“Children instinctively understand the boundaries between fantasy and reality” – an interview with Florin Pecan

when we met Florin Pecan He was responsible for training Romanian language translators at the Romanian Cultural Institute, some years ago. I remember those meetings with great pleasure. He felt the passion and warmth to do the job and conveyed it. Florin Pekan is a translator and writer at the same time. I talked with him about the meaning of writing for children, especially how you can make friends with such a famous figure as Apollodorus of Gellu Naum and “travel” with him, moreover, in writing.

What do you remember from that period at ICR? And what was built after that?

A nucleus was built during that period. The nucleus generated a lively and dynamic structure. The structure began to develop on its own, based on the input of the participants – translators, authors, educators, books and institutions – and the feedback provided by the environment in which it developed – publishers, book fairs and readers. I remember the semi-autonomous development of the resulting system – independent of the program from which it emerged – which surprised me. The program was intended to attract young philologists from abroad, connoisseurs of the Romanian language and, ideally, lovers of literature, who would come to Romania twice a year, in a series of ten, and spend three months immersed in culture and civilization. Current literature. I was surprised by the channels of communication that were spontaneously built between scholarship students, translators, and the sources of this literature. I also remember many wonderful people, who, thank God, have translated and published Roman literature even today, and whom I see with joy every time. I still remember the T-shirts the translators’ groups gave me when I left – T-shirts of a design I had imagined, with a funny inscription of their design in Romanian with the name of each written next to the country they came from. I remember that there were a lot of countries …

What does working as a translator mean to you today? What has changed over time?

What he always meant: a quarrel with the text, conducted according to the rules of Jacob’s fight with the angel – I will not leave you until you give it to me. But you need to carefully choose the text with which you measure your strengths, or let him choose you. In essence, nothing changes over time. Through persistent and humble exercise it changes only the extent to which we perceive text and the ability to pass it from one language to another without throwing much of it to the sidelines. The external conditions change, the background against which we are working, of course, but these changes are so constant that they can be considered a dynamic form of stability. So, for me today, working as a translator means sitting at the computer with the source text in front of me and translating it. About a bitumen smelter who, when asked by Alexandro Moncio Sudinsky (Joint Biographies, Kartia Romanesque, 1974), answered about the thing they do, bitumen smelters: “We, bitumen smelters, melt bitumen”. So do translators of literature – we translate literature. To be translated, however, literature must be read. And it’s not just the literature that we’re going to translate. Working as a translator also means reading as much as you can.

She has written and published several children’s books. sarcastic and intelligent. I played with rhymes and themes. How is writing for children different from writing for adults?

I can’t tell you how writing for children is different from writing for adults – I wrote “only” for children. But in his essay on fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien stated that there is no such difference. CS Lewis, Maurice Sendak and Neil Gaiman kept his word. For reading, I also read children’s literature and adult literature with the same interest and pleasure. When I write, I find myself imagining a child reader—my son when I was a child, or myself, several decades ago. I think that’s where the paradox you’re referring to comes from. The books I wrote were always an opportunity to revisit my childhood. But I visited it as an adult. That’s why when I write for children, I address adults as well. I would define children’s literature as literature that tends to ignore or question the generally accepted norms of the adult world. But aren’t there “books for adults” that do exactly that? However, I think it’s a good idea for anyone to read anything, regardless of age, because each age allows for a unique and unrepeatable perspective in the book. When read at different ages, a book becomes a different book. So all books can be children’s literature. or not…

How did you start? What triggered this “story”?

The first time I started writing was on summer vacation after second grade. I had finished reading and re-reading all the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and I was bored. So I started writing what I hoped was a new fairy tale for the Brothers Grimm. I wrote all day. I haven’t finished it yet. However, it can be seen that everything was triggered by reading.

There are many children’s books featured in our literature. They are written, paradoxically, by the authors who wrote, especially for adults. I think first of Gellu Naum, Apollodorus, Ana Blandiana, the events in my garden, the Arpagic, Nina Cassian, and The Tale of Two Tiger Cubs, called Ninigra and Aligru. How do you explain that?

I think Jello Noam, Anna Blandiana, and Nina Cassian agree with Tolkien that “children’s” literature is primarily literature, and that its separation from “adult” literature is artificial and counterproductive. In the early 1950s, the communist government punished Gilo Naoum for “a surreal heresy”, and for “reducing him” – in their eyes, or rather in their lack of vision – to writing children’s literature. We can say that children’s literature was equivalent to them “lower work”, to which they sent “class enemies” for re-education. But Gelo Naum “served his sentence” by producing two great works – the Book of Apollodorus and the Great Gulliver – which emphasized the “seriousness” of the genre. This seriousness was reasserted several decades later, when Anna Blandiana was placed under house arrest by Arpagic. As for Ninigra and Aligru, I know many adults who have chosen these names for their cats, a sign that the effect of reading persisted into adulthood. The world is full of children’s books by adult authors and adults who read and revisit them. Joyce even produced two children’s books – The Copenhagen Cats and The Cat and the Devil. All I can see is that the line between children’s and adult literature is a conventional sign without coverage. The great “For Kids” author Maurice Sendak frankly said he doesn’t write for children – he simply writes books, and people come and say it’s for kids.

With one of these characters, Apollodorus, I became very close friends. how did you know? I met him, for example, in adulthood. Since then, it has been the book I gave as a gift to all of my close children.

I discovered Apollodorus through recordings at the puppet theater, which, in my early childhood, were broadcast on Sunday mornings on television, at the children’s show. My memories are auditory, not visual. I remembered the lyrics rather than the scenes and characters. I don’t think I was the only one in this situation. When we left the building to play, most of the children recited verses from Apollodorus in ecstasy, regardless of whether they were related to our games or not. But I remember that once the boy, who had been attacked in direct combat by his opponent, began to shout from under him, to the general delight of the fair, “What has a Connecticut thief done to me, what has he done to me?” To read, I read Apollodorus later, with the feeling that I was returning to a familiar world. I have re-read it since then. And familiarity does not diminish its freshness.

What does it mean to travel around the world with this adorable penguin? We discover with Apollodorus, in Delta, that Birds in Flight is one of the volumes of the Arthur series. How many will there be and where will this trip take us?

Traveling the world in the company of Apollodorus is an opportunity for me to prolong and renew my reading pleasure, and it is an excuse to go back to the original character and play with him for a bit. I don’t know the number of excursions. I am already planning to take Apolodor through all kinds of places – in our world and abroad – but I will mark his itinerary with Florentina Hojbotă, “Apolodor explorator” series coordinator and principal illustrator Dan Ungureanu.

Liked the author’s warning: “The text of this book contains scenes of physical, verbal, and emotional violence, intentional deviations from established grammatical and linguistic rules, as well as herbal language samples used exclusively in characterization. They are not intended to be models for readers, and therefore are not recommended for receipt and reproduction. As such in everyday life.” It’s like a different definition of fantasy. How do you, when you write, negotiate with the child reader these boundaries between fiction and reality?

The above lines are not an attempt to negotiate with children, but rather a disclaimer addressed to parents – to some parents. Children, if left alone, instinctively understand the boundary between fantasy and reality and negotiate it on their own. As a child, I watched many children’s games in which the exchange of notes was something like: “I was a winito and I was shooting you.” “Yes, you were the Three Musketeers and I surrounded you!” Didn’t these children know how to negotiate the line between fantasy and reality? I assure you that in the games of Winito and the Three Musketeers and Robin Hood, though we fought with thirst, using (verbally) all possible weapons, unconstrained by any historical reality, no one dies. C. S. Lewis explains in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children (On Three Ways of Writing for Children), that factual stories deceive children rather than fairy tales and fairy tales where the custom is clear, thanks to what Coleridge calls a voluntary suspension of infidelity.

How do you think Gelou Noam’s reaction would have been if he had known about Apollodorus’ literary career?

I think he knows…

What is the most unexpected thing a reader has told you?

“Grandfather said that if you are not dead, you are not a writer.”

Interview by Anna Maria Sando

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