I have been thinking about book translations a lot lately.
A few days ago my very lovely friend gifted me the Latin version of The Chamber of Secrets. Latin is a language (a rather sexy one, actually) that I sometimes speak but mostly fumble around with like an ill-fitting key. My vocabulary is pretty basic. I only managed to translate maybe 60% of the words on the first page, but that’s no matter, as I used a translator alongside and marked down all the words that were unknown to me.* It took me about an hour to get through 20 pages, which I think is pretty commendable for a rookie.
*Fun fact that I found out while doing this: The Latin version of Privet Drive seems to be Rocking Drive, for some reason.
Anyway, there is a particular section that intrigued me. For those of you who have read the book, there is this part towards the beginning where a list of textbooks arrives by owl for the students at The Burrow, most of which are authored by Gilderoy Lockhart. I found that a lot of the names had been changed, albeit subtly, to better benefit the Latin reader; ‘Standard Book of Spells’ became ‘Ordinary Spells’, ‘Voyages with Vampires’ became ‘Roads with Bats” (sounds cooler in Latin, I swear), and so on.
This got me thinking about what the translator, Peter Needham, was planning on doing about the spells, a lot of which are originally in latin. Would it be exactly the same as the English version? Would, for example, Expecto Patronum be left as it is? If so, it wouldn’t be a very impressive spell as the entirely of the book is in that same language, and I’d probably just automatically translate it to ‘I expect patrons’ as I do with the rest of the prose. Can you image Harry (sorry, Harrius) running around haughtily demanding that he be given a sponsor? I’d imagine that that would drastically change the tone of the novel.
In my mission to uncover this mystery, I hastily skimmed through the pages until I found the use of a Latin spell peculiar enough to satisfy my curiosity. I finally found the scene where Draco and Harry have a one-on-one duel; spells like Rictusempra and Serpensortia have been left the way they are, which is fine, because unlike Expecto Patronum they aren’t actually Latin words, but have been derived from them. Somebody whose first language is Latin (unlikely, I know, but just play along with me here) wouldn’t have any difficulty reading that, unlike the Patronus spell, where they’d probably have read, “I expect patrons, Harrius yelled” instead of “Expecto Patronum, Harrius yelled.”
Unfortunately the expecto patronus spell isn’t used in this book, so I looked up The Prisoner of Azkaban in Latin, which I then realised doesn’t yet exist. Ah, well. Maybe they foresaw this problem and decided to discontinue the Latin edition. Who knows.
At any rate, if this book continues to throw absurd linguistic dilemmas my way, I think I’m going to enjoy it very much.