Trilingual Hobbit Reread

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

Starting off 2012 with a big ol’ geek-out over the first bit of Chapter 2 of The Hobbit. Really, I can’t think of many better books with which to start my 2012 reading. And yeah, I started this in the tail end of 2011 but will be finishing it well into 2012, so I think this still counts!

The first fun bit in this chapter comes in with when Gandalf finds Bilbo dawdling at breakfast after all the dwarves have left. The wizard cries, “Great Elephants!” (Which, by itself, is a wonderful thing to imagine Ian McKellen saying, though I do wonder whether this would be edited to ‘Great Oliphaunts!’ in the movie, to make it make better sense with The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien does not appear to have done that at least in the enhanced ebook version of the text, though I cannot speak to whether it was done in the special Annotated Hobbit edition.)

This whole paragraph has great fun with idioms, too. The “Great Elephants!” exclamation in German is “Du lieber Himmel!” (Good heavens!) In French, though, it’s “Par les Grands Eléphants!” (By Great Elephants!) One wonders here whether Tolkien was thinking of what would later be called the Oliphaunts/Mumakil, or whether he thought at the time that Gandalf swearing by elephants just sounded cool.

But there’s more! Gandalf goes on to tell Bilbo, “You are not at all yourself this morning–you have never dusted the mantelpiece!”

In German, this renders as “Ich kenne Euch nicht wieder. Habt Ihr denn den Kaminsims noch nicht abgestaubt?” As near as I can tell, since Google Translate is shaky about it, this more or less goes back into English as “I don’t recognize you! Haven’t you dusted the mantelpiece yet?” I note the lack of “this morning” here, too.

But the really fun translation here is in the French edition, where Gandalf’s line is “Vous n’êtes pas dans votre assiette, ce matin–vous n’avez même pas épousseté la chemineé !” When I try to translate this, it comes through as “You are not in your plate this morning–you didn’t even dust the fireplace!” (I’m assuming past tense here–Google Translate is, again, shaky, but offers the past tense as an alternate translation.) And the “on your plate” part makes me giggle. According to this page, this is indeed a legitimate French idiom.

So great fun here seeing what the translators had to do with this particular phrase, and I’ve mad love for actually learning a new idiom because of this entire exercise!

Later on in the chapter, in the German edition, I find a paragraph where the translator appears to have taken quite a few liberties with the text. It’s the paragraph describing how the party sets off across hobbit-lands, and how at first the roads are good with occasional inns, and they pass ‘a dwarf or a farmer’ going about their business. I note with interest that the translator describes the area as inhabited by ‘Menschen, Hobbits, Elben’–that last word being ‘elves’, which does not appear in Tolkien’s prose. Later in the same paragraph the translator also references the party passing the occasional ‘Kesselflicker’–a tinker!–along with the aforementioned dwarf and farmer. So that’s fun, and a nifty thing to have caught! Also, ‘Kesselflicker’ is an excellent word.

Other random observations:

  • “Pony” apparently translates very well. It’s “Pony” in German and “poney” in French.
  • “Gastfreundschaft” is another excellent German word. Literally, “guest friendship”, but actually, “hospitality”.
  • I notice, going through Chapter 2, that there as of yet has been no mention of “the Shire”. Had Tolkien not come up with that term when he wrote The Hobbit?
  • “Disparu” is a word I recognize from, of all places, the part of Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill performance where he’s doing an extended sketch in French. And I cannot think of that word without thinking of monkeys, thanks to Mr. Izzard.
  • Some weirdness in this chapter in the German edition with tracking when Bilbo’s internal dialogue appears. I see it marked with quotation marks in some places and not marked at all in others!

More on this in the next post, because I think I’m about to get to the encounter with the trolls, and I’ve got a nice big post here already.

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