Britt G. Hallqvist was an author, poet, psalm writer and translator. She translated several classical children’s books, among other works, into Swedish.
Britt G. Hallqvist was born in Umeå but for the most part grew up in Visby. Her father, Vilhelm Nyman, was a lecturer in German, English and French. Her mother, Dagny, was a translator. When Britt G. Hallqvist was twelve years old her parents divorced and she, her two brothers and her mother moved to Lund. There she graduated from school and gained a Master of Arts in Nordic languages, literary history, theoretical philosophy and German at Lund University. She led an active student life and was the first female editor of the student newspaper Lundagård. In 1940 she married the priest Sten Hallqvist and they settled in Västergötland, first in the countryside and then in Alingsås. From time to time she worked as a substitute teacher. She gave birth to four children during the years 1939-1947. The family moved to Lund in 1958, where Britt G. Hallqvist would remain until her death.
In 1950 Britt G. Hallqvist released her debut book and made quite an impact with her humorous narrative poem Rappens på Blåsopp which won a prize from Svenska Dagbladet as the best children’s book of the year. This breakthrough was followed by a large number of children’s and youth books, both in prose and verse, including ABC and Festen in Hulabo. Several of her books were illustrated by her cousin, Helga Henschen. Hallqvist also composed poetry for adults, including the collection of poems entitled Förenklat, 1955.
Moreover, song texts comprised an important part of Britt G. Hallqvist’s writing. In the end of the 1960s she was hired as a translator by the 1968 parish register committee. Her work led to comprehensive contributions to the 1986 hymnbook, which contains 17 original psalms by Britt G. Hallqvist and 70 psalms which she either translated or edited. “Måne och sol” is probably her most frequently sung psalm. “Var bor du lilla råtta?” is perhaps her most well-known secular children’s song, which Hallqvist also wrote the music for. She also contributed poems to the 1979 Christmas calendar Trolltider and wrote the libretto for the opera Sagoprofessorn, for which Björn Isfält composed the music.
Before her debut as an author Britt G. Hallqvist had made a name for herself as a translator. She began in 1945 by producing Swedish versions of English, German and French children’s poems for the anthology Min skattkammare published by Natur och Kultur.
During the 1950s Britt G. Hallqvist translated classical children’s books such as H. C. Andersen’s tales and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, as well as L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, the verses in A. A. Milne’s two books about Winnie the Pooh, and also more recent children’s and youth books such as E. B White’s Charlotte’s Web and one of C. S. Lewis’ books from the Narnia series.
She also translated foreign adult lyrical poetry and began to translate plays. Her first play translation was the British author Christopher Fry’s The Lady is not for Burning for Ragnar Josephson at Dramaten. In 1956 and 1961 she produced the translations for which she has become most known: Wolfgang von Goethe’s two-part Faust. During the 1960s she also translated Peter Weiss’ well-known play about Jean Paul Marat, Mordet på Marat, and his Die Ermittlung (Rannsakningen).
Britt G. Hallqvist’s re-translation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Bilbo: en hobbits äventyr, 1962) has been printed in 16 editions and enabled several generations of Swedes to enter into Tolkien’s world. During the 1960s and 1970s she also translated the Grimm brothers’ tales and Richard Adams’ massively popular Watership Down (Den långa flykten, 1975). In this same period Britt G. Hallqvist translated a large number of books for young children, including several of Beatrix Potter’s stories, Annette Tison and Talus Taylor’s Barbapapa picture books and the American author and illustrator Dr Seuss’ stories. Britt G. Hallqvist also translated the Danish author and illustrator Ole Lund Kierkegaard’s burlesque comedic books about Orla, Albert, Virgil, Hodja and Otto, and several of these she produced with her daughter Ingelöf Winter.
In the 1970s Britt G. Hallqvist published several translations of Shakespeare. Alf Sjöberg from Dramaten engaged her to translate Troilus and Cressida and Antony and Cleopatra, and subsequently she was hired by Ingmar Bergman to produce new translations of King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet. Further, Britt G. Hallqvist also translated a lot of musical texts: librettos from both classical and modern operas, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s Figaros brollöp and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar.
Both as an author and a translator Britt G. Hallqvist is known for her light-hearted, casual and often humorous style. She uses simple and accessible syntax. Her re-translations of classical works are notable for their clever modernization of not only syntax but also vocabulary and tone. A clear narrative voice emerges in the translations of children’s literature. The style contains distinct oral features which increases its appeal to children. Britt G. Hallqvist’s translations of the opera librettos and song lyrics have been lauded for being easy to sing. Similar comments can be made regarding her other work on plays. Her stylistic ease makes the plays both easy to perform and easy to be understood by the audience.
Britt G. Hallqvist received several prizes and commendations for her translations. In 1983 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in theology from Lund University.
Britt G. Hallqvist died in 1997.