Translating Harry

Jan 27, 2007

Posted by: SueTLC


The Guardian has a new article online about the unique art and hard work involved in translating the Harry Potter novels. While facing deadlines and a whole host of other obstacles, translators often have to face one primary hurtle first: “finding the balance between literal fidelity and the equivalence that makes for fidelity of reading experience. When Uncle Vernon hums “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, do you let him keep his Anglophone song and just translate the title? Harry’s Spanish uncle hums “De puntillas entre los tulipanes”. Or do you find a local equivalent, like Germany’s Onkel Vernon, who goes for the rather more German folk hum, “Bi-Ba-Butzemann”?
Along with facing things such as the lack of actual existing words for translations for some of the more creative names of spells and words like “Quaffle,” there are also the problems of the anagrams as well, as the article notes “Tom Marvolo Riddle may be an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort”; but it’s not an anagram of “Je suis Voldemort”, so in France he’s Tom Elvis Jedusor.”

The translation of other names has also caused quite a stir, as readers have long been speculating of course about the identity of the mysterious R.A.B in Half-Blood Prince.

Several translators have been taken to task by die-hard Potter fans who’ve disapproved of their choices. Other fans have found that when they scour their translations they turn up valuable plot clues. Book six has a note mysteriously signed with the initials “RAB”, which many readers have speculated may refer to someone in the Black family, a relative of Sirius Black (most likely his younger brother Regulus); the Dutch translation gives the initials on the note as RAZ – and if you know that in Dutch Harry’s godfather is called Sirius Zwarts, this change suggests some interesting intelligence.

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.