Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good article on Harry Potter translation issues

I’m getting this up a few days late, but Great Britain’s Times Online has a good article summarizing some of the key news and issues in Harry Potter translation, some of which I have previously blogged about. The article follows on the heels of the publication of the Turkish translation of HP7 (Harry Potter ve Ölüm Yadigarlar), the second official translation to become available, following only the Ukrainian. Of course, as regular readers will know, quite a few unofficial translations have already been circulating!

The Times article also addresses some of the basic difficulties inherent in translating fiction — especially fantasy fiction involving made-up worlds and words. Tolkien knew this problem particularly well, and he famously prepared a detailed (and sometimes tetchy) Nomenclature to assist translators of The Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps Rowling should have done likewise.


  1. I didn't know Tolkien had prepared a glossary of terms anticipating translation issues. I wish some of my clients were so thoughtful! The more information a source can provide, the better the translation results.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

    I didn’t know Tolkien had prepared a glossary of terms anticipating translation issues.

    Yes indeed, and quite a lengthy one (anywhere from 30–50 pages, dedpending on the edition you’re looking at). At the time, only the Swedish and Dutch translations of The Lord of the Rings had appeared, but Tolkien (being rather a stickler) had reason to object to many of the rather lame attempts to render his words and names into those languages. The Nomenclature was intended to help future translators do better.

    Certainly, today’s invented worlds (e.g., Rowling’s) could benefit from this kind of authorial assistance. But they broke the mold after they made Tolkien, I’m afraid. Nevertheless, some of Harry Potter’s translators have made very good efforts — for example, to retain the anagram of Voldemort’s name, the flavor of the incantations, the cleverness of many of the character names, and so forth.

    It’s got to be a very difficult challenge (which I’m sure you could speak to from personal experience).