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Translating Tolkien

January 1, 2004 at 3:16 pm by xoanon  - 

Ringer Spy Perheniel writes: In Sweden right now there is an ongoing debate of the new translation of Lord of the Rings. The old translation by Åke Ohlmarks from 1959 was heavily criticised by Tolien, and hence two experienced translators, neither of whom has read the book in beforehand, are finally making a new version. Here are some translated parts of an article concerning this in today’s Swedish Daily.

In 2004 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of a huge literary undertaking: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, or “Sagan om Ringen” (“The Tale of the Ring” /P.) as it has been called in Swedish bookstores until now. The new title will be a direct translation from the original (“Ringarnas Härskare”) when Norstedts (a Swedish publishing company /P.) celebrates the jubilee by publishing a completely new Swedish translation of the book.

On the publisher Stephen Farran-Lee´s desk lies a big volume of 976607 letters. It is to be called “Ringens Brödraskap” (the title is a direct translation of “the Fellowship of the Ring” /P.) and each one of this letters will be examined, scrutinised and questioned more than any others since the new Swedish translation of the Bible arrived in 2000.

Why would anyone start such a project? Even if the films have led to an increased interest in Tolkien, had it not been enough just to issue a re-print of the old books?

– No, says Stephen Farran-Lee, you will have to take four deep breaths and just get into it.

The first Swedish translation by Åke Ohlmarks is characterised by arriving very early, in 1959, five years after the original. No one, least of all Ohlmarks himself, realised by then that Tolkien’s fantasy world with its made-up linguistics would be such a success. The thick paperbacks issued by Gebers recognised by most Swedish Tolkien-readers, arrived in 1967. Now the publishing company is planning a sober edition bound with good paper and a protective cover.

– I suppose dragons (on the cover? /P.) would be more attractive to the general public, but we have to show that we are making something new. It is after all a pre-fantasy book, written long before the fantasy genre was formed, and since then our conception of Tolkien has changed through all these images of spiky armour and slanted eyes, says Stephen Farran-Lee.

And just like the great Hollywood production companies hire in stars from each other when they are making a blockbuster, Norstedts has engaged authors Erik Andersson And Lotta Olsson from the Bonnier publishing house. They are to give the new, sober edition a sense of Swedish linguistics – and that will presumably give a more sober feel to the reader than the imaginative, fierce and very free composition by Ohlmarks.

Lotta Olsson is known for her abilities in writing metrics and will translate the volume’s songs and poems. The man responsible for the remaining three million or so letters will be Erik Andersson, an experienced translator who has made 35 interpretations of English literary works. He is also a writer, previously an editor of a Swedish paper, and has plenty of revision experience. The publishing company claims he has feeling for the humour and tweed-drenched tone in the sub-twists of Tolkien’s writing.

He seems to take it easy, anyway, in his home of Västra Bodarne. That is the name of Erik Andersson’s own Hobbinge, for that is the name he plans to give to the hometown of the hobbits (Hobsala in Ohlmarks’ translation).

In contrast to the Bible translators, Erik Andersson has the author’s own instructions to follow. Ohlmarks, however, did not, as the Dutch and the Swedish translations were the first ones to arrive. When the volume was to be translated into German, Tolkien himself wrote a lengthy translation guide where he among other things rejected several of the linguistic solutions of the Swedish edition.

Erik Andersson is well aware of the difficulties in being compared to Ohlmarks.

– As a creation in its own right it is excellent, even if it does not always follow Tolkien; you have to be modest when you criticise careless mistakes and such. And many people will probably be disappointed in my version. It is like the Bible: you’ve got used to older editions and even if the translation is wrong you don’t care.

Issues of style are something that occupies both authors. Lotta Olsson is careful about keeping the metre and tries to preserve differences between the heroic poems and the more casual, home-styled songs. To do one after the other, however, becomes slightly monotonous, and some poems verge on pastiches.

– There are lots of mirror-like lakes and glimmering stars.

The style also changes as you get further into the book, Erik Andersson points out.

– It starts out as a children’s book, as a continuation of “Bilbo”, with a Birthday party. Then the story progresses into a more sinister mode.

And the characters can use different types of style as well.

– Take the Vidstige (Strider/ P.) character, for instance, he changes all the time. Sometimes the language he uses gives a glimpse of his identity as the great king Aragorn.

Names of people and places are something that demands a lot of thought, but there the author has supplied plenty of guidance. One example is Rivendell, translated by Ohlmarks as Vattnadal (“water-valley” /P.). Tolkien rejects this, as the name should contain the element riven, meaning “cleft”, not river.

– It is a pity, for it’s a great name. And it will be hard to compete with using klevor (old swedish, of cleft /P.) etc. Right now I call Rivendell Klovedal, and people might find that hard to get used to.

The names might change – the big list of names has just been finished, so now it can be circulated for comments, says Erik Andersson, sounding like a representative for some authority responsible for place-names. The list will in this case be sent to the Tokien experts Anders Stenström and Leif Jacobsen. Stenström is the publisher of the Tolkien paper Arda.

Other possible name-changes mentioned in this article:

Frodo Bagger becomes Frodo Secker, as bagger (ancient norse for sack) is in modern Swedish more related to rams (“bagge”) than sacks. Mörkmården (Mirkwood) becomes Mörkveden, reminding the reader that this is indeed a wood (“ved” = wood), not anything else (“mård” = fur).

The full story (in Swedish) can be found at svd.se, where also old articles on the same theme can be found by using the SvD search engine.

Posted in Old Special Reports on January 1, 2004 by

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