Niklas Bengtsson (Finland)

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-21 16:00-18:00 Room I

Speaker: Niklas Ake Bengtsson (Finland)

Wide interest on Harry Potter and fantasy in Finland


Harry Potter has had a wide effect on children’s literature and publicity of children’s literature in Finland.

Both Rowling’s and Harry Potter’s publicity has been enormous in Finnish media. TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and internet pages have taken up both the author and books for discussion. If we look just the articles and reviews in Helsingin Sanomat, which is the biggest newspaper in Finland, we can see, how interesting phenomenon this author and her books are.

It is quite obvious, that you can find information about Rowling and Potter books from the cultural pages of the newspaper. Reviews and articles have been published continuously, but what is remarkable, is that reviews have not concerned just the newly translated Finnish versions of Harry Potter. Last time a critic wrote a review of the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince straight, when it was published in 2005 in English. Finnish translation came out this year, about six months ago. This is a huge change in the review politics of Helsingin Sanomat: before Rowling’s Harry Potter books there were no foreign children’s author, whose books were reviewed before they were translated in Finnish. However, if we look at foreign authors, who write for adults, it has been clear, that their works can be reviewed even before they are translated into Finnish. Therefore we can be glad, that at least one foreign author is handled at the same way than adults’ authors are appreciated in Helsingin Sanomat.

In the level of reviews it is also interesting to note, that Harry Potter has gained a certain status. Every now and then some children’s books are compared with Rowling’s work. In the case of fantasy books this comparison is natural, but sometimes the comparison has been unjust. For example when Geoffrey Huntington’s Sorcerers of the Nightwing (2002, Tammi 2003) came out in Finnish, the reviewer of Helsingin Sanomat disliked it, because according to him the book remained Rowling’s Harry Potter. However, Geoffrey Huntington’s Sourcerers of the Nightwing is a pure horror book, and thus it should not be compared to Rowling’s fantasy. This example of course means, that Harry Potter has achieved a bigger status than it actually earns: it has become a norm, where also other books than fantasy are compared.

Rowling and Harry Potter have stimulated also interest in other pages than cultural pages of Helsingin Sanomat. There has been news about the author and her books in several sections of the Finnish newspaper. Pages concerning economics, foreign countries, science and cars have published articles about the Potter phenomenon. For example science-pages told in 2001, that British children want a same kind of white owl as a pet, than Harry has in the film. And special pages for cars and vehicles discussed in 2002 about the possibility, that Ford Anglia might become popular, because Harry Potter is rescued with an old Ford Anglia in the second film. These two examples point out that the Harry Potter phenomenon is partly based on films or at least strengthened by the films.

Harry Potter’s effect has extended on books. Amusing example is Michael Gerber’s Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody, which was translated in Finnish in 2005. More serious book can be found from non-fiction. J. K. Rowling. A Biography. The Genius Behind Harry Potter by Sean Smith (2003) has already been translated and several studies have also been published. Andrew Blake’s The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter. Kid-Lit in a Globalised World came out in Finnish two years ago and some Finnish scholars have concentrated in Harry Potter in their articles and books. It seems that the existence of Harry Potter has drawn new publisher and scholars into the field of children’s literature. I do hope, that this enthusiasm continues and spreads wider.

Even though translators are very important in the chain of book publishing, they normally do not get much public attention in Finland. However, the glory of Harry Potter has been handed down also to translators. Jaana Kapari, who has translated all Rowling’s books into Finnish has been awarded with Finnish and international prizes. For example International Astrid Lindgren translation prize was given to her in 2002. But more remarkable is her common status among children. She is widely asked to give presentations in schools about translating Harry Potter. Also the newspapers and magazines have interviewed her, which is interesting because the Finnish media does not usually make human interest –articles about translators. Translations of Harry Potter have made Jaana Kapari as a nationally known figure, who both promotes children’s literature and awakes interest on the difficult work of translators.

The enormous success, which Harry Potter has reached, awakes also negative feelings. If we are reading between the lines of some certain advertisements concerning fantasy literature, it is rather obvious, that different publishing houses are using the good reputation of Harry Potter to market their own books, even though they don’t mention Harry Potter. This is of course a matter of interpretation and therefore I am not giving any example of this – still, I want to pay attention to this situation.

More unpleasant thing is, that when Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard was translated into Finnish in 2003, it was marketed in an odd way. At the back of the book, there was a sentence, which pointed out, that Duane’s young wizards did fight against evil long ago, before Harry Potter got his first magic wand. The same sentence was also used in several advertisements. Duane’s Finnish publisher is of course not the same publisher, which Rowling has in Finland. I cannot avoid thinking, that Diane Duane’s Finnish publisher, which is the biggest publishing house in Finland, tried to decrease Harry Potter’s value and in the same time tried to enhance originality of Diane Duane’s work. This kind of information in the back of the book does not awake positive thought – quite on the contrary: I have to ask, where were the largest Finnish publisher over twenty years ago, when Diane Duane’s book was originally written? How did it take this long to translate it into Finnish? If there did not exist any books on Harry Potter, would we have Diane Duane’s book in Finnish at all?

It is clear, that Rowling’s books have had a big influence on publishing fantasy. However, the fantasy boom started before Harry Potter. We can define, that the success of David Eddings in early 1990’s made Finnish publishers more willing to translate and publish fantasy literature. Even when the first book by Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was translated in 1998, it was not clear, what kind of phenomenon it would arise. After a little while, it was obvious, that Harry Potter effected partly to the publishers eagerness to translate fantasy. Nowadays the Finnish publishing houses translate not just fantasy written in recent years, but also a little older books, like I have referred in the case of So You Want to Be a Wizard. It seems that every bigger publishing house in Finland wants to publish fantasy.

In whole, the amount of fantasy literature has increased. And this does not concern just translations. Also Finnish authors are interested in this genre. If we look back to 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was not very many Finnish authors, who wrote fantasy. In our decade it seems that most of the authors, who begin their career as children’s author, write fantasy. And the old, or established authors jump as well into the field of fantasy.

Both Harry Potter and fantasy are very popular right now in Finland. Publishers, authors, journalists and reading audience are interested in this kind of literature.

In those years when a new Harry Potter has been published in Finnish, it has reached the first place of the top ten concerning sales statistics of children’s literature. Unfortunately I cannot yet have statistics about the sixth Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, because the translation came out this year. But if we look at the statistics of the year 2004, when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published in Finnish, we note that it was the best selling book in the category of children’s literature with 170 200 copies sold – the second best selling book was a collection of Finnish children’s poems written by Kirsi Kunnas (Tapahtui Tiitiäisen maassa) with only 60 000 sold copies. Both sales statistics are really huge as the population of Finland is only 5,3 million. According to sales statistics in Finland there does not exist enough strong competitor for Rowling’s Harry Potter.