Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 4 (post 1 of 2)

It’s been several weekends since I last checked in on this, but here you go, O Internets! The first bit of Chapter 4 of my tri-lingual reread of The Hobbit!

General notes:

It’s fun, even if a bit jarring to a modern reader of fantasy’s expectations of what sounds “right” in a fantasy novel, to see Thorin bitching about the risk of them being “picked up by some giant and kicked sky-high for a football”. This being Tolkien, I’m assuming we’re talking a soccer ball here and not an American football, but it’s amusing to imagine either way, along with stone giants scoring touchdowns by carrying dwarves.

We get the reference here (the first one, I think?) about Kili and Fili being the youngest of the dwarves by about fifty years, and how they get all the scouting jobs since they have the sharpest eyes–and, quote, “when everybody could see that it was absolutely no use sending Bilbo”, unquote. Poor Bilbo! (Though woo! Fili and Kili! And now I’m totally envisioning them looking like their actors in the movie trailer.)

I note a great deal of various numbers of dwarves saying lines of dialogue all together–again, a stylistic thing that fits in with the flow of the storytelling, though it’s a bit odd to eyes accustomed to more current storytelling styles. (I’d be curious to know if this kind of thing shows up in YA at all.) It’ll also be interesting to see how the movie splits up such lines of dialogue amongst the characters.

And, of course, this is TOTALLY where my previous watchings of the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit rear up, because sing it with me, people: “DOWN DOWN TO GOBLIN-TOWN YOU GO MY LAD!” \0/

Twenty bucks says they’re not going to have THIS song in the Jackson flick. Muahaha.

Notes about the French translation:

Ooh, I like the word ‘orage’. ‘Storm’. I may have to see if I can spot that in any lyrics of songs. And is ‘lightning’ really ‘éclair’? Ha! And, noting that, I realize that I’ve heard an almost identical word in a song: ”éclaire’, which is apparently a verb form, ‘enlightens’. Cool!

Also, all this Quebecois music I’ve been listening to totally made me imagine goblins doing podorythmie and turning the DOWN DOWN TO GOBLIN TOWN song into call and response. And hee, I recognize the word ‘gars’ now, too!

Notes about the German translation:

I am charmed by the Last Homely House being called “la Dernière Maison Simple” in French, though I’m not at all sure how the German renders: “das Haus an der Einödgrenze”. Googling for that latter phrase gives me a lot of pages in German that reference Tolkien, in fact, so I’m wondering whether “Einödgrenze” was a term invented by the German translators of Tolkien works. Near as I can tell poking around, it roughly translates to “the border of the wilderness”. So Elrond’s place becomes “the House on the Edge of the Wilderness”.

I’m seeing definite examples as this chapter starts of the translations changing the rhythms of sentences. One of the most notable things about The Hobbit is of course Tolkien’s rhythm of language, which is very much in the mode of “this is a fairy tale being told to children”. It intrigues me that some of the translation choices change this rhythm enough to throw off that sense a bit, at least for me.

Like, say, with this sentence: “Boulders, too, at times came galloping down the mountain-sides, let loose by mid-day sun upon the snow, and passed among them (which was lucky), or over their heads (which was alarming).”

In German, this becomes two sentences: “Auch rollten zuweilen mächtige Blöcke, die sich in der Mittagsonne aus dem Schnee gelöst hatten, die Berghänge herab. Sie sausten zwischen der Gesellschaft durch (was ein Glück war) oder ├╝ber ihre Köpfe hinweg (was sehr aufregend war).”

The German naturally being longer and with different sentence structure definitely changes the reading rhythm, particularly in the parenthetical bits.

I’ve started noticing, too, that the German translation seems to have a way of sticking in paragraph breaks that the English version doesn’t have! There’s one right in the middle of the first few paragraphs in Chapter 4, which makes no sense at all.

HA! The German translator TOTALLY changed the Goblin Town song. The first verse goes: “Klapp! Schnapp! Ins Finstre hinab! / Gripp! Grapp! Schneid ihm die Ohren ab! / Ab in dem Orkturm / schrei nur, du Wurm!” I really like “schrei nur, du Wurm!” It makes me imagine the goblins all bellowing “CRY MOAR”.

And that’s a great breaking point for this post. I’ll do the rest of Chapter 4 in the next one!