Thursday, November 12, 2015

A rat by any other name....

I am trying to figure out the thought processes that lie behind the French translations of the Harry Potter books.

And I am hoping that someone out there can help me.

I am currently engrossed in the third novel, Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d'Azkaban. It's slow going (because my understanding of written French is not perfect) but excellent.

What I am noticing, however, is that certain names get translated/changed while others do not. The most notable of the names that are not translated are those of our hero trio: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley are all the same in the French translation. The Dursleys retain their English names, as do Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore. And the two major new characters in the third book remain "Sirius Black" and "R.J. Lupin".

But Professor Snape is changed to "Rogue", Hogwarts becomes "Poudlard", Hogsmeade becomes "PrĂ©-au-lard" and Neville Longbottom becomes "Neville Londubat". As I have discussed before, Tom Riddle becomes "Elvis Jedusor" and Draco Malfoy becomes "Drago Malefoy" (note, Crabbe and Goyle remain Crabbe and Goyle).

Among the animals, Hedwig and Errol keep their names (perhaps owls are exempt) while Scabbers is translated into "Croutard" and Cruickshanks becomes "Pattenrond".

I could go on and on (and maybe I should to see if a pattern develops) but, as things are now, I don't understand when the translators decided to keep a name the same and when they chose to "translate" it.

I would think that Sirius Black would be a fairly easy translation: Sirius Noir. But that translation is not made.

I wonder why? I am not intending to criticize the translators -- I think they do a tremendous job -- and I am certainly not questioning how they translate the names when they choose to do so.

I just don't understand the pattern of translation/non-translation for the names of people, places and pets.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rowling shows great care in orchestrating her climactic scenes

As I finished reading The Chamber of Secrets (actually, La chambre des secrets, since I read it in French) the other day, it occurred to me that J.K. was very careful to ensure that Harry faced the final confrontation in each novel alone.

And, since I have been highly critical of the fact that the film makers did everything they could to make the ending of the final movie, The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, a duel between Harry and Voldemort with the fate of the entire world hanging in the balance (where I felt Jo made it very clear 1) that the battle was not Harry's alone and 2) that the tide was actually turning in favour of the defenders of Good before Harry duels the Dark Lord), I wondered why Rowling took such great pains to separate our hero from Ron and Hermione at the end of each of the first two books.

I doubt the following summary is necessary for anyone who is into Harry Potter enough to be reading this bug but, for anyone not familiar with Books 1 and 2, here is what happens:

In The Philosopher's Stone, Hermione and Ron are with Harry when he first sets out to get past all of the protections around the Stone to save it from the antagonist but Ron drops off after he gets injured in the chess match while Hermione solves the potions riddle for Harry only to be forced to turn back since there is only enough of the move-forward potion for one. Harry is, clearly, the one who must go on (as Hermione points out) so he is alone for the final battle.

Meanwhile, in The Chamber of Secrets, Hermione has already been petrified, leaving Harry and Ron to use the information she has collected to find the Chamber and save Ginny. But Harry loses Ron when Ron's wand backfires on Lockhart and causes a cave-in that can't be shifted in tie to save Ginny. Harry is past the wall of rubble; Ron trapped behind it with the befuddled Lockhart. Once again, Harry must face the final battle alone.

The question is: why?

Rowling makes it a clear point of focus as the novels move on that, while Harry is at the centre of the storm that is Lord Voldemort's return, the battle against the Dark Lord and his minions is shared by everyone. Hermione and Ron, in particular, show continued dedication to the battle throughout the rest of the books.

I thought about this question for some time and I think the answer is quite clear. And fairly simple.

When Harry finally faces Voldemort with a companion in tow (Cedric Diggory in the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire), Voldemort is cold-blooded about what he requires his disciples to do with anyone who shows up other than Harry. While the Dark Lord's instructions with regard to Harry are clear and consistent ("Leave him to me"), Voldemort does not hesitate in the graveyard in book 4 when Harry shows up with a friend: "Kill the spare," he orders and Diggory is summarily dismissed.

Rowling recognised in the first two books that it was in the Dark Lord's character simply to kill anyone who gets in his way. She could not permit Hermione or Ron to be there at the end because they would die instantly. Not only would that be an incredible waste of these wonderful characters, it would be a great deal too much for the young readers in the target audience to bear.

As a result, she arranged things to ensure that Harry met Voldemort alone in Books 1 and 2. Book 3 involved only the Dark Lord's henchman and not You Know Who himself, so Hermione and Ron could take part in the climax of the story.

Then, when Jo felt her readers were mature enough, she ends Book 4 with the death of Harry's companion at the climactic scene. And she makes darn sure it's not one of her readers' beloved inner circle.