Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bengali, by golly!

A couple of years ago, I bemoaned the fact that Tolkien’s works haven’t been translated into any of the major languages of India. There has been gossip about a Marathi translation of The Hobbit for years, but this is apparently no more than legend. As part of my previous discussion, I wondered whether the lack could partly be explained: “[s]ince nearly everyone in India speaks English already, why bother translating Tolkien into Hindi (or Telugu or Tamil or Bengali or Punjabi or …).” Well, a Bengali “translator” has emerged! (For the rest of this post, I will refer to him by him nom de plume, Aniruddha.)

This past May, I received a truly unexpected email message from Aniruddha, and along with it a sample of a dozen or so pages from a Bengali “translation” of The Lord of the Rings. I have to put translation in quotation marks, because further conversation with the author revealed that it’s not a translation in the strict sense, but rather a close re-telling. From the author’s description, this re-telling is much better than some of the Russian “translations” of Tolkien. He tells me, “I have used Tolkien's own words (translated into Bengali, of course) in 90% of my narration, [but] it can’t really be called a translation of the book, since I haven’t gone word for word and page for page of Tolkien’s book. So, it is technically a re-telling, with the Bengali reader in mind, with extensive illustrations and maps, all with Bengali captions.” Aniruddha’s illustrations, the ones I’ve seen, reveal a strong influence by the Peter Jackson vision, as you can see above.

The manuscript — all 550 A4 pages of it — has been in private circulation “between the author’s close friends and relatives” in Bengal since the beginning of this year. Aniruddha offered to send me a copy, but the shipping costs were prohibitive — and there is the minor hurdle that I don’t read Bengali! :) It has not been published, though the author is quite interested in publication. He had spoken with some Bengali publishers, but found them totally nonplussed. I pointed him in the direction of the Tolkien Estate, whom he had not yet thought of approaching. Last week, I got an update. Aniruddha was kind enough to send a photo taken of him in the Eagle and Child, on holiday in Oxford in June. He also told me he had heard back from Adam Tolkien, who directed him to contact HarperCollins in the U.K. He did so and awaits their reply — an unfavorable one, I would expect, for two reasons: (1) the financial consideration, and (2) the fact that this is not a direct, word-for-word translation. Still, you never know.

What a fascinating turn of events! I feel privileged to have gotten an early, and inside, look at the project. Even if this version never reaches a larger audience, as seems likely, one has to admire the effort. I myself would always prefer a literal, word-for-word translation, but it sounds as if Aniruddha’s Bengali version is very close, at least. And judging by the sentiments he expresses in his Foreword (below), he seems to be approaching the matter from more or less the right mindset. Of course, he has made some decisions I don’t agree with (for example, the invention of dialogue, or rearrangement of the narrative structure to put simultaneous events together in the narrative, further signs of the influence of Peter Jackson). Here is the Foreword, so you can judge for yourselves:
The objective of this book is to introduce Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ story to the average Bengali reader, young and old. And, in the process, bring out the great lessons the epic holds for the modern world: the value of friendship, the futility of war, the dominance and apparent invincibility of evil, which the forces of good find difficult to destroy, and the sheer will-power and determination which bring about such ‘eucatastrophic’ changes. That nobody is too small in this world, and sorrow can also be turned into great strength.

Unfortunately, Tolkien’s works are not appreciated in Bengal (and in India as a whole) as much as it should be. Not yet at least: Peter Jackson’s great cinematic effort and the wide English language readership in India notwithstanding. It is hoped that this Bengali rendition (or ‘re-telling’, if you will) will motivate erudite Bengali scholars to read Tolkien’s original books, and maybe someday somebody more skillful would find enough inspiration to do a full Bengali (or Hindi, or other major Indian languages) translation of Tolkien’s entire works.

Even though this Bengali rendition does not follow the original text to the letter, the underlying structure of the story has been essentially retained, and the Bengali reader is taken through the range and beauty and historical depth of Tolkien’s Middle-earth creation. As much as possible, that is, within the limited space of a (comparatively) short narration.

To fulfill these objectives, many illustrations and maps in Bengali have been added to enliven the story (altogether 135 illustrations and maps in the entire 50-chapter book in 3 volumes). Synopses (Sankhhiptosar) have been added before the beginning of the second and third volumes to bring the reader up to speed, which recapitulates the previous events of a complicated and evolving plot.

The ‘time-line’ of the story has been ‘matched’, so to speak, without taking away the suspense and mystery of the story-line. Especially in the second and third volumes, simultaneous events have been more or less put together, sometimes in the same chapter, unlike in the original books. So there is no need for the reader to go back and forth to understand the sequence of events.

For example, Tolkien’s ‘The Two Towers’ is divided into two ‘books’: the first tells the story of Aragorn’s adventures in Rohan for about 10 days after the breaking of the Fellowship, and then the second ‘book’ returns to Frodo and his journey towards Mordor at an earlier date. The Bengali rendition follows a more conventional approach, telling both storylines as they develop, rather than treating them as entirely separate. Similarly for ‘The Return of the King’.

Some tidbits of dialogue have been added here and there, and occasional adjustments made to characters to make the story more sensible to the Bengali reader. While these do not affect the progress of the fundamental plotline, they are nonetheless different from the original text.

For example, Aragorn’s initial ‘reluctance’ on Kingship and Arwen’s expanded role are adopted from Peter Jackson’s film version, as also Haldir’s army in Helm’s Deep and the Ring in Osgiliath.

I do hope you enjoy reading the Bengali book, and I look forward to your comments, free and frank!

— Aniruddha
Calcutta, February 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Medieval Academy books online

I have previously written about the Viking Society’s having undertaken the project of bringing its out-of-print (and even its new) books to readers in electronic format, completely free of charge. I hoped that other academic publishers would follow suit, and that this would become a “new model for academic publishing”. Well, I am very happy to report today that a another publisher has joined the party: the Medieval Academy of America (publisher of the journal Speculum).

Funded with $120,000 by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Medieval Academy has produced thirty-eight “Retrospective Digital Editions of Print Editions Published by The Medieval Academy of America, 1925–2001”, half of which had gone out of print. These electronic texts include “editions of Medieval Latin, [and the] major vernaculars: Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, and Welsh. Poetry and music are found in addition to prose works. By treating literary, philosophical, scientific, commercial, documentary, political, and religious texts, the project will provide multiple points of entry to the Middle Ages.” All thirty-eight are currently available in PDF format, entirely free of charge (though still under copyright protection), with HTML-formatted versions to come.

There’s plenty of variety here, so medievalists of all stripes are bound to find at least a few treasures. Some of the highlights for me, which I’ve already downloaded:
  • Hammer, Jacob, ed. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae: A Variant Version Edited from Manuscripts. Medieval Academy Books, No. 57 (1951)
  • O’Neill, Patrick P. King Alfred’s Old English Prose Translation of the First Fifty Psalms. Medieval Academy Books, No. 104 (2001) [SCORE! :)]
  • Parry, John Jay. Brut Y Brenhinedd: Cotton Cleopatra Version. Medieval Academy Books, No. 27 (1937)
  • Selmer, Carl. Middle High German Translations of the Regula Sancti Benedicti: The Eight Oldest Versions. Medieval Academy Books, No. 17 (1933)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mythcon 41 internet roundup

For those of you who subscribe to Mythprint, I am working on a special issue consisting of Mythcon conference reports (and, if there’s room, a few photos). It’s not too late to join the Mythopoeic Society, which includes a subscription to Mythprint. In the meantime, here’s a roundup of some other thoughts, gathered from around the Web.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I am interviewed at Mythcon for

As most of you know, Mythcon 41 finally came and went over this past weekend. Two years of work, more or less, and now it’s over. I can’t believe the accelerated nostalgia I’m already feeling! *sigh*

Part of the fun was being interviewed for a video podcast at They’ve just started up a fun, irreverent (and live) podcast where they talk to and about nerds, geeks, dweebs, dorks, and everything in between. Mythcon certainly falls somewhere along that spectrum — lord help us, had they seen our Sunday night follies, in which I was the star of the (mostly annual) Not Ready for Mythcon Players skit! As my wife said, “congratulations; it was so refreshing to finally see you attempt something you’re just terrible at!” Touché. :)

Anyway, Sarah Magee and Mark Ramsey turned up Sunday afternoon and spoke to Randy Hoyt (my co-chair), Tim Powers (our author guest of honor), and yours truly. (Hi, Sarah! Hi, Mark!) The entire episode has been posted here (also embdedded below for your convenience). I’ve only ever posted one piece of video of myself here on Lingwë, a paper excerpt which came out looking like the Zapruder film (scroll down about halfway through this post), so for those who’d like a proper look at me in all my bloviating glory — made by professionals (or at least people who can point a camera and hold a microphone ;) — Sarah’s interview with me starts at about 08:50. Among other things, I recite a little of Beowulf in Old English. (There’s the hook! But I know, I had you at “bloviating”. :)

The entire Mythconversion (see what I did there? ;) runs from about 03:50–16:30. If you aren’t interested in the maunderings of a lonely IT guy from Louisiana, you can just stop listening at the break (around 17:00), but I’m sure the TechTards would appreciate it if you watched the whole thing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tolkien Studies 7 — table of contents announced!

Courtesy of co-founding editor Doug Anderson, we now know that Volume 7 of Tolkien Studies, “the largest volume ever” at some 400 pages, has gone to press at last. At his blog, Doug shares the news, and equally welcome, the table of contents. Particularly exciting is some previously unpublished material by Tolkien on The Kalevala (transcribed and edited by Verlyn Flieger). The issue also looks to be one of the most multicultural we’ve seen yet. Tolkien Studies seems to be rapidly becoming a truly international publication.

Word of a few of these essays had appeared here and there on the internet already, but here’s the balance of what we can look forward to:

Tolkien Studies, Volume 7 (2010). Features:
  • “The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist”, Vladimir Brljak
  • “Faërian Cyberdrama: When Fantasy becomes Virtual Reality”, Péter Kristóf Makai
  • “Coleridge’s Definition of Imagination and Tolkien’s Definition(s) of Faery”, Michael Milburn
  • “‘Strange and free’ —On Some Aspects of the Nature of Elves and Men”, Thomas Fornet-Ponse
  • “Refining the Gold: Tolkien, The Battle of Maldon, and the Northern Theory of Courage”, Mary R. Bowman
  • “Fantasy, Escape, Recovery, and Consolation in Sir Orfeo: The Medieval Foundations of Tolkienian Fantasy”, Thomas Honegger
  • “Elladan and Elrohir: The Dioscuri in The Lord of the Rings”, Sherrylyn Branchaw
  • “Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and His Concept of Native Language: Sindarin and British-Welsh”, Yoko Hemmi
  • “‘Monsterized Saracens,’ Tolkien’s Haradrim, and Other Medieval ‘Fantasy Products’”, Margaret Sinex
  • “Myth, Milky Way, and the Mysteries of Tolkien’s Morwinyon, Telumendil, and Anarríma”, Kristine Larsen
Notes and Documents:
  • “‘The Story of Kullervo’ and Essays on Kalevala”, J.R.R. Tolkien; transcribed and edited by Verlyn Flieger
  • “J.R.R. Tolkien and the Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Fairies”, John Garth
Book Reviews:
  • Tom Shippey on Tolkien’s The Lay of Sigurd and Gudrún
  • John Garth on Tolkien’s Tengwesta Qenderinwa and Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets Part 2 [Parma Eldalamberon XVIII]
  • John D. Rateliff on The Hobbitonian Anthology by Mark T. Hooker
  • Arden R. Smith on Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Fiction by Elizabeth Solopova
  • John D. Rateliff on Tolkien’s View: Windows into His World, by J. S. Ryan
  • “Book Notes”, Douglas A. Anderson
  • “The Year’s Work in Tolkien Studies 2007”, David Bratman
  • “Bibliography (in English) for 2008” Compiled by Rebecca Epstein, Michael D.C. Drout, and David Bratman

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fun and games with words and names

I’ve shared at least one of my word-games with Lingwë readers, the Prefix Game, but there are lots of others with which I entertain myself on long drives or other idle moments. Here’s another — Aptronyms. An aptronym is a name aptly suited to its owner, whether in real life or in fiction. Examples of the former: William Wordsworth or Usain Bolt; of the latter: Daddy Warbucks or Mrs. Malaprop. It’s normally immediately apparent when a name is particularly well-suited, by chance or design, but occasionally, seeing the suitability of a name requires a little more thought. An example: Bernard Madoff — who indeed “made off” with billions in boodle.

So, the game is to think of professions or pastimes and then come up with aptronyms for people who might do them. But in the examples above (like 99% of the ones you’ll find), only the given or the surname is apt, almost never both. That’s too easy, especially when you consider how many surnames arose from trades and vocations to begin with. In my game, they must both be apt. Moreover, they have to be authentic, attested names. A few examples should make this clear:

  • An editor named Paige Turner
  • A nightclub performer named Melodie Singer
  • A banker named Bill Nichols
  • A reporter named Justin Storey
  • A policeman named Chase Roberson
  • A beachcomber named Sandy Banks
  • A preacher named Christian Godwin
  • Husband and wife florists, Bud & Rose Flowers

You can do this with the deeper etymologies of names, too. For example, my own given name means “healer” in Greek, but does Jason seem like a name especially suited to a doctor? Though such aptronyms may be even more clever, they aren’t usually as much fun, so I tend not go this route. You can make up aptronyms in languages other than English too. How about a French sculptor named Pierre Durand? Or a German monk named Dominik Engels? :)

So, it’s your turn. Put your thinking caps on and see what aptronyms you can come up with. Leave them in the comments if you want to play, and remember: you need two names. If you want to suggest aptronyms in languages other than English, be sure to explain them for the benefit of any readers who might need the help.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I didn’t know much more than the usual talking points about Senator Robert C. Byrd — and certainly didn’t know as much as about him as his con-stituents in West Vir-ginia or his colleagues on (and off) the Hill. But I do have one personal connection to the late Mr. Byrd, albeit a distant one.

When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, we had very little money. It was thanks in part to a Robert C. Byrd Honors Scholarship that I was able to attend college (something very few in my extended family had done). At the time of my award (1989), the program was only four years old, so I suppose you might say I got one of the first. At the time, I knew even less about Mr. Byrd, but I was very grateful and sent him a letter of personal thanks. I remember receiving a warm letter in response. I knew even then that he hadn’t evaluated the applications or decided on the recipients himself, but I wanted to thank some-one — why not the man for whom the award had been named?

I learned later that this was the only merit-based scholarship at the federal level (funded by the Department of Education). It was non-renewable at the time of my award, but the year after I earned my B.A., Congress amended the law to allow recipients meeting certain standards in their first year of college to receive the same award for three subsequent years. I am still grateful for the assistance to this day. And it all goes back to Mr. Byrd’s lifelong dedication to learning.

Thank you, Mr. Byrd, and requiescas in pace.