag in zijn klerenkast om mooie kleren uit te zoeken.” (A long time ago, there once lived an emperor. In fact, an emperor should sit on his throne and “play the boss” over his country. But this emperor was sitting all day in his wardrobe choosing nice clothes.)

Of the adaptations, DVA is the most “loyal” to the dual audience of the source text. Van Daele is a well-known Flemish writer for children and is known for his multilayered stories. Some changes in his adaptation even seem to be directed to adults in the first place. He adds five idioms, in two of which he plays with words: “Mijn oude en rechtschapen minister is de geknipte man daarvoor.” (My old and honest prime minister is cut out for that.) “Dit is zo licht als spinrag. Je zou zweren dat het niets om het lijf heeft.” (This is as light as a spider web. You would swear there is nothing to it; literal translation: …one might fancy one has nothing at all on!)

Andersen was known to be a very religious man. Many of his fairy tales attest to his faith. In “The New Emperor’s Dress,” religion remains limited to five utterances in which the name of God is mentioned. That this is a delicate matter becomes very clear from my corpus. Only the Dutch translator Van Eeden translated all five literally. Van Hees replaces “Herre Gud” with ‘Lieve hemel’ (good heavens). In other cases the word ‘herre’ (Lord) is replaced, making the religious connotation less obvious: ‘mon dieu’ (FP) and ‘Dios mio’ (SP) (table 4).

Level of difficulty

The translators’ interventions at the level of difficulty reveal their view on what children can handle. On the lexico-semantic level I studied how the translators dealt with some unfamiliar words, some abstract passages and two fragments with formal language, in which the emperor is addressed. Where the adaptations omit most of the unfamiliar words, translations most often choose a literal translation (table 5). However, in the translations too I found changes, especially simpler synonyms. ‘Skare’ (host) becomes ‘groep’ (group), ‘gevolg,’ ‘Gefolge’ (train), or ‘band of chosen men.’ De ‘cavaliers’ (courtiers) are replaced with ‘kamerdienaren’ (valets), ‘noblemen’ or ‘Beambten’ (officers). ‘Stads’ (finery) is changed in ‘mooie kleren’ (beautiful clothes), ‘son costume’ (his costume) or ‘his handsome suit.’ Sometimes, the simpler word betrays a stronger orientation towards the child, for instance when Van Hees replaces ‘geschikte minister’ (decent minister) with ‘brave minister’ (nice or good minister). How often children aren’t told to be nice or to be a good boy or girl.

Abstract words and phrases, too, are generally omitted in the adaptations (table 6). In the translations, they are often simplified. The phrase ‘underlig om hjertet’ (heavy-hearted) is replaced by ‘slightly uncomfortable,’ ‘rather embarrassed’ or ‘très mal à l’aise.’ ‘Det har mit allerhøieste bifald’ is translated literally in EI as ‘it has my complete approbation,’ whereas Van Daele and Rühmann simplify it as ‘De stof bevalt me zeer’ and ‘Er gefällt mir sehr gut.’ (The cloth/It pleases me a lot) The Italian adaptation tackles the difficult and abstract words in a different way. Here a list of difficult words (‘fabulario’) is added with explanations or synonyms for words like ‘abbligliarsi’ (to dress up), ‘impostori’ (impostors) of ‘approvazione’ (approval).

All eight translations stick to the formal register when the emperor is addressed: ‘If your Imperial Majesty will be graciously pleased to take off your clothes?’ (EI). However, smaller omissions or substitutions weaken the degree of formality: ‘Belieben Eure Kaiserliche Majestät Ihre Kleider abzulegen’ (GI) (Is your imperial majesty willing to take off your clothes?) or ‘Zou uwe keizerlijke hoogheid zo goed willen zijn nu uw kleren uit te trekken?’ (DSM) (Would your imperial majesty be so kind as to take off your clothes now?) If some of the adaptations more or less preserve this formal language, this is probably thanks to the formal situation in which both rogues try to flatter and impress the emperor (table 7).

On the syntactic level, Andersen’s text is not so difficult. ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ includes many long sentences (up to 64 words, often using semicolons) but almost all of them consist of coordinate clauses with ‘og’ (and) or ‘men’ (but), which are typical of Andersen’s narrative style. Only five sentences are more complex, containing more than one subordinate clause. Only one of the translators doesn’t change anything in these complex sentences (GI), the others split one or more of them or delete some parts. Els van Delden simplifies all five sentences. In other cases too, she clearly adapts her style to young readers. In the adaptations, none of the complex sentence structures is kept intact (table 8).

Even if Andersen’s long sentences are not difficult to understand, in many cases, the translators split them up in two or more sentences so that they can be read more easily.

As a consequence, the average sentence length is lower in all the studied texts (table 9), except for EI. This text even combines sentences six times, which adds up to the complex character of this translation. Not surprisingly, the lowest average sentence length appears in the adaptations, except for IT (long sentences being quite common in Italian).

Apart from connectors, anaphora too brings cohesion in texts. Andersen does not use them so often, as he seems to prefer repetition. It is notable that some of the translators replace the anaphoric words with their antecedent, making the link explicit for the child reader. DVD does this four times and DVA five times, in the other translations or adaptations, this happens only once or twice.


Passives, the indefinite pronoun ‘man’ (one) and nominalizations may create more distance between text and readers. By replacing them with more personal forms, the translator brings the text closer to the reader. Compare the impersonal phrase ‘as one would say of a king …’ with ‘as you would say of a king …’ In the source text, the indefinite pronoun ‘man’ appears six times. Of the adaptations only GR and SP preserve some of the indefinite pronouns, the others replace or omit them. Three of the translators (EI, FP, GI) keep the same distance as in the source text (sometimes they substitute ‘one’ for a passive). The unfamiliar and formal vocabulary in these texts adds to this distance. The German text even adds two more indefinite pronouns (‘man’). This pronoun is much more frequent in German anyway. On the contrary in the Dutch translations, the impersonal pronoun is more often substituted. DVH radically chooses personal pronouns (table 10).

Even the few passive forms of the source text are sometimes substituted in order to bring the text closer to the readers. Take the following utterance by the emperor: ‘ja dat tøi maa strax vaeves til mig!’ (Indeed, this cloth must be woven for me immediately). Four translators preserve the passive form, FP replaces it with the impersonal form ‘il faut,’ VH, EH and FI choose the personal pronoun ‘I’ (I must get the cloth woven for me). Of the adaptations, DR and SP choose ‘I,’ the others delete the whole passage. DSM is the least consistent version. Sometimes Smulders uses ‘je’ (you) but elsewhere she adds passives.


Additions can vary from a single word to larger passages. However small, they invariably influence the way in which the text functions, i.e., its possible effect. Chesterman rightly situates them amongst the pragmatic changes. Substantial passages are deliberately added by the adaptor, but smaller adaptations often betray the implicit reader (the image the adaptor has of his or her public) in a more interesting way.

First of all, additions change the factual content of the text, they add information. The impact on the original content however can differ a great deal. I discern two kinds of additions. The first ones fill up “gaps,” [5] they make concrete or explicit what is not elaborated in the original text. The second ones add completely new information that was not included in the original plot. The influence of these last additions on the functions of the text is much stronger.

Filling up empty spaces

Empty spaces are often filled up in order to concretise space and the looks of the characters, so that the readers or listeners can visualize them more clearly. Not only do words play a role in this respect, but also illustrations.

As to filling up empty spaces, the distinction between translations and adaptations is truly striking. Such additions do not occur in the translations, apart from one restricted example in DVE. Van Eeden adds ‘in de optocht’ (during the procession) and ‘hoofd’ (head) in the following fragment: “Buiten staan ze met de baldakijn die in de optocht boven uwe majesteits hoofd zal worden gedragen.” (Outside they are standing with the canopy that will be carried above Your Majesty’s head during the procession.)

All the adaptations contain additions, but there are large differences as to number and scope. Henri Van Daele concretises least. Only once does he have the emperor stand ‘stark’ naked in front of the mirror. Jacques Vriens, on the other hand, describes in detail the contents of the imperial wardrobe and lets the weavers, as well as the minister and the general, picture the clothes in detail. The scoundrels don’t just ask for gold, but for three bags of gold.

In DSM the emperor tips a smut from his new clothes, the swindlers take the clothes out of a coffin and the shirt they will sew will have a lace collar and cuffs.

GR concretises the beginning of the story. Rühmann adds details that make it livelier for children: “Es war einmal ein Kaiser, der liebte das Einkaufen und gab sein ganzes Geld für Kleider aus. Von Tanzbällen oder vom Theater hielt er nicht viel, und in seiner Kutsche fuhr er nur, wenn er so seine neuen Kleider vorführen konnte.” (Once there was an emperor, he loved shopping and spent all his money on clothes. He did not really like balls or the theatre and he only rode in his carriage to show off his new clothes.) In the source text, neither the shopping, the balls nor the carriage are mentioned: “For mange aar siden levede en keiser, soms holdt saa uhyre meget af smukke, nye klaeder, at han gav alle sine penge ud for ret at blive pyntet. Han brød sig ikke om sine soldater, brød sig ei om komedie eller om at kjøre i skoven, uden alene for at vise sine nye klaeder.” (Many years ago lived an emperor, who was so exceedingly fond of nice, new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He did not care about his soldiers, nor did he care about the theatre or about a ride in the forest, except to show off his new clothes.)

The most frequent additions in the studied texts make conduct, thoughts or feelings more explicit: “riep de keizer boos” (DVR) (the emperor shouted angrily), “dachte der Kaiser aufgeregt” (GR) (the emperor thought excitedly), “pensó el emperador inquieto” (SP) (the emperor thought anxiously). Lea Smulders adds no more than 13 adjectives of this kind.

These additions of feelings and conduct in particular betray the child image of the translators and adaptors. In this manner Vriens, as well as Smulders and Rühmann, makes the emperor and other adults behave like children. Vriens characterises the emperor as ‘nieuwsgierig’ (curious). During the procession he becomes happier and happier, but once the naked truth has been revealed, he hides himself in his wardrobe and starts to weep softly. The ministers are depicted as bores, one of the scoundrels dances round the emperor and the crowd shouts and cheers as a band of excited children. Lea Smulders calls the emperor ‘totally excited’ when he thinks of his new clothes. Rühmann depicts him as ‘aufgeregt’ (2x)’neugierig,’ ‘ungeduldig’ and ‘sehr stolz’: ‘Der Kaiser hielt es nicht mehr aus. Er musste den Stoff mit eigenen Augen sehen’ (The emperor could not stand it any longer. He had to see the cloth with his own eyes); “Ich bin bereit!” verkündete der Kaiser aufgeregt und tänzelte ein letztes Mal vor dem Spiegel wie eine Ballerina.’ (‘I am ready’ the emperor declared excitedly and he danced one last time in front of the mirror as a ballerina.). Of the best servant it is said that he carries the emperors shopping bag ‘diligently.’ The same qualification is used for the hairdresser combing the emperor’s hair.

Most literary critics nowadays condemn this explicitation of feelings. Literature should leave readers free to fill in their own feelings and thoughts. Because of these explicitations, the adaptations are inscribed in a long tradition of very explicit children’s literature. In DVS there are no less than 21 adjectives to indicate how someone says or does something. The emperor stamps his feet with rage like a child. It is no accident that Henri Van Daele makes use of these explicit adjectives only three times. As an author belonging to the centre of the literary system, he is very much aware of the ‘literary codes.’

Changing functions

By means of additions, translators/adaptors can intensify certain functions of the story. As such they give away their vision of what stories should mean for children. Successively I discuss additions that influence the divertive function (by means of humour and suspense, the two great seducers in literature for children [6]), the creative function (by means of fantasy), the emotional function and the educative function.

Divertive function

Humour certainly is one of the main reasons for the success of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” more in particular humour as a result of breaking taboos, one of the most popular forms of humour with young children. The additions in DVR are particularly “revealing.” In his wardrobe, the emperor has no less than one hundred thirty-three pairs of pants. As soon as the emperor is naked, Jacques Vriens stresses his nudity, clearly adapting his vocabulary to children with words such as ‘piemel’ (little willie), ‘blootje’ and ‘nakie’ (both informal, ‘childish’ diminutives, meaning ‘in the altogether’)

Toen de keizer vlakbij was, riep het jongetje: ‘Ik zie zijn piemel!’
‘Stil toch,’ siste de vader.
De keizer liep voorbij en het jongetje riep: ‘En nou zie ik zijn billen.’
De moeder knikte en zei zachtjes tegen haar man: ‘Kleine kinderen zeggen de waarheid.’
‘De keizer loopt in zijn blootje,’ riep het jongetje. Het werd opeens heel stil op straat. Zelfs de muziek stopte.
Toen gilde iemand: ‘Dat jongetje heeft gelijk.’ Het hele volk begon te krijsen, te schreeuwen en te lachen. ‘Bloot! Niks aan! De keizer in zijn nakie!’

(When the emperor was nearby, the boy shouted: ‘I see his little willie!’
‘Be quiet,’ his father hissed.
The emperor passed by and the boy shouted: ‘And now I see his buttocks!
The mother nodded and whispered to her husband: ‘Little children tell the truth.’
The emperor walks in the altogether,’ the boy shouted. Suddenly the street became very quiet. Even the music stopped.
Then someone squealed: ‘That boy is right.’ The whole crowd started shrieking, screaming and laughing. ‘Naked! Nothing on! The emperor in his buff.’

DVA too emphasises the emperor’s nakedness, Van Daele uses a more emphatic adjective ‘poedelnaakt’ (stark naked). In the DSM, the prime minister is ‘stomverbaasd als de keizer in zijn blootje voor hem stond’ (astonished when the emperor stood in his altogether in front of him.)

It is remarkable that in several target texts some form of taboo remains. In the source text the rogues take hold of the emperor’s waist. Touching a naked man appears to be a taboo: in eight of the twelve target texts, this fragment is deleted.

Another kind of humour that is popular with children is incongruent behaviour. I have already given some examples of adults behaving like children. The end of GR is particularly funny. The emperor behaves completely unexpectedly, he breaks the formal code of conduct (and the original morals) and in this way becomes more human. Moreover, the adaptor turns the code upside down: the unconventional behaviour is called truly imperial:

Aber er war ein richtiger Kaiser, und so hob er den Kopf noch höher. Dann musste er laut lachen, denn es wurde ihm klar, wie lustig er wohl aussah. Alle lachten mit. Sie schwenkten weiterhin ihre Fahnen und jubelten ihrem grossen Kaiser noch lauter zu. Ohne zu zögern verneigte sich der Kaiser und tat, als tippte er an seinen Hut. Dann erklärte er diesen Tag zu einem Feiertag – dem Kaiser-Ohne-Kleider-Tag.

(But he was a real emperor, and lifted his head even more. Then he had to laugh loudly, because he understood how funny he looked. Everybody laughed. They kept on waving their flags and cheered their great emperor. Without hesitating, the emperor bowed and pretended tipping his head. Then he declared this day a holiday, the ‘Emperor-Without-Clothes-Day’) This whole change of perspective is accompanied by exhilarating illustrations.

Exaggerations too are very popular with children. Jacques Vriens builds up the reactions of the crowd towards a climax: ‘Toen gilde iemand: ‘Dat jongetje heeft gelijk.’ Het hele volk begon te krijsen, te schreeuwen en te lachen . . . Iedereen brulde door elkaar . . . terwijl de mensen over de stoep rolden van het lachen.’ (Then someone squealed: ‘that little boy is right.’ The whole crowd started shrieking, screaming and laughing . . . Everyone howled . . . while people rolled over the footpath laughing.)

Two more humourous techniques play a role in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: superiority and anticipation. The children know much sooner than the emperor and his court that the two weavers are swindlers and they can gloat over the very thought of the emperor being naked. DSM, as well as DVR, strengthens these techniques. Jacques Vriens lets the minister and the general give different descriptions of the new clothes and even then the emperor doesn’t see the truth. Lea Smulders makes the emperor think during the procession: “Wat ben ik toch gelukkig dat ik mag regeren over zoveel wijze mensen. Er wonen geen dommen of dwazen in mijn land, want ze kunnen allemaal mijn nieuwe kleren zien.” (What a happy man I am that I can rule over so many wise people. There are no stupid or silly people in my country, for they can all see my new clothes.)

Apart from humour, the story contains suspense, based on the discrepancy between what the reader, listener and characters know. It is the same kind of suspense that makes puppetry so popular. The reader anxiously awaits what will happen to the emperor (and the two servants whom he sends to the weavers). Jacques Vriens intensifies the suspense by rearranging the plot. Whereas in the source text the two weavers are called ‘swindlers’ from the beginning, Vriens introduces them as “strange men.” A bit later he lets them say that they will teach the emperor a lesson. This immediately raises the question: what lesson? The reader/listener can also wonder how the story will end for the swindlers. The source text does not answer this question, but some of the adaptations do. DSM and DVS add a fragment that tells how the emperor wants both swindlers to be captured, but of course they are already gone.

Creative function

The creative function meets the child’s need for fantasy. The fantasy of many fairy tales appeals to children in such a way that they are invited to create their own fantasy world. Moreover, by indulging in the hero’s fantastic adventures, they learn how to cope with life’s difficulties in a creative way. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not a fairy tale in the strict sense, Aarne and Thompson classify it as a ‘funny tale’ (AaTh 1640). [7] Nothing supernatural happens. This goes for all the translations and adaptations I studied. It is still remarkable that two adaptors intensify the suggestion of wonder. Els van Delden lets the swindlers say that the clothes have magic power (‘toverkracht’) and in the text of Lea Smulders they are called magic fabrics (‘toverstoffen’).

Emotional function

Readers live through an emotional process because they recognise something of themselves and can identify with the characters. The emotional function is based on involvement and empathy.

Stylistically the translator can enhance this involvement by adapting the language to the (supposed) level of the reader or listener, by making distant and impersonal language personal (passives, ‘one,’ nominalization) or by addressing the readers/listeners directly. The last strategy does not occur in the studied texts, the first two have already been discussed.

Also at the content level, the translator can try to enhance reader involvement. Much discussed in this respect is the strategy of ‘domestication’ (Venuti 1995) where elements from the source culture are replaced with elements from the target culture. As in so many fairy tales ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ does not contain cultural markers that are linked to a specific time or place. The following additions of Jacques Vriens are all the more striking. In his adaptation, the procession is held on Emperor’s Day (‘Keizerdag’), which reminds the Dutch readers of Queen’s Day (‘Koninginnedag’) the popular Dutch national feast. He also gives the two scoundrels a name: Simon Singer and Peter Pfaff. Further on in the story they are called by their first names, which bring them closer to the Dutch children.

In a different manner Jacques Vriens, too, increases the emotional involvement. The little boy is more easily recognizable for today’s children. They will indeed rather shout ‘I see his little willie’ (‘Ik zie zijn piemel’) than ‘He has nothing on’ (‘Hij heeft niets aan’). Moreover, he gives the child a mother. Similar additions can be found in Smulder’s adaptation. She introduces an empress and the procession goes out on the occasion of the emperor’s birthday. In her version the little boy does not only get more visibility, he also plays a more important role. He climbs in a tree so as to have a better view. Smulders also explains why the boy cries out that the emperor has no clothes on: he heard nothing of the special clothes. This way of explaining behaviour is typical of adaptations that clearly aim at child readers and listeners. And Smulders goes further. After the procession, the boy is invited to the court. The emperor praises him and concludes: ‘Daarom mag jij als je groot bent, mijn eerste minister worden.’ (Therefore you may become – when you are grown up – my prime minister). This saying makes the child superior to the stupid adults, but at the same time stresses his littleness. This strategy also appears at the linguistic level. Smulders uses a lot of diminutives: ‘jasje,’ ‘blootje,’ ‘stofje,’ ‘jongetje,’ ‘tipje.’ Van Daele and Vriens too add diminutives: ‘wandelingetje,’ ‘kijkje,’ ‘blootje,’ ‘klein jongetje,’ ‘nakie,’ ‘zachtjes,’ etc.

Educative function

The history of children’s literature contains many examples of moralising adaptations of fairy tales. Of the texts I studied only DSM contains an extra lesson:

‘Jij bent de wijste van het hele land,’ zei de kiezer, ‘jij durft tenminste de waarheid te zeggen. Daarom mag jij als je groot bent, mijn eerste minister worden.’ (‘You are the cleverest in the land,’ the emperor said, ‘you dare at least tell the truth. Therefore you may become – when you are grown up – my prime minister’).

The emperor stresses that one will be rewarded for telling the truth. The contrast is striking with the adaptation of Rowe/Rühmann in which the liberating laughter wipes the moral away.


Rearrangements can take place at the level of phrases, clauses or texts. Rearrangements at text level can diminish the complexity of the plot, for example by removing deviations from the chronological order of events (flashbacks and flashforwards). Although “The Emperor’s New Clothes” follows a straightforward chronology, DSM changes the course of events: the swindlers show the emperor the invisible clothes right from the start. Only when they are ready, does he call the minister. In this way the emperor’s stupidity and vanity are brought out even more.

I have shown already how Jacques Vriens added suspense by rearranging information. On one occasion he makes the story more complex. When the emperor criticizes the nagging of his ministers and generals, the passage is formulated as an interior monologue that the readers or listeners have to place back in time. The rare rearrangements in the other adaptations have little influence on the story line.


Illustrations too play a role in the interaction between the listener and the person who reads aloud. They invite the listener to make comments on what is shown or not shown. In most collections of fairy tales, the illustrations play a serving role, they simply illustrate the text. However, illustrating is always more than just showing. Illustrations always add information, they fill up gaps, they concretise time, space and characters. In “The Emperor’s New Clothes” there are no indications of time. As a consequence, the illustrator has to choose a certain period. Most artists aim at a late-Baroque or Rococo setting of the tale. Wigs, pointed shoes and liveries abound. But also a medieval or nineteenth century setting (SP) is chosen. The illustration by Annemie Heymans is peculiar: the emperor wears modern underwear and his servants are dressed in ancient Egyptian style (Oude bekenden, s.d.). Illustrators also express the characters’ feelings. The emperor’s pride and vanity in particular are depicted. Quite often, the emperor is caricatured. He has an extremely fat belly (DVR, DSM) or a funny nose (DVH, DSM, IT) and some illustrators give him an orange or purple wig (DVA, DVR) or spotted, colourful socks. This humourous distortion strongly aims at children.

Whatever style the illustrator chooses, he or she always influences the vision and interpretation of the public. At the same time the illustrations express the view of the illustrator on his or her public. Just like the text, the illustrations can respond to a double audience. They can for instance contain visual jokes or references to famous people, aimed at the adult reader or spectator.

Not only the text, but also the illustrations “translate” the story. The researcher can study what the pictures depict, what they omit, add, rearrange or substitute. Because illustrations are always interpretations, there necessarily is a tension between text and pictures. To illustrate this tension, I chose the trickiest part of the story, the scenes with the naked emperor.

Whereas in none of the texts the nudity of the emperor is a taboo, for many of the illustrators it clearly is. Writing about an emperor without clothes obviously is not the same as showing him. Many artists draw the emperor in his underwear or shirt just like the Danish artist Vilhelm Pedersen (1848) did in the first drawing of the emperor in procession. Often on the opposite or next page the little boy cries out that the emperor has no clothes on at all.

Other artists invent more subtle solutions: they obstruct the sight by having someone stand in the way or by drawing a flag or sceptre in front of the emperor’s private parts. John Rowe neutralises the taboo in a very creative way by portraying the emperor as a clown and his servants and courtiers as funny animals. Moreover, the emperor has something of a chubby baby. Some artists show the emperor in the nude, but from behind or in profile so that you can’t see too much. In some of the more recent Dutch versions, you can admire the naked emperor in all his glory (DVE, DVR, DVA). Remarkably enough, in the version of Thé Tjong Khing (DVA), the emperor has the totally hairless body of a child. In DVE and DVR too, it is hard to discern any pubic hair.


The major conclusion to be derived from this analysis is that the use of the dual audience approach depends largely, though by no means exclusively, on the translator’s decision to use a source-text or target-audience oriented approach.

Most source-text oriented translations generally retain more ambivalent passages and tend to respect more fully the textual complexity and register of the original. They also tend to contain fewer omissions than target-audience oriented translations, and precisely because of these considerable omissions most of the latter tend to fall into the category of “adaptations.” The most striking difference, with these ‘adaptations,’ is that hardly ever are fragments added. Precisely these additions often reveal the translator’s orientation towards a younger readership or audience.

It is remarkable that the paratexts of source-oriented translations never contain any explicit mention of the young audience or readership. What’s more, the paratexts often seem to address an adult readership, as in the preface to the complete fairy tales and stories translated by Dr. W. van Eeden (DVE) or in the background information and bibliography on fairy tales on the site feeclochette’ (FI). When in book form, these stories are launched onto the market by publishers of children’s literature and provided with illustrations (less adapted to children than in the adaptations analysed, except for the translation of Paraf). No Internet versions (EI, FI and GI) appeared on a site for children or had illustrations.

Still, the analysis of the translations shows the existence of various degrees of textual faithfulness, a phenomenon that can be explained by the variable degree to which texts are oriented towards a young public. The three Internet versions EI, FI and GI are closest to the source text. None of the versions mentions the translator – probably they were translated especially for the site. Occasionally, the English translation EI is even more formal than the original (‘realm’ instead ‘kingdom,’ ‘grandees’ instead of ‘noblemen,’ ‘to array’ instead of ‘to dress’; ‘thought he again’; ‘does not the stuff appear’). Paraf’s version (FP) remains close to the source text from a lexical and semantic viewpoint but it contains more omissions than the previous version and splits more sentences and paragraphs. DVE and DVH, too, try to pay respect to Andersen’s original narrative style and register but they do introduce more lexical and syntactic simplifications. In the more recent translation by Van Hees these simplifications seem more oriented to children (‘brave’ – Dutch for ‘nice’ or ‘good’ – instead of ‘competent’ minister).

Among the translations analysed, those of Hersholt (EH) and especially of Van Delden (DVD) deviate most from the original, making it more likely that they still took the child listener and/or the adult who reads aloud into account. Both translators split up most long sentences, vary sentence structure and replace impersonal pronouns by personal ones. Els van Delden substitutes more unfamiliar and abstract words (‘hij kreeg een raar gevoel’: ‘he got a strange feeling’ instead of ‘he was rather embarrassed’) and she uses a more expressive, figurative style (‘zijn ogen puilden uit’: ‘his eyes were bulging’ instead of ‘he stared and stared’; ‘hij kreeg kippenvel’: ‘he got goose flesh’ instead of ‘he shivered’). Obviously, her image of the child reader and listener is different from that of the other translators. This may also be due to the fact Van Delden is not only a translator but also a writer for children.

The analysis appears to indicate that texts that are most clearly oriented towards children and/or adults who read aloud strongly deviate from the source text generally. The adapters simplify and modernize word usage, they make the text more concrete and more explicit, they omit passages they find difficult, redundant or boring, and they add passages that make the story more attractive or more recognizable for children. Here, too, there are considerable differences that at least partially have to do with the image the translator has of his readership or audience.

SP and IT are primarily abridged versions. Unlike other adaptations, they hardly add any material. Especially the Spanish version, which is explicitly aimed at children, simplifies word usage and syntax. The Italian version addresses the younger audience in a different fashion, using a glossary. Of the two versions, the Italian one is not only shorter because it omits so many details and expressive words, it is also considerably flatter. Nevertheless, it does try to imitate Andersen’s typical narrative style by connecting sentences with ‘e’ (and) or ‘ma’ (but).

DSM, too, is a strongly abridged version. Here the omissions have clearly the purpose of facilitating the process of reading aloud. All stories in this collection have a limited reading aloud time (the exact time is indicated in minutes in the table of contents). Here as well, the omissions have the effect of making the text less expressive than the original. Unlike SP and IT, DSM is clearly more adapted to children. This shows in the first place in the translator’s word usage, which is much more concrete, explicit, and simpler. The use of diminutives is another striking feature. Some changes and additions unmistakably aim at intensifying the recognition and identification by the children. The emperor gets infantile characteristics, whereas the child is given a more prominent role. By stressing the emperor’s stupidity and the child’s cleverness, the translator also directs the moral more clearly towards children. Finally, she moves this “humorous tale” towards the typical fairy tale for children by changing the beginning (“Er was eens,” i.e., “Once upon a time” instead of “Many years ago there was”) and adding some hint of magic.

The adaptation by Rühmann and Rowe (GR) is evidently aimed at children and adults alike. This is apparent from the subtitle “Massgeschneidert, gehefted und genäht von John A. Rowe,” a pun that will particularly appeal to an adult audience. Abstract and difficult words and ambivalent passages are eliminated. Expressive and humourous details such as the dancing emperor are added. The defiant ending appeals to both children and adults but the reversal of the codes seems to aim primarily at the adults. The same seems to hold for the addition ‘Wie süss, das arme Kind glaubt, der Kaiser habe keine Kleider an,’ a subtle dig at the often belittling attitudes towards children. Rowe’s illustrations of the emperor as a clown and of the servants as animals are also aimed at children but undoubtedly amuse adults as well. The sign above the hairdresser’s ‘Alfredo Rovelli. London – Paris – Rome – Wien’ winks at the adult who is reading aloud.

Also Henri van Daele’s version (DVA) takes into account the dual audience but of all adaptations it remains closest to the source text. It retains more double-layered fragments and less common words and adds less concrete and explicit words. Van Daele does modernize the language and makes it livelier, among other things by substituting indirect speech by direct speech. Significantly, he also adds a number of puns especially aimed at adults. These kinds of puns also regularly occur in his own books for children.

The adaptation by Jacques Vriens is most strongly aimed at children. His version contains most additions. By adding details, he makes sure that children can visualize the story even better. Even more so than Smulders and Rühmann, he lets the emperor and the other adults behave like children. He reinforces the humour and models it more on children’s expectations (‘I see his little willie’). By withholding information, he adds to the element of suspense. Finally, he also increases the element of recognition, amongst other things by giving the impostors Dutch first names and to have the child react like a contemporary child would do. That he also pays considerable attention to the adult who reads aloud is not only apparent from the addition of expressive words and details but also from his use of indirect speech (he increases the number of 27 spoken fragments to 77). In this context, it is interesting to know that Vriens dramatizes his versions of the fairy tales in his own theatrical performance for children.

The dual audience of children’s literature is a complex notion. In fairy tales like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” the child and adult reader also imply the child listener and the adult who reads the story aloud. This study reveals how the strategies translators develop to empathize with this multiple audience often trigger remarkable changes in the functioning of the text.

Parties annexes