Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 13

Been a while since my last Trilingual Hobbit Reread post, and with my interest renewed by the coming of the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug, let’s get going on chapter 13, shall we?

General Notes:

Chapter 13 opens with Bilbo and the dwarves needing to escape down into Smaug’s lair, since their access to the outside world through their tunnel has been blocked. There’s more nice mileage here with Bilbo showing some leadership, so go Bilbo!

And a-HA, this is the chapter where we finally see the Arkenstone:

Now as he came near, it was tinged with a flickering sparkle of many colours at the surface, reflected and splintered from the wavering light of his torch. At last he looked down upon it, and he caught his breath. The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the dwarves, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.

Yeah, I could still totally buy the theory that this thing is a lost Silmaril. ;)

Nice to see the dwarves sorta kinda getting their shit together, too, when Bilbo calls for help in the darkness. Even if it’s still sort of weaksauce, given that they’re all pretty sure Smaug’s not actually present down in the depths of his lair.

And, of course, the dwarves are all OOH SHINY as soon as they get a load of the horde. I like in particular that Fili and Kili are drawn to the harps.

And OOH HEY here is the first sight of the mithril coat that we see Frodo wearing later!

Not terribly surprisingly, Bilbo is also the sensible one who points out to the dwarves that they need to stop with the OOH SHINY and try to find a way out of the place. Noting with interest that Thorin claims he totally remembers the layout of the place, which is reasonable. And as we get the party up into the “great chamber of Thror”, oh man, I can just see the poignant movie shots now as the party gets in there and Thorin starts getting all flashback-y.

Bilbo being Bilbo, his fancies lightly turn to thoughts of NOMS, but he’s also managed to get a bit of experience on this trip. And so he reports to the others: “But I don’t feel that Smaug’s front doorstep is the safest place for a meal.” Gee, YA THINK?

I am also pleased in general though to see Balin speaking up in active support of Bilbo, and I hope we’ll see that carried into the next film.

A-ha! Here’s something I know from many years of playing Nethack: the reference to cram, which in Nethack is called cram rations. From how Tolkien describes it here, it’s a Lake-town invention and is a poorer cousin of lembas bread:

If you want to know what cram is, I can only say that I don’t know the recipe; but it is biscuitish, keeps good indefinitely, is supposed to be sustaining, and is certainly not entertaining, being in fact very uninteresting except as a chewing exercise. It was made by the Lake-men for long journeys.

Balin gets to show more general cluefulness when they reach the watchtower. Go Balin!

And that’s pretty much the chapter.

French notes:

There’s a bit of interesting difference in chapter titles between the English and French, here. The chapter title in English is “Not at Home”, but in French, it’s “Sortis”. Google Translate claims this more or less means “Out”. I know the word “sortir”, the verb form meaning “to leave”, so this makes decent enough sense.

First word in the chapter that I had to look up: “l’écoulement”, which translates to “the flow”. Used in this sentence: “Ils ne pouvaient évaluer l’écoulement le temps”. Which, as near as I can read it, means “they could not evaluate the flow of time”. Close enough match to what Tolkien wrote, which was: “They could not count the passing of time”.

First long, crunchy verb: “S’ils s’assoupissaient…” ‘S’assoupissaient’ is the imperfect tense of ‘s’assoupir’, which means ‘to doze off’.

Here’s a sentence which I understood pretty much point-blank: “Dans le silence, ils redoutaient quelque ruse diabolique de sa part, mais ils ne pouvaient rester là éternellement.” (In the silence, they (something) some diabolical ruse on his part, but they could not remain there forever.) I had to look up “redoutaient”, which is the imperfect of “redouter”, “to fear/dread”. Which made more sense than my original thought, which was “to suspect”.

Bilbo tells the dwarves in English, “I am going down the tunnel once again.” But in French, he says, “Je vais descendre encore dans le tunnel.” Which is pretty much a straight translation, but I rather like the slight difference of emphasis from down, which is not a verb, to descendre, which is.

I understood this bit, too: “Ne prenons pas de risques inutiles!” (Do not take useless risks!) I recognized both “risques” and “inutiles” from SuperMemo vocab. Point of interest here though is that “prenons” is the first person plural imperative–so the actual translation here is more like “Let’s not take useless risks!” What Tolkien actually wrote was “Don’t let us take any unnecessary risks!”

The down/descendre translation happens again with this tiny sentences: “Down, down they went.” In French, it’s “Ils descendirent, descendirent.” There’s that emphasis by repetition, which by now I’ve seen all over the book, though it’s much briefer here.

This chapter’s ragging on LOL dwarves are NOISY: “ils haletaient et traînaient passablement les pieds…” (They panted and somewhat dragged her feet…) The verbs here being ‘haleter’ (pant) and ‘traîner’ (drag).

Another fun bit of difference in the mild sorts of cursing we get with Tolkien: in English, Bilbo yells, “Confound you, Smaug, you worm!” In French, it’s “Que le diable t’emporte, Smaug, espèce de ver !” (The devil take you, Smaug, stupid worm!) “Espèce de…” in particular appears to be idiomatic, according to

Also noted as Bilbo is yelling at the Smaug who is not actually there: “Cesse de jouer à cache-cache!” I hadn’t previously known that ‘cache-cache’ is hide-and-seek!

I hit the phrase “De faibles échos coururent…” and immediately thought I should know that verb. Took me a moment to look that up, and to realize that ah yes, it’s actually the passé simple of “courir”, which is indeed a verb I recognize from SuperMemo. Interesting to see the passé simple here though, since usually when I’ve noticed verbs so far in the French translation, they’ve been the imperfect tense.

“Les nains avaient été naturellement très effrayés…” This leapt out at me because of “effrayés”, a word which I recognized from a La Volée d’Castors song! It means frightened/afraid, and this bit is basically saying “the dwarves were naturally very frightened”. (Tolkien actually wrote “The dwarves, of course, were very alarmed…”) The other thing of interest to me here is the use of passé composé and imperfect together–because “avaient” is the third-person plural of “avoir”.

Ooh, this is a good word: “clignotante”! It means ‘flashing’, and it appears in the phrase “Après quelque temps, une lueur clignotante annonça leur retour”. (“After some time, a flashing light announced their return”–written originally as “After a while a twinkling gleam showed them returning”.)

And here’s another fun bit with verb tenses: “mais il ne put persuader les nains”. (“But he could not persuade the dwarves”.) The thing that caught my eye here was “put”–NOT to be confused with “put” in English, but rather, it’s the passé simple of “pouvoir”.

Here’s the French translation of the description of the Arkenstone I quoted above, with italics on the words I didn’t immediately recognize, or that I couldn’t figure out either from context or from similarity to vocabulary I’ve had in SuperMemo:

Et maintenant, comme il approchait, ce globe se teintait à la surface d’un scintillement multicolore, réfléchi de la lumière vacillante de sa torche. Enfin, il abaissa son regard sur la pierre et il eut le souffle coupé. Le grand joyau brillait à ses pieds de sa propre lumière interne et pourtant, taillé et façonné par les nains qui l’avaient sort du cœur de la Montagne il y avait bien longtemps, il saisissait toute lumière qui tombait sur lui et la transformait en des milliers d’étincelles au rayonnement blanc, irisé de tous les reflets de l’arc-en-ciel.

Here’s what I was able to figure out about the italicized bits:

Se teintait–this is the imperfect of “se teinter”, “to be tinged”.

Abaissa–Passé simple of “abaisser”, to lower. Presumably related to the English “abase”.

Saisissait–Ah okay, this is the imperfect of “saisir”, a word I have actually had in SuperMemo. I just hadn’t seen it conjugated into a different tense before.

Étincelles–This is apparently “sparks”. Nice word!

I hadn’t known, either, that “arc-en-ciel” is the word for French. I like that too!

And oh yay, I understood practically the entire paragraph where Bilbo’s thinking to himself, as he’s pocketing the Arkenstone, that he’s a burglar for real now–and that since the dwarves did say he could choose his own portion of the treasure, he knows what he’s calling dibs on.

(And even at this point he’s sure this is going to get him in trouble. And even knowing that he’s still all LALALALALA WHY NO I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING IN MY POCKETSES. Gollum was totally onto you, Baggins.)

“Jetant un coup d’œil timide, il aperçu de vastes couloirs…” Couple of points of interest here. I didn’t recognize “jetant” as the present participle of “jeter” (to throw). And I may have gotten “couloir” in SuperMemo, but off the top of my head I couldn’t remember it. Note to self however to NOT mix up “couloir” with “couleur”. The first is “corridor”; the second is “color”.

I am ridiculously amused by this line of Thorin’s, when the dwarves hear Bilbo yelling for help: “Que diable a-t-il pu arriver?” Tolkien originally wrote “Now what on earth or under it has happened?” But Google Translate takes that French and claims it means “What the hell has he come about?” Oddly enough I think I can hear movie!Thorin more likely saying the French version!

I don’t think I knew that “chauve-souris” is “bat”. If I’m understanding the translation correctly it literally translates to “hairless mouse”, to wit, um, yeah, kinda!

“La sombre salle, restée si longtemps silencieuse, s’emplit de musique.” I like this sentence: “the dark room, remaining so long silent, was filled with music.” Or, as Tolkien originally put it: “The dark hall was filled with a melody that had long been silent.” Either way, I hope this means we’ll get a little bit of instrumental goodness or maybe some singing at this part of the second movie. We certainly know now that Howard Shore can lay down some music entirely appropriate to the story.

(And I will also cheerfully own up to just wanting to see the imagery of Kili playing something on a harp. Yum! )

Unsurprisingly, mithril is still mithril even in French!

Took a moment to realize, too, that Thorin saying “Partons !” to everybody else is basically the same thing as “allons-y!” I.e., “let’s go!” In other words, it’s the first person plural imperative of “partir”.

And hee, here’s the French rendering of the description of cram:

Si vous voulez savoir ce qu’est le cram, je puis seulement vous dire que je n’en connais pas la recette ; mais il s’agit d’un genre de biscuit, qui se conserve indéfiniment, qui est censé bien soutenir, mais qui n’est pas agréable, ne présentant d’intérêt que comme exercice de mastication.

Yeah, for once, this is a case of something not sounding particularly better in French! The one bit of interesting verbiage here for me is “je n’en connais pas”, since I wouldn’t have expected “en” in there. A bit of googling suggests that “en” can indeed sometimes show up in conjunction with “connaître”, but so far I’m not quite getting why.

German notes:

This isn’t the longest word I’ve run into in the German edition so far, but I’d give it a fair shake for “one of the most difficult to pronounce”: “vervielfältigte”. HA, Google Translate thinks this means “mimeographed”, which is clearly wrong. It appears in this sentence: “Sie schauften und scharrten und der Widerhall vervielfältigte die Geräusche auf schreckliche Weise.” Giving Google Translate the whole sentence gets me: “They snorted and pawed and the reverberations amplified the sounds horribly.” This makes considerably more sense. And ah yes, this is in the bit where the narrator is pointing out that when it comes to stealth, dwarves ain’t got nothin’ on hobbits. And our dwarves are, sadly, showing this.

This isn’t a complete sentence, and certainly not on the scale of what I’ve been able to pick up reading the French edition at this point, but nonetheless: “…streifte Bilbo den Ring an seinen Finger und ging voraus…” I more or less got the sense of this as Bilbo putting on the Ring and going ahead.

Likewise, here’s another bit I almost entirely understood, except for “unsichtbar”: “Alle waren unsichtbar, mit Ring oder ohne Ring.” (“All were invisible, with ring or without ring” is how this translates, more or less–though Tolkien actually wrote “… they were all invisible, ring or no ring.”)

I like this word: “Lichtschimmer”. It means “gleam of light”, and it appears thus: “Kein Lichtschimmer war zu sehen.” (“No gleam of light was visible/was to be seen”, I think. Compared against Tolkien’s actual “There was not a gleam of light…”)

Oh, this is fun–in the German, Bilbo lets out with “Verdammter Smaug, elender Wurm!” (“Damn Smaug, miserable worm!”) Which comes across quite a bit stronger than Tolkien’s “Confound you, Smaug, you worm!” Bonus giggles for Google Translate initially translating “Verdammter” as “fucking” before I filled in the rest of the sentence. Now I’m totally imagining Martin Freeman shaking TINY HOBBIT FISTS OF RAGE and squeaking “FUCKING SMAUG!”

(And okay yeah sure, hobbit!rage is by definition kinda tiny and adorable, but. ;D )

Another tiny bit I understood: “Kann jemand Licht machen?” (“Can anyone/somebody make light?”)

Here’s a fun word for in category “how many z’s can you cram into one German word, anyway?”: “anzuzünden”! It apparently means “to light/ignite”.

AND here we go with the Arkenstone quote from above, this time in German:

Und jetzt, da er näher kam, brach sich das schwankende Licht seiner Fackel in dieser Kugel, die in mannigfaltigen Farben aufblitzend funkelte. Endlich blickte Bilbo auf sie hinab und es verschlug ihm den Atem: Vor seinen Füßen leuchtete der große Edelstein im eigenen inneren Licht. Und doch nahm der Juwel, der von den Zwergen vor langer, langer Zeit aus dem Herzen des Berges ausgegraben, geschnitten und geschliffen worden war, jeden Strahl auf, der auf ihn fiel, und verwandelte ihn in zehntausend Funken weißen Glanzes, durchsetzt mit regenbogenfarbigem Glitzern.

Surprisingly, this version does not appear to be significantly longer than the French! And of this entire bit, most of it doesn’t make much sense to me on a word-by-word basis; I only know what it is because of context and comparison with the English. But I do like the word “regenbogenfarbigem”, “rainbow-colored”!

Hee, I like this word too: “Zwergenherzen”. Dwarf hearts! Or perhaps dwarven/dwarvish hearts.

And of course mithril is Mithril in German. Though I also like the word “Silberstahl”, “silver-steel”.

“Wandschmuck” is “wall decoration”? Really? Awesome. Not what I would have expected!

Here’s another of the illustrations out of the book–kinda neat, not only for showing a bit of the artist’s concept of the Great Hall of Thror, but also for another size differential between the dwarves and Bilbo.

The Great Hall of Thror
The Great Hall of Thror

Likewise, “Schnitzwerks” means “carving” and that’s also not something I would have expected!

Here’s the cram quote:

Wenn ihr nicht wisst, was Cram ist, so kann ich nur sagen, dass ich das Rezept zwar ebenfalls nicht kenne, aber es ist etwas Zwiebackähnliches. Es hält sich unendlich lang frisch, schmeckt nach nichts, soll sehr kräftigend sein, ist aber gewiss nicht Aufregendes. Im Gegenteil, es ist eigentlich zu nicht anderem nütze als zur Übung der Kauwerkzeuge. Die Menschen vom See stellten es für lange Reisen her.

It amuses me that cram here is described more as for “exercising the mandibles” than “an exercise in chewing”, which is close in concept but not quite the same thing. Also, “Kauwerkzeuge” is a nice strong word in general.

The last sentence here gave me a bit of trouble, too, with the splitting of “stellten” and “her”. Google Translate had trouble with it, until I stuck “her” in front of “stellten” and got “manufactured”. Which fits in well with the idea of the Lake-men having made cram for long journeys.

Another excellent word: “Bergvorsprungs”, which is “mountain promontories/protusions”.

And that brings us to the end of Chapter 13!

8 Replies to “Tri-lingual Hobbit re-read: Chapter 13”

  1. I followed Ysabetwordsmith’s link to “In which Anna speaks up for all types of books”, and saw your “trilingual hobbit reread” tag in the sidebar. You can imagine how this lifelong language geek, who has been reading Tolkien since 1964, felt when he saw that!

    I hope you won’t mind a few comments. My French is by no means as good as it once was, let alone my German, but I seem to be more comfortable than you are at least in the former. Also, as not only a personal language geek, but as a professional linguistic researcher, I may be able to add an interesting or useful bit here and there. Please bear in mind that I haven’t read anything else of your blog except the “all types of books” post, including the previous “reread” installments.

    The chapter title in English is “Not at Home”, but in French, it’s “Sortis”. Google Translate claims this more or less means “Out”. I know the word “sortir”, the verb form meaning “to leave”, so this makes decent enough sense.
    More precisely, I think of the passé composé full sentence “Ils sont sortis” = “They left” or “They have left”. We can’t describe them as “left” in English, but we could say “They went out” and in modern conversation American English say “They’re out” – which can also be seen as a literal translation of “Ils sont sortis”.

    Google Translate is mostly statistically based, so sometimes it’ll offer a perfectly bizarre-seeming equivalent for a single word or very short phrase, but be more reasonable in a full sentence. And even apart from machine translation, you almost never find a word in one language that exactly covers all and only the senses of “the equivalent word” in another language.

    I understood this bit, too: “Ne prenons pas de risques inutiles!” (Do not take useless risks!) I recognized both “risques” and “inutiles” from SuperMemo vocab. Point of interest here though is that “prenons” is the first person plural imperative–so the actual translation here is more like “Let’s not take useless risks!” What Tolkien actually wrote was “Don’t let us take any unnecessary risks!”
    I’d call the French a perfect translation. Let us remember ;-) that Tolkien was (1) English, not American like me and (I suspect) you, and (2) born over 120 years ago (3 January 1892 [Wikipedia]), just a decade younger than my grandparents. I remember noticing some of my grandmother’s usages, such as “soiled” where I’d’ve said “dirty”, “icebox” for “refrigerator”, and “Don’t let’s …” for “Let’s not …”. I’d bet that this was everyday idiom for Tolkien.

    “Les nains avaient été naturellement très effrayés…” … The other thing of interest to me here is the use of passé composé and imperfect together–because “avaient” is the third-person plural of “avoir”.
    This combination of tense forms, imperfect auxiliary verb with perfect participle, makes the pluperfect, a.k.a. past perfect, or in French “plus-que-parfait”. In English we do the same: “had been” (See

    I hadn’t known, either, that “arc-en-ciel” is the word for French.
    I don’t think it is. ;-)

    vervielfältigte… HA, Google Translate thinks this means “mimeographed”, which is clearly wrong. … “the reverberations amplified the sounds horribly.”
    Here’s a good example of the limits of translation-equivalency in general, and Google Translate in particular. In this word you can see

    “ver-” = Inseparable verbal prefix that denotes a transition of the object into a state, which is indicated by the stem (Wiktionary)
    “viel” = “much/many”
    “falten” = “fold”
    “-ig” (adjectival ending)
    “-te” (past participle ending)

    – literally, then, “having been folded many times”, like English “manifold” (< "many+fold"). So "mimeographed" is not pure-and-simple wrong, it's just wrong for this context. Perhaps if GTranslate had said "duplicated", the semantic relation to "amplified" would have been clearer.

    Well, I've rattled on QUITE long enough – I must be getting Entish in my old age – and egad, look at the time! I look forward to following your blog at least some of the time.

    1. Hello! Thank you very much for coming by with such an awesome comment–I actively welcome commentary from folks on the Reread posts, especially from people with more French and German skill than I have. In which category linguistic researchers absolutely qualify. :D

      I am indeed American. And if you’ve read all the Reread posts you’ll have seen a bit of what got me started on doing this–that I studied both languages in school, but have had my affection for French rekindled HARD by discovering Quebecois traditional music. And that I felt that reading translated editions of a much-loved book I know pretty much backwards and forwards would be a great way to try to improve my vocabulary and grammar!

      I’ll be putting up another post once I get out of deadline mode trying to finish a book of my own, so I invite you to keep an eye out for that!

      Re: Google Translate… very aware, indeed, that that’s a tool of limited usefulness. I keep it around for spot-checking words and phrases but I also doublecheck against more in-depth dictionaries and grammar checkers if I can. I’ve found the French edition better at giving me stuff that Google Translate can handle. The German edition has a way of throwing me long, complex terms that GT has NO idea about, and in the case of vervielfältigte, I wasn’t able to find that one on general searches either. So thanks for the breakdown on that! I’ve sometimes been able to use a similar strategy on other long compound German words, but I’m not good at it yet.

      Re: English idioms of Tolkien’s day… indeed. I’ve had occasion to be just as pleased about rediscovering certain turns of phrase of Tolkien’s in the original English as I am at seeing what the translators did with his work. :)

      And eek, good catch on the typo! I’ve put in a note in the original post!

  2. German is notorious among English-speakers for its long compounds. Compounding is productive in German: that is, a speaker can, on the spur of the moment, make a compound that neither they nor their listener has ever used or heard/read before, and its meaning will be completely clear to both of them, with no more effort or attention to its structure than I put into writing the first sentence of this comment, or you into reading it. And probably neither of them will notice it or remember its novelty – or remember the word itself an hour later – unless, maybe, somebody asks them within a few minutes.

    GTrans has probably never seen this off-the-cuff compound either. But since its analysis is based on statistics rather than an understanding mind, and there are no spaces or hyphens to tell it where the component boundaries are, it will be totally lost unless its engineers build some compound analysis into it. I just found a similar problem, using GTrans on the text of a postcard someone sent me from Finland.

    1. Oooh, I knew about compounds in general, but I didn’t know that German speakers can just make them up. That’s awesome. :D

      Thank you for the comment! I have a new Reread post in progress, Chapter 14 should be going up soon!

  3. Don’t know why I mentioned this before, but:
    “Étincelles–This is apparently “sparks”. Nice word!”


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