Trilingual Harry Potter Reread

Trilingual Harry Potter Reread: Book 1, Chapter 1: “The Boy Who Lived”

In which I officially open the Harry Potter Triwizard Tournament Trilingual Reread with Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “The Boy Who Lived”!

Commentary and language geekery behind the fold!

General Commentary

We open Book 1 with the Chapter “The Boy Who Lived”, and as I read this on the heels of finally concluding the Hobbit reread, I’m struck by how this chapter has something in common with The Hobbit‘s opening chapter, “An Unexpected Party”: i.e., that the action opens with the camera parked squarely upon a character who prides himself upon being normal. Bilbo unequivocally turns down the opportunity for adventures, while both Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are proud to say that they are “perfectly normal, thank you very much”.

In both cases, events fire up right out of the gate to shake up the world. In Bilbo’s case we see him become the hero Gandalf knows he can be–whereas with the Dursleys, through most of the Harry Potter series, we see them doing pretty much the exact opposite. I.e., putting their hands over their ears and going “LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” every time evidence of Harry’s magical skill and the magical world he’s connected to presents itself. It’s a very human reaction, one must admit. If you don’t know what’s coming and how badly the Dursleys are going to treat Harry, you could almost be sorry for them here. Having the boundaries of your comfort zone shattered is not always a welcome or happy experience.

Reading Vernon’s reaction to seeing all of the cloaked people all over the town makes me smirk. He’s got only two ideas for what the outfits might mean, i.e., “some stupid new fashion”, or else “collecting for something”. The man clearly has never seen a Renfaire or an SF convention crowd. But then, we’re clearly told he doesn’t approve of imagination, either, so even if he did see such crowds, it’s doubtful he’d understand what they were.

I remembered pretty quickly that the cat spying on the Dursleys’ house is in fact McGonagall in cat shape, and the sight of her reading a map in that shape is the first lovely little sign we get that strange things are afoot. Taken together with all the cloaks, the owls flying around town, and the shooting stars, it’s a lovely picture to paint for a young reader’s imagination. There are indeed Strange Things in the world, and oh look, the grownups don’t understand them! Silly grownups.

Then Dumbledore shows up, and we are finally clued in as to what’s going on. Hurray, Voldemort is dead! And what’s this? He couldn’t kill one little baby boy? One little baby boy who, in fact, Dumbledore plans to leave with the Dursleys? What on EARTH is he thinking? McGonagall is dubious, Hagrid is heartbroken, and certainly the reader has to trust that Dumbledore, the long-bearded dispenser of sherbet lemons, who can put out streetlights with his magical Put-Outer, knows what he’s doing.

Also, let it be said: Hagrid is rather adorable, particularly since I cannot help but imagine him as he’s portrayed in the movies. <3 And I didn’t miss the very first mention of Sirius Black, either.

Two Countries Separated by a Common Language

Let’s just get this out the way right up front: I think it’s silly that the US editions of the books had to be tweaked for US audiences, as if somehow the minds of US children couldn’t handle British-isms. The most egregious example of this is, of course, the changed title of the book from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. For my money, it’s a good thing to introduce young readers to turns of phrase they might not otherwise encounter. It broadens their experiences of the language and of the world. And if your kid sees something in a book they don’t understand, for chrissakes, encourage them to look it up. Better yet, look it up with them. Maybe you’ll both learn something!

That said, I also noticed these examples that differ between the US and UK editions:

While Uncle Vernon is at work, he thinks to go buy a bun “from the baker’s opposite” in the UK edition, and “from the bakery” in the US edition.

The word Dudley learns in the UK edition is “shan’t”, but in the US, it’s “won’t”.

Dumbledore offers McGonagall a “sherbet lemon” in the UK edition, and a “lemon drop” in the US.

Six Things About the French Edition

The title of the French edition is Harry Potter à l’École des Sorciers. If you plug this into Google Translate, it comes back with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, but this is not actually accurate. “Ècole” is the word for “school”, not “stone”. A better translation for this would actually be Harry Potter at the Sorcerers’ School.

The Dursleys are “Mr” and “Mrs”, not “Monsieur” and “Madame”. I further note that the familiar English abbreviations do not actually have periods, and moreover, when they are referred to collectively, they are “Les Dursley”, not “Les Dursleys”.

McGonagall’s cat form is described as “un chat tigré”. I didn’t know what the French word for “tabby” was, so it’s fun to see it here. I would think that McGonagall should be “une chatte tigrée”–but then again, a) we’ve already established that Vernon isn’t exactly on the ball, and I can’t imagine he’d be able to think of a strange cat as anything but an “it”, and b) I AM aware that “chatte” has some connotations (i.e., of female anatomy) that I suppose they’d want to keep out of a children’s book. (On the other hand, I can also imagine McGonagall smirking rather brilliantly at such connotations being leveled at her. If anyone would be aware of crude connotations of French words, it’d totally be McGonagall.)

When Vernon bumps into the little wizard by his office building, he says “navré”, a word I didn’t recognize, but which means “sorry”. I’m used to hearing “désolé” in this context. I wonder if there are different scenarios in which the two words might be used. Is “navré” less polite than “désolé”? Interesting to consider, given that Hagrid uses “désolé” in dialogue later in this chapter.

When the weatherman is giving his report on the television, in the English editions, he mentions Kent, Yorkshire, and Dundee. Interestingly, in the French edition, Dundee is changed to “la côte est de l’Écosse”, which is “the east coast of Scotland”. (Apparently there’s some measure of “we’re not going to make a kid reading this look something up” going on in the French edition, too! Because apparently looking up Dundee would be hard.)

The aforementioned sherbet lemon/lemon drop becomes “esquimau au citron”, in French, which I did not expect! I.e., “Eskimo lemon”. A quick Google suggests that this is in fact a lemon-flavored ice cream bar. This certainly sounds more like “sherbet lemon” than it does “lemon drop”.

French Worldbuilding Terms

“Muggle” is given as “Moldu” in this translation, which raises interesting questions for later as to what the insult “mudblood” will translate to.

Voldemort’s sobriquet of “You-Know-Who” is “Vous-Savez-Qui” in French. It took me a moment to figure that out, and that this was not in fact a typo.

Dumbledore’s Put-Outer is “l’Éteignoir”, which is “the Extinguisher”. This sounds less cutesy than “Put-Outer”, but almost a bit too much so! It sounds like something you’d name a weapon.

Madame Pomfrey is “Madame Pomfresh” in this edition.

And last but not least, “The Boy Who Lived” becomes “Le Survivant” in the French edition, which is also the title of the chapter. I was definitely not expecting that. I was thinking it’d be “Le garçon qui vécu”. But I guess “Le Survivant” rolls off the tongue more smoothly, and that is important in French!

Six Things About the German Edition

I note right out of the gate that of the various editions of the story I’m using for this reread, the German one is the only one that refers to the author as “Joanne K. Rowling” on the cover. Also, the German title is much closer to the English than the French is: Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen. As with the French, Google Translate immediately brings up the full US title if I try to make it translate this. But if you break it down word by word, it comes closer to Harry Potter and the Stone of the Wise, since “Weisen” is used here in the sense of “sages” or “wise men/women”. Or in other words, philosophers.

Vernon calls his son “kleiner Schlingel” in this edition, which is “little rascal”.

Hands down my favorite word in the German edition: “merkwürdig(es)”, which is “strange/odd/curious”. I like it in no small part because of how it sounds close to “Murkworks”! Though I have to admit that “Schnallenstiefel” is a close runnerup. (I.e., Dumbledore’s high, buckled boots.)

McGonagall in cat form here is “eine getigerte Katze”. I note that a), “getigerte” has that look of “tiger” to it that’s similar to the French “tigré”, and b) the feminine noun is getting used here.

Amusingly, Dudley’s learned word in the German edition is “pfui”! Which is apparently an interjection along the lines of “yuck!” Interesting difference from this vs. the “I won’t!” connotations in the English and French.

HA! The candy in the German edition gives us a nice tasty compound noun: “Zitronenbrausebonbon”!

German Worldbuilding Terms

In this edition, “The Boy Who Lived” is “Der Jungen der lebt”, which does not actually agree with the chapter title, which is “Ein Junge überlebt” (“a boy survives”).

Voldemort’s nickname becomes “Du-weiß-schon-wer” in German, which is “You know well who”, I think. Note that this is using “Du”, which is the familiar “you”, not the formal “Sie”.

Likewise, “Muggle” becomes “Muggel” in German.

Ah, here we go–the Put-Outer, in German, is more literally translated. Here, it’s “Ausmacher”.

And that’ll be the very first of the reread posts for this series! Come back next week for Chapter 2!

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