Bilingual Lord of the Rings Reread

Bilingual LotR Reread: The Fellowship of the Ring: Chapter 2 (French commentary)

Been a while since I did a Bilingual Lord of the Rings Reread post! but since I was reminded I needed to continue doing a proper reread thanks to this post over on Tor.com about certain actions of Gandalf, here, let’s get back into this a bit with the French commentary for Chapter 2!

(Notably, the poster on Tor.com was writing about things Gandalf did that really rather made him out to be a jerk, and there’s interesting commentary in the comments about how the movies have influenced Tolkien fandom a lot in that regard. Certainly one of my things about Gandalf turns out to be exactly that, more movie-influenced than book-influenced. More on this to come!)


General Commentary

To refresh your all’s memory, because boy howdy have I been lagging on doing these posts, the commentary on the original English edition of this chapter is here.

Something that I hadn’t caught reading this chapter the last time is that in the conversation in the Green Dragon that Sam has with Ted, the line about “Bilbo was cracked, and Frodo’s cracking” appears. Noting this because in the movie, that conversation in fact involves Frodo, who proudly embraces the remark.

I will also note, since I didn’t in my previous post about this chapter, that there’s an odd little jump between scenes, once Gandalf finally shows up again to talk to Frodo. That scene ends with the description of their staying up talking late into the night, but the actual next scene kicks in the following morning. Frodo presses Gandalf for more details about what he wouldn’t talk about during the night.

I can see why Tolkien did it that way: i.e., getting the reader to the important discussion of the Ring, and the clear indication that all the talking Frodo and Gandalf did during the late hours was ultimately inconsequential. But the scene break still feels kind of abrupt to me. I’m not sure whether this is because of my maturing tastes as a reader, my expectations as a writer who has been edited through multiple novels, or both.

More on scene breaks, though. There are a few more odd ones through the rest of Gandalf and Frodo talking about the Ring, too: one right after the noise of Sam doing lawn work outside, another where Gandalf asks Frodo to give him the Ring for a moment (when he tosses it into the fire), and another where Frodo boggles about how the Ring came to him. Unlike the break between evening and morning, these make less sense to me, as they’re not even really breaks in actual time. And they’re not just a matter of my ebook copy of the story being formatted weirdly; I see the same breaks when I get out my big single-volume print edition of the story.

Aragorn gets his first mention in this chapter, which I’d actually forgotten. I will watch out for whether Frodo remembers his name later.

For the first time, upon looking at this chapter again as I write this post, I note how often Frodo is described as “crying” something. I’m pretty sure that if I’d used “cry” as a dialogue tag when writing my books for Carina, my editor would have tagged the hell out of that. But then again, I’m not Tolkien, so there ya go.

There’s a reference to the dragon Ancalagon the Black in this chapter, which I had also forgotten!

General Things About the French Edition

The translation of the chapter name is “L’ombre du passé”, which is a nice literal translation. I find myself amusedly thinking of one of my favorite Quebecois bands, De Temps Antan, whose name means “of times past”. I am also now wondering whether “L’ombre d’antan” could be a valid translation, but I’m thinking not; looking it up, “antan” seems to be more of an adjective than a noun. Still, it’s always fun to connect Tolkien and my musical fandoms together when I’m playing with French.

Since the chapter opens with the discussion of the general Shire reaction to Bilbo’s disappearance, it’s amusing to see how the reference to “Mad Baggins” is translated: “Sacquet le Fou”. Which immediately pings me off of the animated Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (I haven’t seen the live action one yet as of this writing), and the character LeFou therein.

Gandalf is described in the Shire commentary as “ce sacré magicien”. Note that “sacré” can mean both “sacred” and “blasted”. This, children, is why it is important to consider context when you’re looking at a translation of something!

Frodo’s calling Bilbo’s 112th birthday a “Hundred-Weight Feast” gets an interesting footnote, as the translator uses the term “Fête des 112 livres”, and the footnote designates “livre” as a unit of weight! Since I know this as the word for “book”, seeing this additional definition of the word is illuminating and valuable.

Where Tolkien describes Frodo reacting to being the Mr. Baggins of Bag-End, the translator gives the emphasized the (translated to le) a footnote to define for the reader that this is a signifier of Frodo being “le chef de clan”, or as we might say in English, the head of the family.

I don’t know if this is a translation error, a printing error, or a deliberate choice on the part of the translator–but in the scene where Sam is chatting with Ted and mentions dragons, in the original, Ted replies that there’s “only one Dragon in Bywater, and that’s Green”. This section is a bit truncated, and that commentary on Ted’s part is left out of the French.

What’s more, what’s left of Ted’s dialogue is smooshed into Sam’s following comments about Ents–which makes the entire conversation read differently in French, as it now seems that Ted’s the one telling the story about a cousin who saw an Ent, wherein it’s actually Sam telling that story in the original. The problem does resolve eventually, when you get dialogue tags to indicate who’s speaking, but it’s confusing for several paragraphs. Now I totally want to see a more recent translation to see if this problem was corrected.

Once Gandalf starts talking about the Ring to Frodo, I get a little shiver of odd pleasure in seeing place-names like Eregion showing up in the middle of French text, something similar to watching the movies with the French dubs! The story is familiar. But reading or hearing it in a different language puts a whole new spin on it, and it’s beautiful and awesome. <3

The Elvish runes on the ring are of course displayed as they are in the English text, but here again, it’s strangely wonderful to see them surrounded by a French version of the story. And further, to see the French translation of the inscription:

Un Anneau pour les gouverner tous. Un Anneau pour les trouver.
Un Anneau pour les amener tous et dans les ténèbres les lier.

This is a good straight up translation, albeit with a couple extra syllables to my English-bred ear!

Huh, my copy of the French translation of this book has a bit of damage of page 78, where there’s a sentence about Frodo clutching the Ring in his hand. My copy says “Il …erra”, where there’s a bit of space where an actual letter should be. By context and by doublechecking the English, I can guess that the missing letter is probably “s”, which would make the sentence begin as “Il serra l’Anneau dans sa main”.

And oh hey, a second typo or possible printing error: Elendil is mentioned in the same paragraph as both “Elendal” and “Elendil”. I will continue to refer to him as “Elendil” for purposes of this blogging. I find this in multiple parts of the chapter, too.

Interesting: in the part where Gandalf is telling Frodo about how he believes Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and that therefore Frodo was also meant to have it, the part pertaining to Frodo is left out of the translation. Gandalf goes straight from saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring to noting that this is an encouraging thought.

Seeing Aragorn referred to as a “voyageur” in French is kind of hysterical, given what I know about the Quebecois history of that term. 😀

Noting for reference that in this translation, as with my translation of The Hobbit, miles are translated into kilometers. The French version of Middle-Earth is, indeed, metric.

I am not entirely sure that Sam’s line to Gandalf about “there ain’t no eaves at Bag End” quite works the same way in French as it does in English. Consulting my online French-English dictionary, I see that the notion of “eavesdropping” does translate to “écoute”, but the pun about eaves doesn’t come over into French. At least, if I’m reading this correctly!

French Worldbuilding Terms

Frodo’s friends Folco Boffin and Fredegar Bolger become Foulque Bophin and Fredegan Bolger in French. And you can of course make “Bolger” instantly French just by pronouncing it as you would a French verb, i.e., “bol-ZHAY”.

Pippin’s nickname is not translated, but it does get a footnote that reads “pomme reinette”, which is apparently a specific kind of apple. I don’t think I ever knew that! And it makes the scene in the movie version of Fellowship when Aragon throws an apple at him and Merry a bit funnier. 😀

Mirkwood is “la Forêt Noire”. Which I’ve already noted once in this reread, but which I’m noting again because I had the spelling wrong back in this post about the prologue. It’s “Noire”, not “Noir”, because “Forêt” is a feminine noun.

The hobbit Ted Sandyman, the miller’s son, becomes Ted Rouqin in French.

Overhill, which is mentioned as a place name, becomes Par-delà-la-Colline in French.

As the hobbits call the elves the Fair Folk in the original, that becomes les Belles Gens in French.

Shoutout to the Battle of Five Armies in this chapter! “La Bataille des Cinq Armées”, which of course I remember from the Trilingual Hobbit Re-read. 😀

The first mention of Saruman shows up in this chapter, and in French, he is “Saroumane le Blanc”. I’m pretty sure that while the spelling is French, the pronunciation still comes out sounding like his name does in English.

When Gandalf recites the full verse to Frodo that the Ring’s inscription comes from, “Elven-kings” and “Dwarf-lords” are translated to French as “les Rois Elfes” and “les Seigneurs Nains”. And in the same verse, “Mortal Men doomed to die” becomes “les Hommes Mortels destinés au trépas”, which is more like “Mortal Men doomed to death”, using a noun instead of a verb. Interesting word choice and I don’t know if it was just the translator’s discretion here, or if that’s more indicative of how a French speaker might actually say this.

The One Ring, in French, becomes “l’Anneau Unique”.

“Ringwraiths” is rendered as “Esprits servants de l’Anneau”, rather than trying to create a noun from scratch as Tolkien did in English. Which is admittedly long and cumbersome to write out. And now I totally will have to doublecheck my French dubs of the movies to see if this is what they used in the translation of the dialogue.

Westernesse is translated to “Ouistrenesse”. Which surprises me a little, as I would have thought it would have been “Ouest”, since that’s the word for west.

The Gladden Fields become “les Champs aux Iris”.

“Anneau de Pouvoir”: Ring of Power.

Dale is passingly referenced as “Val”, and Wilderland, identified by Tolkien in the original without any “the”, is “le Pays Sauvage”.

The Wood-Elves–i.e., Legolas and Thranduil’s people–are “les Elfes des Bois”.

The Woodmen become “les bûcherons”, which doesn’t actually strike me as a literal translation here as that’s the French word for “woodcutter” in general. So I’m not a hundred percent sure that the translator is using it here as the name of a people, as Tolkien did.

When Gandalf tells Frodo where the Ring must be destroyed, he mentions “les Crevasses du Destin” (the Crevasses of the Destiny, literally) and Orodruin, “le Montagne de Feu”.

Frodo’s travel-name of “Underhill”, in French, becomes “Soucolline”.

Other words that stood out to me

excentricité: This is a word I’d already noticed in my SuperMemo vocabulary, and which I now note here because unlike the English “eccentricity”, the French has an exc- beginning here rather than an ecc-. Which when you think about it makes more actual sense since it’s spelled like the word actually sounds, in both languages.

porter le deuil: I knew the word “deuil” already from SuperMemo, but had not picked up on it meaning “mourning/bereavement”, as opposed to general sorrow. It’s used in this phrase here, which apparently specifically refers to wearing mourning clothes, although Tolkien originally wrote that Frodo refused to go into mourning.

entre-deux-âges: This is the term used as the translation of “tweens”, in the section describing how Frodo shows the same signs of preservation that Bilbo had once done, and continues to look like a Hobbit just leaving his tweens. I’ve never seen this term before. It translates literally to “between two ages”.

Il en a vu un: This is Sam’s insisting that his cousin saw an Ent. In English, the sentence is simply “He saw one”. If I’m reading this right though this is not entirely a direct translation, since I think the “en” is a callback to “Ents” as a discussion topic? So this would translate more to “He saw one of them.”

psalmodiant: This is the past tense of psalmodier, which means “to chant”, and which stands out to my eye because of the Book of Psalms in the Bible.

fariboles: Poppycock/nonsense, which is what Ted calls any information Sam might be getting from the Bagginses.

essais: This shows up in the beginning of Gandalf talking to Frodo about the Ring, and specifically, where he’s talking about many magic rings being made and how the lesser ones were “essays” in ringcraft before the later, more powerful ones. I’ve been seeing “essai” as a SuperMemo word, and had thought it was a word meaning “test”. But Tolkien actually uses the word “essay” in his original text, and now that I see it this way, I get the sense that the word’s meant more along the lines of what we’d call a “trial run” today. And indeed, looking up “essay” on dictionary.com, I see a definition there, noted as an obsolete definition, of “tentative effort”.

assujettissement: This means “subjugation” and appears when Gandalf’s talking about the Ring showing signs of getting control over Bilbo. I like the word just because it’s kind of gigantic for French. Almost Germanic in its syllable count. 😀

And in closing

Wheef, long post is long. We shall see how long it’ll take me to do a proper post about the French version of Chapter 3! But here’s this one, at least, for y’all to ponder. Onward!

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1 Comment

  • Reply alfvaen October 11, 2017 at 6:44 am

    I’ve been reading Fellowship to my son, and I am noticing how Tolkien will insert a scene break at the drop of a hat. I tend to actually say “scene break” when I’m reading out loud to let the audience know about the transition, but I find myself skipping 50-75% of Tolkien’s because the scene isn’t actually changing.

    With the two meaning of “livre”, I think they come from different Latin words–the one for “pound” is related more to “libra” the scale (a.k.a. the zodiacal constellation), where “book” is from “librum”. I guess I don’t know offhand of the two are related from further back.

    I also recall that French uses “en” and “y” in cases where English would just count on people remembering the previous sentence.

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