During last year’s Blogathon, I was unexpectedly thrilled when browsing through the Outside In World website to rediscover Fattypuffs and Thinifers by André Maurois (French title: Patapoufs et Filifers). It’s a story I read as a child, from the same rather battered copy that my Dad read in his childhood. Out of print for years, it was reissued in 2000 by Jane Nissen Books, translated by Norman Denny. It never occured to me that it was a translation then, but now it seems incredibly French.
It tells the story of two boys, one fat and one thin, who find their way into an underground world divided between two warring nations – the Fattypuffs and the Thinifers. Whether or not it is intended as an allegory of Franco-German relations, it has a lot to teach about tolerance, jingoism, stereotyping and the futility of war – written in 1930, it is clearly informed by the First World War.
Having discovered that it was still available, it joined all the others on fils aîné‘s Christmas list and was promptly bought by my parents. It’s taken until now to read it together, but it was worth the wait. FA was enthralled by the underground staircase – “Weird!” – and the adventures of Edmund and Terry. He got quite indignant on the Fattypuff’s behalf about the Thinifers being nasty to them and was very pleased when the Surface boys were able to bring about a reconciliation between the two countries. He immediately picked up on the silliness of dividing people according to whether they’re fat or thin, and hopefully this lesson can be applied to other situations without having to hammer anything home! I was also pleasantly surprised by how little there was to wince over in terms of outdated attitudes and so on in comparison with other books of that era. I did also wonder, though, whether a modern author would have felt compelled to battle obesity by making the Fattypuffs lazy, greedy and shiftless rather than pleasant and amiable gourmets contrasted with the irritable, workaholic Thinifers…
Sadly, the translator isn’t credited, although Wikipedia suggests that it was translated by Rosemary Benet, while an older edition on Amazon says N. Denny. Whoever it was, they’ve done a great, if slightly anglicised job – the boys talk about shillings and so on. They’ve also had fun with the names; the references may have sailed straight over FA‘s head but I enjoyed reading about the richest man in Thinniville, Mr Plutifer, or the famous fattypuff composer Tumski-Korsapuff. I wonder if this is a different translation from the one I read as a child, because I remember being puzzled by a mention of sarsparilla, while this one features coca-cola. I also wonder if it’s been slightly abridged – “the glorious death of Commandant Tripouf” featured halfway down this review from Tygertale is nowhere to be found, for example. The Bruller illustrations to be seen there are also the ones I remember.
It seems that there is soon also to be an edition brought out by Vintage Children’s with new illustrations. I wonder which translation that will use, and do hope that it will be credited!