Saturday, January 27, 2007


Having read Harry Potter books in three languages, I found very interesting an article about translators of Harry Potter that appeared in The Guardian today. It goes into detail regarding a lot of obstacles they face from die-hard fans and the question of whether or not to choose the spirit or the letter of the law as regards a lot of J.K. Rowling's wizarding terminology. Anyway, here is an excerpt from the beginning of the article.

It's the end of the summer, and Harry can't wait to get away from his unbearable cousin Dirk and the rest of the nasty Duffelings. Fortunately he'll soon be back at school with his friends Ron and Hermelien and the benign Professor Anderling, preparing for the annual Zwerkbal cup. So long as he's able to keep away from the sinister Professor Sneep.

Familiar? If you're a Flemish-speaking Belgian, that's what the Harry Potter stories look like to you. Of the 325 million Harry Potter books sold around the world, some 100 million copies don't contain a single line of JK Rowling's prose. They're mediated by the work of other writers who set the tone, create suspense and humour, and give the characters their distinctive voices and accents. The only thing these translators have no impact on whatsoever is the plot, which of course is Rowling's alone.

The moment Bloomsbury put out their next press release announcing that Rowling has delivered book seven and the publication date has been set, more than 60 translators across the world - from Europe to South America, Africa to Asia - will start sharpening their pencils. When that first published copy appears, their race will begin.

It's a race against publishers' deadlines, of course; in certain countries, where the quality of second-language English is very high, it's a race to get the book published in (say) Norwegian, or Danish, before your entire market decides not to bother waiting for the translation, and you find that you're trying to sell it to people who've already read the book in the original...