Last week, I wrote about the Flammifer of Westernesse, one of those seemingly innumerable and always conspicuous single-use coinages for which Tolkien is justly renowned. I talked about two things: searching out a possible source in Ovid, and considering (in brief) the challenge of how to translate such neologisms. I used the example of Italian, which was really the catalyst for the whole post. So what more can be said? Well, let’s see ...
Mark Hooker, who is much better acquainted with the subtleties of translating Tolkien than I am, reminded me that along with Lucifer as a model for Flammifer, there is also Christopher, which literally means “bearer of Christ” — this time, from Greek: Χριστος “Christ” + φερω “to bear, carry”. Yes indeed! And I think we can be pretty certain Tolkien knew the etymology of this anthoponym, having bestowed it on his youngest son.
Then, on the point of how the phrase has been approached by translators, I’d like to add to our catalog of examples. I’ve dug up a few more myself, and Mark also provided me with several additional translations of Flammifer of Westernesse. Several of the translators had the good sense to leave the word alone, while others made an attempt (sometimes a clever one) at translating it by sense.
In the first category, the two German translations (Carroux and Krege) each have Der Flammifer der Westernis. Similarly, the Dutch (two translations, both made by Schuchart) has De Vlammifer van Westernisse — here, the change in spelling is made for pronunciation. The French translation, like the Italian, also retains the word unchanged: Flammifer de l’Ouistrenesse.
As some of you may know, the Russians made rather a mess of things with more than a dozen efforts over the years, some of which remain unpublished and some of which are hardly translations at all. Without attempting to explain the situation fully (for which I am not qualified in any case), let me just pass along the information Mark Hooker shared with me. For more details on the history of the Russian translations of Tolkien, see his book Tolkien Through Russian Eyes. Any mistakes you spot here are probably mine, and not his.
The Gruzberg translation is the only one that leaves the word unchanged. It has the lines, Carrying through the darkness of the heavenly sphere, / The Message of the Western Lands, The Guiding Light — the ‘Flammifer’.
In the earliest official Russian translation, by Murav’ev and Kistyakovskij, the poem is only translated in the loosest possible sense, with no attempt to render Flammifer of Westernesse at all. Ditto the Grigor’eva and Grushetskij, V.A. Matorina samizdat edition, and Nemirova translation. The Ukrainian translation, by the way, is of the same basic form – leaving out the idea of the Flammifer altogether in favor of, well, I don’t quite know what. I can’t make much sense out of it through dictionary translation alone. If anyone out there reads Ukrainian and is interested in taking a look, let me know.
And here’s a novel solution: the Yakhnin and Bobyr’ translations omit the poem altogether. *smirk* Both ‘translations’ are really rather severe abridgments — retellings actually — for a younger audience. Think Russian Cliffs Notes for children.
Now, let’s turn to the second category: attempts at translating (or replacing) Flammifer into the local language, one way or another. Here are several to consider. Some are fairly close, while others demonstrate a greater poetic license.
Another of the Russian translations, by Volkovskij, ends rather strangely with, To the Shinning Lighthouse. The basic idea is there, but something is clearly lost. The two Polish translations offer, respectively, Plomieniec na podobloczu! = “[carry] a little flame through the heavens [lit: under the clouds]” (Skibniewska); and Zwana Plomieniem Ludzi Zachodu = “Called the flame of the people of the West” (Lozinski). Among some of the other Slavic translations, there is the Czech Světlonoš ze Západní říše = “The bearer of light from the Western Empire” (the Czech říše is cognate to German Reich, Old English ríce); and the Bulgarian Задморски вечен Пламотвор = “The eternal overseas Creator of Flame”.
Among the Romance languages, the Spanish and Portuguese translations are much looser than the Italian and French. They have, respectively, la luz flamígera de Oesternesse and lâmpada a flama qual Porta-chama do Ponente.
And just for grins, let me take a stab at the Estonian. The final two lines of the poem are: ja lampi kandmas üle maa / on Läänesaare Tulilaev. As near as I can make out, dictionary in hand, this means “the lamp borne over the earth in the Fire-vessel to the West-island.” Anyone out there who’s capable, please feel free to improve on that. Läänesaare seems to have in mind Tol Eressëa, while Tulilaev (tuli “fire” + laev “boat, ark, vessel”) is a commendable replacement for Flammifer.
Let me finish up with probably the most interesting of the Russian translations, the Karrik and Kamenkovich (poems translated by Stepanov): This is the 1994 annotated edition with running commentary on some of the Germanic and Christian motifs to which Tolkien alludes throughout The Lord of the Rings. The translation has: “Shine on, O Erendil, the Light-Bearer of the West!” K&K (or Stepanov, I presume), opted to replace Пламеносец with a more archaic word, recalling my previous comments on the Italian fiammifero. The Bulgarian translation, however, as I’ve said, retains something closer to the Lucifer/Venus connection with Пламотвор. But more interesting to me: the translators provide a footnote explaining their choice. Here’s the note (and thanks to Mark for the note and translation into English). As you’ll see, it’s very à propos of my comments on Lucifer / Venus in the previous post and comments:
Light bearer of the West. The original used the Latin word Flammifer (“Plamenosets”). In Latin, the word rhymes with the name for Venus — Lucifer, which, however, is used in the Latinophone Christian tradition as the name of the mutinous Archangel Lucifer (i.e., an analogue to Tolkien’s Melkor), and Tolkien, of course, had to find a replacement for him. The same thing happened to the Slavic name for Venus (Dennitsa) used in the Slavic translation of the Holly Books. Therefore, the translator used another Russian word to name Venus, which is actually a calque from Latin, but which does not, in contrast to the latter, carry any undesirable negative connotations. The Catholic Latin used by Tolkien here is rendered by the archaic word “svetonosets”, even though, in principle, the word “flammifer” [Фламмифер] could have been left untranslated. After all, it is also marked in English as a foreign word.Oh, and one final note: I have the Chinese translation also; however, I know so little Chinese (maybe half a dozen words — at most :) that I don’t really have a foothold for commenting on the attempt. So it’s a complete mystery to me — but likely to be pretty interesting. If anyone out there would like to take a shot at it, click on the image above and let me know what you make of it. :)
If any of you made it this far, give yourselves a round of applause. I suspect most readers will have given up in the paragraphs on Russian — if not earlier.