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This is a comparative study of two translations of Roald Dahl’s novel Matilda that were prepared respectively by He Feng-yi (何風儀) and Chang Tzu-chang (張子樟) in Taiwan. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the narrative of the source text is viewed as a manifestation of the author’s unconscious based on unspoken messages that come through the gaps in the narrative. The same viewpoint is adopted for the translations, as the translators’ interpretations of the source text express their unspoken biases and values. The differences in the translations represent the translators’ conscious and unconscious interaction with the unspoken messages in the source text.

This study first offers a psychoanalytic reading of the source text to spell out Dahl’s unspoken intention: he makes the rebellious Matilda submit to paternal power at the end of the story through his plot design that deprives her of her phallic form of telekinetic power against the tyrannical school principal. Then the attention moves to certain passages in the two translated texts, which render the child and adult characters’ images and their relationships. The lexical and syntactic modifications to different degrees through substitution suggest the translators’ different biases and values: He’s innovative translation takes an empathetic attitude towards children and rejects Dahl’s intention to subjugate Matilda; Chang’s work, which is generally faithful to the source text and receptive to Dahl’s pedagogical intentions, highlights the girl’s self-agency and open-mindedly adheres to the author’s treatment of the character. 

This study acknowledges the source text and target texts as collaborative products that involve the efforts of the author, translators, editors, and publishers. Therefore, the study was conducted as text-based research, relying on paratextual information to gain insight into the narratives. The depictions of Dahl and the two Taiwanese translators should be understood in this study as discursive entities, not actual persons. The reasoning here is that no matter how unconsciously the translators render the source text, they may not be engaging, in the same way that the researcher believes they are, with the gaps in the source text that the researcher thinks reveal the unconscious intentions of the actual person Roald Dahl. The findings of this study result from the researcher’s reading of the texts, which may speak of the researcher’s own unconscious biases and values.

KEYWORDS: Roald Dahl, Matilda, translation, children’s literature, bias, values, Taiwan

DOI: 10.30395/WSR.202112_15(1).0002