138. White Fox in the Forest

Dilah is back! You remember him, don’t you? The white arctic fox who lost his parents and went on a quest to find the secret treasure that will make him human? If you don’t, please take a look at this earlier post for a recap of Chen Jiatong’s White Fox, Book 1 in the series.

And now, Book 2 is out: White Fox in the Forest. As before, it’s translated by Jennifer Feeley and illustrated by Viola Wang.

The cover of White Fox in the Forest

The first book ended with Dilah and his friends – the weasel Ankel, and the rabbit Little Bean – imprisoned in a cave by Dilah’s older brother Alsace, who also wanted the treasure. As Book 2 starts the small group is freed by a beautiful female fox, Miss Emily, who wants to join them on their quest.

I won’t reveal too much of the story here, I’ll leave that to the reader to find out, but Dilah’s search is far from over, and he both makes and loses more friends on his way to the Enchanted Forest and the Spring of Reincarnation. The tone in the story is slightly darker now, and Dilah and his friends get to hear things about the treasure that don’t bode well. Is it a blessing or a curse? Comical scenes, such as when Dilah has to participate in a beauty contest in order to get hold of a map that shows the way to the Enchanted Forest, are mixed with dangerous and even tragic situations. In the end, it’s only through co-operation, and with the help of all of his friends, that Dilah can reach the treasure cave on Fox Island. And they have to pay a terrible price … But does the story end there? It’s hard to tell. Maybe we’ll meet Dilah again, some time in the future …

As before, we took the opportunity to ask Jennifer Feely a few questions about her translation of the book (you can read our earlier interview here).

What was it like to work on a sequel? Was it easy to get “into” the story and the style of language because you gad already translated Book 1 in the series? Did this book feel different to translate in any way, compared to Book 1?

Chen Jiatong devotes a lot of attention to world-building in the first book, so I was intimately familiar with most of the characters and the fictional realm they inhabit when I started translating the sequel. Moreover, I also was well-acquainted with Chen’s writing style and my editor’s expectations. All of these things meant I was able to dive right into translating the story, and it was so much fun revisiting old friends. When I start translating a work that is new to me, there is a warm-up period during which I am still getting to know the text, but I didn’t need the warm-up period for the sequel.

This book did feel different to translate compared to the first one in two ways. Firstly, I was able to slip back into a groove rather seamlessly because of the working relationship I’d already established with the author and my excellent editor, Kesia Lupo. When translating the first book, I was very conservative in my translation, wanting to cling to the original text as much as possible, messaging the author about every little thing to ensure I understood his intentions. During the editing process of the first book, I learned that Chen was extremely open to making changes to the text in order to better serve an English-language readership, and my editor Kesia also taught me how to improve my writing for younger readers. When I started translating the second book, I no longer felt like I needed to check with Chen about every tiny detail and didn’t second-guess myself as much, and I intuitively strived to ensure the text was clear and engaging in English. Secondly, the sequel feels a lot darker to me than the first book, especially in Chinese. Perhaps the mainland Chinese market for children’s literature is more receptive to heavier subject matter, but there were certain things that I immediately flagged for Kesia (such as scenes that were graphically violent, or a gruesome passage referencing cannibalism), unsure of whether they would be appropriate for the UK and US markets. We made a few changes (anyone who reads Chinese will spot some notable differences between the two texts), primarily to tone down the violence.

Did you read the book in advance or explore it as you translated?

I read some of it when I was still working on the first book. After I submitted the first draft of my translation of White Fox, the editorial team was concerned that the ending was too much of a cliffhanger and wanted to explore the possibility of ending the book at a different point, and so they asked me to see if there might be a spot at the start of the sequel that would make for a less suspenseful ending. It turns out there wasn’t, and we concluded the translation of the first book a few passages earlier than the ending in Chinese––in the Chinese original, the first book ends with Emily freeing Dilah and his friends from the cave, declaring that she’s going to join their quest because she’s stolen the moonstone back from Alscace; in the translation, we stopped right before Emily comes to rescue them. This change meant that I needed to incorporate part of the original ending into the beginning of the second book, which entailed some original writing on my part to stitch everything together.

I also read ahead to the ending of White Fox in the Forest before I finished my translation, and moreover, I even read the first couple of chapters of the third book, because the publisher requested a detailed synopsis of the last chapter of the sequel to see where the storyline was headed and whether we would need to rework the ending again. As it turned out, the sequel ended with a natural conclusion, so we kept it the same.

When you translate for children, do you test your translation on children you know, to see if they “get it”?

This is a brilliant idea, but I actually haven’t done it. Instead, I’ve received feedback from children after the fact, when of course it’s too late … Perhaps I should rethink this method in the future.

And of course, a very important question: was this the end of the series, or will Dilah meet with more adventures in the future? The way the book ends, both things are possible …

This is an excellent question, but I’m not sure I can answer it. As you say, the way the book ends, it could be a conclusion to the series, or it could lead to additional adventures. There are four more books in the series in Chinese, but I have no idea whether Chicken House or any other English-language press intends on acquiring them. My sister already complained that the ending has left her hanging, so I told her she might have to learn Chinese if she wants to see what happens. Of course, I hope the rest of the series will appear in English, but that’s not my decision to make. I’m also still hoping that Chen’s other delightful series, The Dreammakers, will one day make its way into English.

So are we, Jennifer!

Book details:

White Fox in the Forest, text: Chen Jiatong, illustrations: Viola Wang. Translated by Jennifer Feeley. (Chicken House Books 2021). ISBN 9781912626090

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