Newswise — SALISBURY, MD---In Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the title character, upon falling down the rabbit hole, wonders if she might end up on the other side of the world, in Australia or New Zealand.
Earlier this month she landed in the latter, courtesy of faculty from Salisbury University and the University of Waikato.
In 2015, Dr. Tom Roa, professor of Māori and indigenous studies at Waikato, in Hamilton, New Zealand, translated the book into the native language of that country’s Māori people as part of a project celebrating the 150th anniversary of the original’s publication.
More than a year later, some 300 copies were distributed to grateful Māori children. According to Roa, such translations not only provide youngsters with treasured classics in their indigenous language, but help keep those languages alive.
But how did the idea come about in the first place? As the King of Hearts said, let’s “begin at the beginning.”
In this case, the “beginning” is 1890, when Dr. Ellen Schaefer-Salins’ grandmother started collecting Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland books. This was “before anyone was really collecting Alice,” said Schaefer-Salins, noting that Carroll (the pen name for mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was still alive at the time.
Schaefer-Salins’ parents, Maxine and David Schaefer, greatly expanded the collection to include signed copies and rare translations. They were among the founding members of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America (LCSNA) in 1974.
At the time, their daughter had little interest. When her mother died about 20 years ago, however, Schaefer-Salins decided to continue adding to one portion of her parents’ collection: Alice-themed teapots, amassed by her mother in the pre-eBay days when collectibles could be found only through determination, luck and a lot of trips to flea markets and thrift stores.
Soon, she caught the bug, as well. Today, with an estimated 180 Alice teapots in her Silver Spring, MD, home, she believes she has the largest such collection in the world.
An assistant professor of social work at Salisbury University and a mental health therapist specializing in work with deaf and hard of hearing individuals, Schaefer-Salins even brought a little taste of Alice to campus, decorating her office with artwork from pencil illustrations representing the book to interpretations of its title character from artists including Salvador Dali and Mary Blair.
So it should come as little surprise that when the LCSNA sought to celebrate the book’s 150th anniversary by introducing new translations, the social worker and educator was especially interested.
While the society endeavored to have the book translated into Gaelic, Hawaiian, Welsh and other languages, she set her sights on New Zealand, where her daughter, Lena Salins, had studied through the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Lena introduced her to her Roa, her former professor from Waikato, via email, and the New Zealand educator embraced the project. Three years after that introduction, the first run of Alice in Māori — just a handful of copies — was printed by publisher Michael Everston of Ireland’s Evertype Publishing, which specializes in translations of classic works.
Both Schaefer-Salins and Roa were ecstatic (and got to meet in person for the first time at the Alice 150 translation conference in New York earlier this year) — though Roa wished he had enough to give to every Māori child in New Zealand. Schaefer-Salins took his request to the internet via the crowdfunding website Go Fund Me. With help from family, friends and the LCSNA, she raised some $2,500 — enough to send copies to every Māori medium education school (similar to middle school in the U.S.). The initiative was an immediate hit.
“I really liked the English version, so I’m really excited to read this book,” 11-year-old Meg Rolleston told Māori Television.
It sounds like a happy ending. As with many things in Wonderland, however, it’s only the beginning.
Earlier this semester, Schaefer-Salins attended a presentation by Ben Barnes, second chief of the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. The event was hosted by SU’s Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts and the History Department as part of the University’s fifth annual Native American Heritage Month celebration.
Upon hearing his story and remembering Roa’s theory about translations helping keep indigenous languages alive, she approached him about having the book translated into Shawnee. After viewing the Māori Television coverage of the school donations in New Zealand, he became interested in the project, she said, noting there may be another Go Fund Me campaign in the future.
In the meantime, however, she hopes to meet some of Alice’s newest fans in person, visiting some of the New Zealand schools that received the books. While there, she also hopes to meet with another contact to explore study abroad opportunities for SU social work students in Hamilton.
In that way, the project has come full circle, she said. While her social work-rooted interest of aiding those who speak languages other than English (like American Sign Language) helped stoke her interest in distributing the translated books, her fascination with Alice may end up helping her social work students.
It is, as Alice herself once put it, “a very curious thing.”
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.