Parks on Translation Again.

Tim Parks often has interesting things to say about translation, and I’ve linked to his essays before; here’s a recent one from NYRDaily:

Do the beliefs we hold about literature add up to something consistent and coherent? Or are they little more than random pieties? Take two crucial notions I heard repeatedly last year. First, that in a fine work of literature, every word counts, perfection has been achieved, nothing can be moved—a claim I’ve seen made for writers as prolix (and diverse) as Victor Hugo and Jonathan Franzen. Second, that translators are creative artists in their own right, co-authoring the text they translate, a fine translation being as unique and important as the original work. Mark Polizzotti makes this claim in Sympathy for the Traitor (2018), but any number of scholars in the field of Translation Studies would agree.

Can these two positions be reconciled? Doesn’t translating a work of literature inevitably involve moving things around and altering many of the relations between the words in the original? In which case, either the original’s alleged perfection has been overstated, or the translation is indeed, as pessimists have often supposed, a fine but somewhat flawed copy. Unless, that is, we are going to think of a translation as a quite different work with its own inner logic and inspiration, only casually related to that foreign original. In which case, English readers will be obliged to wonder whether they have ever read Tolstoy, Proust, or Mann, and not, rather, Constance Garnett, C.K. Scott Moncrieff, or Helen Lowe-Porter. Or more recently, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, or Lydia Davis or Michael Henry Heim.

How perplexing. One of the problems in this debate is that most readers are only familiar with translated texts in their own languages. They cannot contemplate the supposed perfection of the foreign original, and when the translation delights them, they rightly thank the translator for it and are happy to suppose that the work “stands shoulder to shoulder with the source text,” as Polizzotti puts it. It makes these readers’ own experience seem more important. Alternatively, when they rejoice over the perfection of Jane Austen, Henry James, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, they do not see what foreign translations have done to the work as it travels around the world.

I too have been vaguely bothered by that “every word counts, perfection has been achieved” claim, so often made and so unlikely if you think about it. He continues with just the kind of thing I like, an analysis of two examples, one from English into Italian and one from Italian into English. I’ll let you read them at the link; here I want to foreground the start of his first example, from Henry James’ story “The Altar of the Dead”: “He had a mortal dislike, poor Stransom, to lean anniversaries, and loved them still less when they made a pretence of a figure.” I understand this to mean that Stransom didn’t like skimpy celebrations of anniversaries, and liked them even less when they were puffed up into an attempt at grandeur. This is the way the Italian translator understood it (“Lui non le poteva soffrire, povero Stransom le celebrazioni scialbe, e ancor più detestava quelle pretenziose”), but it is not how Parks reads it; he says “The story of the fiancée’s death allows us to realize that ‘lean’ has the sense of unhappy (as in the lean and fat cows of Pharaoh’s dream),” and faults the translator for draining it of its Biblical resonance. I think Parks is simply misreading the text. What say you?

Comments

  1. The Pharaoh’s dream is interpreted in the scripture to foretell seven lean fat years and seven lean years, meaning seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of scarcity. Not seven happy years and seven unhappy years. So a lean anniversary is definitely a skimpy celebration. (The line wouldn’t even make sense if “lean” is supposed to mean “unhappy” — everybody dislikes unhappy celebrations, not just poor Stransom.)

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    Helen Lowe-Porter’s translations of Thomas Mann are strikingly bad; she really doesn’t belong in the company of Constance Garnett and Scott Moncrieff.

    It’s easy to be the best translator when you’re helpfully given exclusive rights by the publisher to translate the author into English.

  3. There’s an interesting case in Hawaiian, where the most prolific translator of youth literature into Hawaiian, Keao NeSmith, is one of the few fluent speakers who learned the language as a child from family who came from Ni‘ihau, where the continuity of the oral tradition was not broken. Nearly all the other fluent speakers learned standardized “schoolbook Hawaiian” so his translations are unique in many ways, partly (I presume) because they preserve elements of oral storytelling and dialect variation that are no longer found in Standard Hawaiian. So far, he has translated The Little Prince, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Wizard of Oz, and The Hobbit. All (or most) are available on Amazon.

  4. David Eddyshaw says:

    Now I just must find out how “Jabberwocky” goes in Hawaiian.

  5. January First-of-May says:

    You do occasionally (rarely) find a translation (…by this point usually not looking much like one) that is significantly better than the original; my favorite example is Lewis Carroll’s short humorous poem Ye Carpette Knyghte, which in the original is ruined by its Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, and even aside from this isn’t that good, while the Russian rendering, Лук, седло и удила, is outright brilliant, and could have easily been called one of Carroll’s better poems had it actually been written by Carroll.

  6. Cleanthess says:

    W. M. Spackmann once wrote about this matter :

    [A] critical mishap when one fails to concentrate on style is that one’s judgement, musing on content instead, will almost certainly confuse what a writer says with what he says about it -a novel with the events it narrates- and so end up issuing mere ethical pronouncements about the misconduct of fictional personages or the nobilities of a story-line.

    Unhappily, discussion of content is standard procedure for the average professor: citing, as he must, works in languages he cannot himself understand, and uneasily conscious that what he is reading is not Homer or Tolstoi but Mr. Graves or Mrs. Garnett, he is naturally as brief on style as is decent, and so the content becomes in effect the major matter of criticism.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    Because reasons (well, having repeatedly failed to bring enough reading material when on holiday), I have only ever read the works of Carl Hiaasen in French translation; those I have read seem all to be the work of a translator (Yves Sarda) who very much enjoys the source material and renders it into lively argot where appropriate.

    I tried him in English but it just wasn’t the same.

  8. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that “a pretence of a figure” means a multiple of 10 years, and “lean anniversaries” are ones that are not a multiple of 10. Of course bringing in the Pharoah’s dream complicates things because those were multiples of seven years.

    However, “He hated anniversaries that weren’t a multiple of ten, and he hated those that were a multiple of ten even more.” doesn’t have quite the same literary polish to it as what Henry James said.

    I’ll admit that “skimpy” and “puffed up” are reasonable readings too. I wouldn’t made up my mind until I’d read more of the story than just this one sentence. And I’m not sure that people in Henry James’s society made such a fuss about multiple-of-ten birthdays as we do now.

  9. The description of Stransom sounds like it might be an allusion to some forgotten stereotype or stock character model. I think those kinds of orphaned references may actually be a lot more common than we think.

  10. Russian translators believe in translator’s right to artistic license and write whatever they want without little regard to the original.

    Three Russian translations of Tolkien:

    “And Boromir, overcoming death, smiled.”

    “A faint smile touched Boromir’s mouth.”

    “A shadow of a smile flashed across Boromir’s pale, emaciated face.”

    Wanna know what was in the original?

    “Boromir smiled”

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    Evidently the baldness – nay, flatness – of “Boromir smiled” is simply culturally inappropriate for the people of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. I can see that. Dynamic equivalence.

  12. Shanghai Harry says:

    What do we think will happen if we take, for instance, the English translation of “Crime and Punishment” from Constance Garnett, and have a talented translator do it back into Russian?

  13. Unless, that is, we are going to think of a translation as a quite different work with its own inner logic and inspiration, only casually related to that foreign original.

    Think of covers of original songs.

    Santana’s cover of ‘Black Magic Woman’ is a huge improvement over Pete Green/Fleetwood Mac’s original. Would I have thought that if I’d heard the FM version first? Yes, I think so. (OTOH, a lot of Santana’s original stuff I find rather meh.)

    Almost anybody’s cover of Bob Dylan is a huge improvement. (And in most cases, I’d heard the original first.)

    Same for Leonard Cohen. I’d particularly recommend Madeleine Peyroux’s cover of ‘Dance me to the End of Love’, and Nina Simone’s ‘Suzanne takes you down’.

    Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor? An almost-unbelievable re-imagining of Raison’s short theme (if it was), and out-Pachelbeling that dratted canon. Beethoven’s Op 111 Arietta re-imagining of a Passacaglia? jaw-dropping again.

    OTOH, I’ve never heard a cover of a Beatle’s song that improved it. (Perhaps Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’. “quite different work” seems to cover the case.)

  14. Giacomo Ponzetto says:

    Tim Parks is much more qualified to interpret Henry James than I, but in support of our host’s reading (which also comes as natural to me as to the Italian translator) it seems germane to mention that the following sentence reads: “Celebrations and suppressions were equally painful to him, and but one of the former found a place in his life.” Doesn’t this imply that a “lean anniversary” is one with muted or suppressed celebration?

  15. “Suzanne” — prefer Leonard Cohen.

  16. Bah, humbug. Tim Parks’ reading of the passage seems completely addlepated to me, entirely wrong. A “lean anniversary” does distantly evoke Genesis 41 in the King James version, but that’s barely relevant and wouldn’t consciously register on most readers unless they were deliberately engaging in an anachronistic New Critical writing exercise of the sort Parks has devised. What’s relevant is precisely what the translation emphasizes: that either excessive attention to or attempting to ignore the passage of time causes pain. Parks also seems utterly oblivious that James has set up an opposition: Stransom’s typical feeling about anniversaries, and his more particular feelings about Mary Antrim’s death. The whole thing is really a very poorly reasoned muddle.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    “Boromir smiled”

    Jesus wept.

    (Interesting how Luther, quoted farther down the page, apparently opted to make the grammatical aspect explicit by saying Jesus’s eyes spilled over.)

  18. John Cowan says:

    Almost anybody’s cover of Bob Dylan is a huge improvement.

    That’s because Dylan is a great songwriter who can’t sing, but in an age where singers, even singer-songwriters, are far more rewarded than mere songwriters, ended up singing anyway.

    Before she met me, my wife had a spell of living with a former boyfriend in the boyfriend’s mother’s basement. They were playing Dylan a lot at the time, and on one occasion the mother came down to the basement to listen. “Well, dear,” she said, “it’s very nice — but wouldn’t it be better if sung by someone else?” Gale has always considered this a heresy, but I’m with the mother.

    I’m not sure that James is a good candidate for close reading anyway: there may be less there than meets the eye. See his inarticulacy in person.

  19. Tim Parks’ reading of the passage seems completely addlepated to me, entirely wrong.

    My heart is warmed!

  20. John Cowan Henry James’s inarticulacy in person

    John’s link originates in Section 5 of Chapter 10 of Edith Wharton’s autobiographical A Backward Glance. She & Henry James were in Windsor, visiting Howard Sturgis. They had driven from Lamb House in Rye where James lived and where a little later EF Benson wrote the Mapp & Lucia books. The Mrs Cornish, the provost of Eton’s wife in Section 4, also appears in the Charleston Bulletin Suppliments; she must have known Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell although she would have been about 30 years older than them. She is I think related to Athel Cornish-Bowden as well as being a cousin of Thackeray and a biographer of EF’s brother Monsignor RH Benson (who as a young man knew CH Rolf of ‘Quest for Corvo’ fame). She once gave the following valuable advice to an assistant: In all disagreeable circumstances remember the three things which I always say to myself: “I am an Englishwoman”; “I was born in wedlock”; “I am on dry land”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Warre-Cornish

  21. E makaʻala i ka Waha ʻĀpuʻupuʻu, e aʻu keiki! (Beware the Jabberwock, my son!)
    from Keao NeSmith’s translation, Ma loko o ke Aniani Kū (‘At Inside of the Glass Standing’), of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. The translation for Jabberwock is literally Mouth Lumpy/Protruding.

  22. David Eddyshaw says:

    More!

  23. AJP Crown says:

    CH Rolf? Frederick Rolfe.

  24. Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe, Baron Corvo, if you please. (Is it true that Rolfe is pronounced Rofe?)

  25. John Cowan says:

    He began with only the first two given names, though.

  26. Sure, but how can one neglect his baronial preferences?

  27. Just coming back to report this find. This writer’s use of “lean anniversary” echoes James — read or scroll on a page or two and she is discussing our friend Stransom and his keeping of anniversaries.

  28. A very interesting find! The essay begins:

    THERE is a certain short story by Mr. Henry James, striking because its every word is inevitable, and its form so married to its meaning that the whole has the unity of a fine strain of music heard through a quiet summer twilight, in which the first sentence introduces us to a hero who has “a mortal dislike of lean anniversaries.” This ever recurrent anniversary, shorn of its onetime fulness of meaning, is a ghost we all consciously or unconsciously shun. The complexity of our daily life, the thousand and one small activities that claim the passing moment, concur in deadening the feeling for the past, and in hurrying us on, occupied only with the immediate moment.

    Alas, I can’t claim to understand how she understands the phrase, but I am amused by “its every word is inevitable.”

  29. John Cowan says:

    I have no trouble neglecting them, since he was certainly not a baron. I cannot, however, entirely blame someone who could produce a fake papal bull denouncing the Daily Wail (under the name of “Katheemerangareion”) and its egregious founder (under the name of “Domnus Aluredus de Ulmeto de Sanctro Petro”). Nicholas Crabbe is the Marty Stu hero of one of Rolfe’s novels, Pope Hadrian VII of another. And I love Hadrian’s remark about Alexander VI and the Treaty of Tordesillas: “When the Ruler of the World [one of the Pope’s titles] geographically rules the world, he is accustomed to do his ruling with a ruler.”

  30. David Marjanović says:

    (Is it true that Rolfe is pronounced Rofe?)

    No idea, but given yolk and Holmes, I expect so…

    he is accustomed to do his ruling with a ruler

    Really a shame this only works in English.

  31. Rawley Grau says:

    David Eddyshaw wrote: “Evidently the baldness – nay, flatness – of “Boromir smiled” is simply culturally inappropriate for the people of Pushkin and Dostoevsky. I can see that. Dynamic equivalence.”

    Actually, the simplicity of “Boromir smiled” seems eminently Pushkinian. One easily imagines him concluding an Onegin stanza with a perfect iambic tetrameter:
    И улыбнулся Боромир. / I ulybnúlsya Boromir. / And Boromir smiled.

    I imagine Dostoevsky would have done something quite different, though.

  32. AJP Crown says:

    (Is it true that Rolfe is pronounced Rofe?)

    No idea either, but I’m guessing it’s like golf and ‘goff’ (i.e. not ‘goalf’). The upper-class pronunciation would then be Roff, not Rofe. The Skandinavian first name is pronounced Roff. Indeed in Norway if you knew five others, the next one would be Roff seks.

  33. The Boromir comment reminded me that i first read LOTR in Serbo-Croatian as a kid and loved it, but when I read it in English a few years later it seemed like a totally different book. I sometimes go back to marvel at how awesomely wrongheaded the choices the translator made: not only obvious clunkers like rendering “put your thinking cap on” literally, but stuff like conveying Sam’s “working class” speech using letter dropping (with apostrophes) which does not work AT ALL in BCS and in fact violently clashes with the with the phonology of the language, so the overall effect is less “working class gardener” and more “person with severe brain damage”. The whole tone is off, and I can’t tell how much of that is BCS being ill suited for high fantasy settings, and how much it was just the translator’s very obvious limitations in English. (E.g. “Boromir smiled” does come across as very bare and flat in BCS “Boromir se (na)smješio”, it leaves me looking for the rest of the sentence so some of it is definitely inherent to the language)

  34. I did what I should have done in the first place but was too lazy to, and looked Rolfe up in the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names:

    Rolfe, f.n. [roʊf] (rōf) Appropriate for John ~, 16-17th c. colonist and husband of Pocahontas, and for Frederick ~, Baron Corvo, 19th-c. author.

    So my guess (probably actually a memory of having looked him up before) was correct.

  35. Father Jape says:

    “Same for Leonard Cohen. I’d particularly recommend Madeleine Peyroux’s cover of ‘Dance me to the End of Love’, and Nina Simone’s ‘Suzanne takes you down’.”

    I’ve heard this before, and I must say I vehemently disagree.
    Though I will acquiesce that some of Cohen’s live renditions are better than the original album recordings.

  36. Parks’s idea is weird. If James was consciously using a Biblical allusion, why would he do it halfway and botch it with a weird mixed metaphor, where some anniversaries are Pharaonic cows and some are … “making a figure”?

    I’d say if anything it’s more likely James was probably just thinking of the relatively well-established phrase “lean Christmas” (~10,000 ghits).

    Or maybe he was thinking of “meagre” or another synonym, and only went with “lean” for the alliteration with the rest of the sentence.

  37. gwenllian says:

    I’ve heard this before, and I must say I vehemently disagree.

    Vehemently seconded. Never heard a cover of Cohen I liked nearly as much as the original.

    but stuff like conveying Sam’s “working class” speech using letter dropping (with apostrophes) which does not work AT ALL in BCS and in fact violently clashes with the with the phonology of the language, so the overall effect is less “working class gardener” and more “person with severe brain damage”.

    Dropping which letters? I’m surprised the translator would think anything drastic was necessary. The convention when translating working class speech into BCS more or less seems to be just basic stuff like dropping h, dropping a from the masculine past active participle, a from kao, and i from the end of infinitives, and (in Croatian translations) dropping t from tko and using the ikavian forms of some verbs. Which seems to pretty much describe Sam’s speech in the Croatian translation.

    But the whole convention is kind of ridiculous when you think about it, since only the first two of all of these examples aren’t present in everyone’s speech here, and even those two are indicative of region, not really class. Extensive h dropping in a formal situation could do it, I guess. A BCS translator has pretty limited choices when trying to keep speech markedly working class, since class isn’t really obvious that way in BCS.

    (E.g. “Boromir smiled” does come across as very bare and flat in BCS “Boromir se (na)smješio”, it leaves me looking for the rest of the sentence so some of it is definitely inherent to the language)

    Boromir se osmjehne in my copy. Sounds good to me. I remember the Croatian translation of LotR in as being okay overall, but it’s been so many years and I’m not much of a high fantasy aficionado.

    The whole tone is off, and I can’t tell how much of that is BCS being ill suited for high fantasy settings, and how much it was just the translator’s very obvious limitations in English.

    Blaming the translator is usually a pretty safe bet when reading prose in BCS. They’re rarely great.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    My dad was told Das Kapital had to be read in the original. It turned out the available translations just weren’t good.

  39. Leonard Cohen is by no means a universal taste. I know a lot of people love him, but he’s always left me cold. On the other hand, I love Dylan’s singing, and my wife can’t stand him. So it goes.

  40. I understand why so many prefer covers to Dylan’s originals, and I do enjoy some of the covers more, too, but I don’t mind his singing myself.

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    I almost always end up preferring Dylan’s originals to the covers, though I think that the covers have sometimes helped me to appreciate the originals more (perhaps by clarifying what the melody actually is; once you know, you can hear it when Dylan sings it …)

    Tom Waits is a similar case. Again, at the end of the day I usually prefer his own versions.

    In a bar on St Helena once I remember hearing a whole series of reggae covers of Dylan songs; they worked remarkably well on the whole. The only one I’ve subsequently been able to track down is Nasio’s version of “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7i5nEbNLpYQ

  42. > Perhaps Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’

    Well, that was Ringo singing in the original so… *ducks*

    > perhaps by clarifying what the melody actually is; once you know, you can hear it when Dylan sings it

    Heh, that happened to me too. But those musicians covering Dylan must have made up a lot of it…

    Actually, I like singers with a personal style. It seems like there’s less of them these days, but maybe that’s just because I’ve been investing less in getting to know new music.

  43. gwenllian, I don’t have the book handy but it was stuff like “G. Frodo, znad’te ka’ smo bili…” (btw – G.Frodo for either Mister or Master Frodo is wrong – čika/ujko Frodo I think conveys the social relation better). It sticks out because it’s such a bold choice for a relatively minor problem – it would have been far better to just ignore the issue. And yeah as you said, the real issue is not so much how Sam talks, but how to map English social relations to the Western Balkans where societies are simply structured differently. I agree that it would be tempting to use a regional accent which in BCS definitely has connotations of something like class, but that would also bring in contemporary Balkan politics into Middle Earth.

    BTW, the other thing that sticks in mind is translation of proper names, a topic so fraught with Tolkien he wrote an entire guide for translator, and rightfully so – in this particular edition, Eowyn became “Jovajna”, Arwen “Aruena”, even Galadriel became “Galadrijela” – cringworthy stuff. In his defense I can’t think of a single woman’s name in BCS that does not end in -a so maybe he felt he had to. The men’s names were unchanged except for Merry who became “Veseli” which actually works okay as a nickname. But of course Boromir and Faramir esp. are names that sound native to BCS already.

    Some translations are inspired – Okrug for Shire, “Bagremova Ulica” for Bag End, Gramzi-Baginsi for Sackville-Bagginses, but most of those are inherited from the translator of the Hobbit who truly did an incredible job (on a far less challenging book, to be sure) – he was especially great with a lot of the creature names, creatively repurposing “vilenjak” for elf, “polušan” for halfling, “div” for troll, and wisely deciding to stick with ork, orci (though goblins do become bauci, but the double naming exists in English too).

    Finally I should probably add that translating LOTR pre-internet and into a language and literature lacking a fantasy genre or its obvious antecedents from which to draw style and vocabulary is truly a daunting task for even the best translator, which must have taken years to complete. I enjoy my nitpicks but ultimately I have him to thank for introducing me to Tolkien, however rough the introduction.

  44. John Cowan says:

    Really a shame this only works in English.

    I finally figured out what this meant — it was too subtle for this low-context American. But no, the fictional Hadrian VII is English; he gave himself that name after Hadrian or Adrian IV, the very real English Pope (1154-59), born Nicholas Breakspear(e), the Pope who authorized the Norman invasion of Ireland, crowned Barbarossa, and very nearly reunited the Eastern and Western Churches (the case foundered on temporalities as well as the usual problem of papal authority).

    On covers: Judy Collins’s “Both Sides Now” is a beautiful soundscape, but as a piece of singing it’s what Joni said it was, soulless. On the other hand, I will always prefer Arlo’s “City of New Orleans” to Steve Goodman’s original. When I myself sing “MTA Charlie” I compromise: I restore the original (and factual) “Walter F. O’Brien” instead of “George O’Brien”, but I shout the words “CHARLIE A SANDWICH”, which is derived from the Weavers’ version. I don’t go so far as to change “MTA” (historically correct) to “MBTA”, though.

  45. Olivia Newton-John’s “If Not For You”, Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Melanie’s “Lay Lady Lay”, and various Byrds covers, to name a few (someone has actually made a list), are wonderful, but not wonderful enough to stop you from going back and enjoying the Dylan original.

  46. @John Cowan:. I also change the lyrics back to include “Walter F. O’Brien,” which seems only fair, since the song was one of four actually written for his mayoral campaign. I also revert the lines to their original order, so that, “Fight the fare increase,” comes after O’Brien’s name.

    However, in spite of the many lyric changes (including a whole verse missing), the Kingston Trio rendition is still my favorite version of the song, since that is the version I grew up with. (My mom was a big Trio fan when she was a tween and they were the hottest act in the country.). I played it for my seven-year-old last weekend, and he says it was earworming him for days.

  47. However, in spite of the many lyric changes (including a whole verse missing), the Kingston Trio rendition is still my favorite version of the song, since that is the version I grew up with.

    Same here.

  48. For “Weavers” in my post above read “Kingston Trio”.

  49. (btw – G.Frodo for either Mister or Master Frodo is wrong – čika/ujko Frodo I think conveys the social relation better)

    Could you elaborate? I think G. Frodo should fit, but it’s been such a long time since I read it, there could be all sorts of stuff I don’t remember.

    TW, the other thing that sticks in mind is translation of proper names, a topic so fraught with Tolkien he wrote an entire guide for translator, and rightfully so – in this particular edition, Eowyn became “Jovajna”, Arwen “Aruena”, even Galadriel became “Galadrijela” – cringworthy stuff.

    Oh wow. Those really are pretty bad.

    In his defense I can’t think of a single woman’s name in BCS that does not end in -a so maybe he felt he had to.

    On a lot of the Adriatic coast the classic female names traditionally end in -e. A few very popular more recently adopted (and more relevant to the translator’s dilemma) names also come to mind, such as Doris, Dolores, Ines, Nives, Iris, Ingrid or Karmen. Not many of them, but all classics. Some less popular but still unremarkable ones out there, too, like Astrid, Maris (old Dubrovnik name), Ester… I think the original character names feel only marginally more foreign than the translations, especially the very foreign sounding Aruena.

    creatively repurposing “vilenjak” for elf

    What was the original meaning?

    How was Strider translated? I can’t think of too many good possibilities for that one.

    Finally I should probably add that translating LOTR pre-internet and into a language and literature lacking a fantasy genre or its obvious antecedents from which to draw style and vocabulary is truly a daunting task for even the best translator

    Definitely. When were they published, btw? No luck looking it up with Google.

  50. Eowyn became “Jovajna”, Arwen “Aruena”, even Galadriel became “Galadrijela”

    Should have used diminutives – Jovajnka (Broz), Aruenka and especially Galadrijelka….

  51. John Cowan says:

    What was the original meaning?

    Per Wikt, the masculine version of vila ‘wood/water sprite’. Of course, in the Pontevedran dialect, the latter is vilja (start Lehár’s music here).

  52. Also, for “Pontevedran” read Pontevedrin.

  53. More famous now as “Veela” from Harry Potter.

    I have a vague recollection of Bob, the music teacher from Sesame Street, performing the Lehar aria. However, I don’t remember anything about the context, and Google is finding nothing.

  54. Per Wikt, the masculine version of vila ‘wood/water sprite’. Of course, in the Pontevedran dialect, the latter is vilja (start Lehár’s music here).

    Sorry, I should’ve phrased that better. I meant to ask what makes it a repurposing. It’s obviously tricky to compare mythologies across cultures, but in my head vilenjak and elf have always been more or less the same thing. The dictionary just has the broad definition “a creature of supernatural power”. But I know very little about folklore, and don’t know how big the differences in the traditional meanings of these words would’ve been. The definition of vila has also definitely expanded from its traditional Slavic mythology one.

  55. January First-of-May says:

    There was apparently a dispute at some point as to whether the Russian proverb вилами по воде писано was originally intended to refer to pitchforks or water spirits; I had sadly forgotten which is now the accepted answer (or even whether there already is one).

    (Of course, outside of exceptional circumstances, any writing on water would not stay readable for long, regardless of the writer or writing implement.)

  56. The dictionary just has the broad definition “a creature of supernatural power”.

    Sorry, “a being of supernatural power”.

  57. John Cowan says:

    a being of supernatural power

    Quoth JRRT himself: “Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural; whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.”

    pitchfork on water

    The poet Keats’s tombstone inscription is: “Here lies one whose words were writ on water.” That turned out not to be the case: they are holding up fine after 200 years.

  58. @John Cowan: I have seen it pointed out that paranormal is really a better word for such things than supernatural.

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