Denmark – Publisher withdraws adventure book after reactions to portrayal of Jews

The big book of adventures
The big book of adventures

Copenhagen Gyldendal draws a children’s book of fairy tales after receiving criticism for passing on old, antisemitic stereotypes. It is the book “The big book of adventures” («Den store boka med eventyr») that is now withdrawn. The reason is a description of a Jew in the fairy tale “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” who, among other things, is referred to as a swindler. It was Vårt Land that first mentioned the matter.

Mats Tangestuen, professional leader at the Jewish Museum in Oslo. (Photo: CF-WESENBERG/NTB)

This is a classic antisemitic stereotype in which the “Jew” is portrayed as sly and greedy, says Mats Tangestuen, professional leader at the Jewish Museum in Oslo, to Dagsavisen.

Gyldendal publishers say they have stopped the sale of the book after they were made aware of an older translation of the old adventure – and that they can in no way vouch for the text.

“That this text has not been caught and changed earlier is something we deeply regret,” says a statement from Gyldendal’s publishing director Anne Cathrine Knudsen, on Gyldendal’s website.

Among those who have reacted to the content of the book is Elin L’Estrange, leader of Ullensaker Arbeiderparti. On Twitter, she wrote that “I am shocked and sorry (…) this adventure book from Gyldendal contains anti-Semitism of the worst kind”. She attached excerpts from the book where the figure “the Jew” is referred to as “The scoundrel” and “don’t you know that he is a fraud”.

Mats Tangestuen at the Jewish Museum tells Dagsavisen that he was contacted on Monday by a father who had reacted after reading the fairy tale book with his children. Tangestuen then wrote an email to Gyldendal about the contents of the adventure book.

On Tuesday, Tangestuen published an extensive Facebook post about antisemitic stereotypes in the fairy tale “Aladdin and the magic lamp” in “The great book of fairy tales”. Here Tangestuen writes that “Aladdin and the magic lamp” in the book is taken from a Norwegian retelling of a fairy tale from “One Thousand and One Nights”, originally published in 1940.

– The Norwegian translation from 1940 is taken word for word from a British edition from 1909. Already in 1940, someone would have reacted to this. The publishing house Damm, which first published this translation, removed the antisemitic content immediately after the war. However, Gyldendal used the 1940 translation, but the language in the book has been modernized. This means that the text has been carefully reviewed by the publisher, and the anti-Semitic stereotypes have remained, Tangestuen claims to Dagsavisen.

“The big book of fairy tales”, a collection of classic fairy tales from, among others, HC Asbjørnsen, Asbjørnsen and Moe and “One Thousand and One Nights”, with new illustrations, was first published in 2005. The second edition came out in 2016, and a new The 2022 edition has now been stopped.

I think it is very startling that this was published in 2005, and it is almost unbelievable that no one has reacted to this in the 17 years the book has been on sale right up to the 2022 edition, says Tangestuen to Dagsavisen.

“We completely agree that it is startling that no one has reacted to this text until now, and of course we should have caught this ourselves and changed it. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find out exactly what happened in connection with text review before our first edition of the book in 2005. But we will anyway review our routines so that something like this cannot happen again”, comments the publishing manager in Gyldendal Anne Cathrine Knudsen to Dagsavisen.

Academic manager at the Jewish Museum Mats Tangestuen received word from Gyldendal on Tuesday evening that “The big book with adventures” is being withdrawn from the market.

It is the right decision by Gyldendal to withdraw the book now, says Tangestuen to Dagsavisen.

On their website, Gyldendal states that they are stopping the sale of “The big book with adventures”. The book has been published in five editions of a total of 56,000 copies, according to the publisher. The new 2022 edition will not come out in the dealer section, writes Gyldendal.

“Gyldendal has decided to immediately stop selling “The Great Book of Adventures” due to an older and very regrettable translation of the fairy tale “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp”. In the text, a thug in the fairy tale is described as Jewish and the text gives associations to anti-Semitic stereotypes,” says the press release on the website of Gyldendal Forlag, which writes that they will now also review other fairy tale books.

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