Trilingual Harry Potter Reread

Trilingual Harry Potter Reread: Book 1, Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat

I have been asked on Google+ when the next post of this series would be going up, and I take this as a nudge to go ahead and get this posted! To all those who have in fact been coming by to read these: thanks and I hope you’re enjoying them! I’ll try to make sure I do them more regularly moving forward.

So where’d we leave off? Harry, Ron, and Hermione have made it to Hogwarts, and they’ve come into the great hall to be Sorted into Houses along with the rest of the incoming first-year students. Which, of course, means that we get to see the Sorting Hat in action.

General Commentary

Something that strikes me in the very first paragraph of this chapter: McGonagall is described as “black-haired”. Which is totally at odds with how she’s played in the movies, given that the redoubtable Dame Maggie Smith was certainly not black-haired even as of the first of the films. Not that I’d trade her for an instant, just because her McGonagall is just that awesome. Just amused by the cognitive dissonance here, since it makes me wonder whether Minerva actually looked younger in Rowling’s mind as she wrote the series, or at least as of when she wrote this book.

When she fills the students in on what’s happening, we do get it spelled out again what the names of the Houses are–a trifle redundantly, given that we’ve already gotten that information via Hagrid’s earlier chatting with Harry. But still, it’s appropriate for her to spell out this information since it’s plausible that some of the students may not actually know it yet.

It’s interesting as well to see her emphasizing that each House has produced outstanding witches and wizards. This is something that gets less emphasis than it should as the series plays out, since we don’t actually get much in the way of evidence that Slytherin has produced such outstanding witches and wizards (with the very arguable exception of Snape). Though, I’ll also grant that it’s been a while since my first spin through the books, so this’ll be something I’ll keep an eye on as I proceed!

And of course we get some second-hand evidence here of Fred and George’s having their younger brother on–though I have to wonder how, in a wizard family, Ron got this far without actually knowing what the Sorting Hat is. On the other hand, it’s possible that he never thought to ask anybody else in the family besides Fred and George.

We get our first look at the ghosts of Hogwarts as well, so offhandedly that it’s clear that they’re a part of the normal landscape of the world. I really rather love that.

And the description of the Great Hall is rather beautiful as well: “Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands which were floating in mid-air over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting.” And there’s the description of the dishes on the tables, glittering and golden; the hundreds of faces like lanterns against the candlelight; and the ghosts as a silver counterpoint to all the light and the gold of the dishes. Over all of it, there’s the ceiling full of stars. Lovely.

The Sorting Hat’s song is another point in this book which, I gotta say, I’m reminded of The Hobbit. This is not a bad thing. Though I’ll be interested to compare how the translators handle this!

And I love the sentence “If only the hat had mentioned a house for people who felt a bit queasy, that would have been the one for him.” So very quintessentially dry British humor, like “Frodo did not offer her any tea.” (heart)

I like the variety of names we get amongst the first years. Some of them are, again, so very very British, like “Justin Finch-Fletchley”. But you also have children with last names like “Boot” and “Bones”, and, of course, “Malfoy”. And Millicent Bulstrode becoming the first of the Slytherins in the first-years ties in with my earlier point: right out of the gate, Harry decides that the Slytherins look like an “unpleasant lot”. There aren’t any positive Slytherin role models to be found anywhere.

And oh poor Neville, unthinkingly running off with the Hat still on his head. Poor kid! Hang in there. You are in fact destined for greatness.

It’s fun seeing the Gryffindors flip their shit over getting Harry, though. 😀 And fun seeing Dumbledore’s little speech about wanting to “say a few words”. Which he does. Never let it be said that Albus Dumbledore does not deliver exactly what he means to!

We get Nearly Headless Nick’s intro next, and this is another example of pure genius casting on the part of the movies: I can’t read his dialogue without hearing John Cleese in my head.

When the kids recount their histories to one another, I have another twinge of “omigod poor Neville”–because I mean honestly, trying to force magic out of a kid? NOT HELPING, GREAT-UNCLE ALGIE.

Then, of course, we get our first glimpse of Snape, complete with the ominous flare of pain in Harry’s scar. And the immediate hint of “this teacher doesn’t like Harry at all”. Simplistic in the foreshadowing, but on the other hand, I’m an adult reader. It’s the exact right level of foreshadowing for a child reading this, I daresay.

The school song is going to be another clearly interesting example of translation, I can tell that right off. And I love that the Weasley twins’ chosen tune is a funeral dirge, and that the other teachers get these fixed smiles on their faces at this particular idiosyncrasy of Dumbledore’s! I do wonder if he’s been doing this all throughout his tenure as Headmaster, and whether this creative interpretation of tune started with him.

And once Percy takes the Gryffindors to their dorm at last, we get Harry’s bad dream involving Quirrell and Snape. Also not the slightest bit ominous. OH MY NO.

Two Countries Separated by a Common Language

There’s not too much in this chapter that I was able to spot that’s different between the US and UK editions. But I did note that in the paragraph where several names are rattled off at once during the Sorting, the UK edition does not have commas after the various ellipses. The US edition does.

And when the feast food appears, the UK edition mentions “mint humbugs”. The US edition calls them “peppermint humbugs”. Neither of these is particularly useful if you don’t know what a humbug is, so I looked it up. The Wikipedia article includes a picture, and describes how these are a candy in the UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. The Harry Potter wiki article specifically adds that they are a Muggle candy. It is indeed rather odd but also rather fun that a candy is part of the main course here.

The other remaining difference I found was in the desserts, where the UK edition mentions “jelly” and the US edition mentions “Jell-O”.

When Hermione is talking to Percy about lessons, she says that she wants to start lessons “straight away” in the UK editions, and “right away” in the US edition.

Five Things About the French Edition

One of the things I’ve picked up in my French vocabulary studies pertains to number words. English gets the word “dozen” from French, and we all know what a dozen of something is, i.e., twelve. But there are other similar words in French for other numbers: ‘dizaine’ for ‘ten of something’, ‘vingtaine’ for ‘twenty of something’, ‘centaine’ for ‘a hundred of something’. And there’s a connotation of these numbers mentioning ‘approximately this much of something’ as well. In this chapter, I see both ‘centaine’ and ‘vingtaine’ used, the first for the voices of the students in the Great Hall, and the second for the first group of ghosts that Harry sees before the Sorting.

The paragraph where Harry gets his first sight of the great hall reads thusly: “L’endroit Ă©tait Ă©trange et magnifique.” Which loses the English description of Harry having never conceived of such a strange and splendid place, an interesting call on the translator’s part. The French here is the simpler “The place was strange and magnificent”.

Ah, and the translation of the Sorting Hat song does in fact account for rhyming in French, so it’s not a word-for-word translation even if the general gist is the same. I do like the rhymes of “connaitre” and “peut-ĂȘtre”, “loyal” and “proverbiale”, and “maison” and “raison”.

Ron says in French, after the Sorting Hat sings, “J’ai bien envie d’aller lui casser la figure !” This is his reaction to learning that his brother was bullshitting him, and Google Translate says it means “I really want to go beat him up!” Which, I suppose, is somewhat less violent than what he says in English, i.e., “I’ll kill Fred”. However, this page on says the expression is more like “I really want to go smash his face in!”, so there’s that.

The school song is also translated to rhyme properly in French, and I think my favorite rhymes here are ‘chauve’ and ‘guimauve’–which mean, respectively, ‘bald’ and ‘marshmallow’. And I recognize the latter from a title of a reel!

French Worldbuilding Terms

In French, the Sorting Hat is “Le Choixpeau Magique”. And while I’m a beginner at French, I still know enough to recognize that “Choixpeau” is a portmanteau of “choix” (choice) and “chapeau” (hat). Well played, French translator! Well played! Likewise, the Sorting Ceremony becomes “La CĂ©rĂ©monie de la RĂ©partition”.

The Great Hall is, unsurprisingly, “La Grande Salle”.

The Houses of the school are referred to as “les maisons”, with a lowercase m. Which makes sense, given what I know about French capitalization customs. (I’ve noticed that a lot of the Quebec trad songs I listen to do not normally capitalize song titles for the very first character, or unless there are actual names of places or people involved.)

Hogwarts: A History is L’Histoire de Poudlard in the French. I think I’ve called this out before in prior posts, but I’ll note it again here.

Oh, this is important: Neville’s last name is changed in the French. He becomes “Neville Londubat”!

Nearly Headless Nick is “Nick Quasi-Sans-TĂȘte”, the Fat Friar is “le gros moine” (though he doesn’t get capitalized like the others do, interestingly), and the Bloody Baron is “Le Baron Sanglant”.

And ah yes: Snape is also named differently in French. He is “Rogue”. Which will mean I’ll have a hard time not thinking of the X-Men when I’m reading this version of the story! The French Wikipedia page on Snape does actually go into a bit of discussion as to this translation choice. Here’s a rough translation of what it says:

“In English, his name is Severus Snape, to wit, the same initials as those of Salazar Slytherin. Severus comes from the Latin (severus, a, um) which means severe, hard. One can also draw a parallel to the English verb “to sever” (cut, break). Likewise, his surname (Snape) parallels the verb “to snap” (to snap off, bang, scoff, bite, grouse), the verb “to snipe” (criticize someone slyly or stealthily), and the noun ‘snake’ (serpent). These meanings correspond to his character, always prompt to sarcasm and mockery. But the true origine of the name Snape is the name of an English village, and equally that of a person known to J. K. Rowling.

Rogue, the French translation of the name, has a vague connection with ‘rogue’ in English, which means « rascal », « villain », « camp », « loner » ou encore « mischievous ». In French, it means « haughty/lordly », « stiff and rude », « arrogant ».”

Filch, the caretaker, is “Mr Rusard”.

Five Things About the German Edition

McGonagall’s intro to the students at the beginning of the chapter, and in particular the bit where she explains the Sorting and how the students’ time at Hogwarts will be impacted by their houses, is a big read in German. It’s also a little weird to follow as an English speaker, since the quotation marks only appear at the very beginning and end of her dialogue. Even though it’s split up into multiple paragraphs. So I caught myself having to verify that I was in fact still reading dialogue, rather than narration.

The Sorting Hat song is, like the French version, definitely altered to rhyme in German appropriately. Moreover, as near as I can tell, the individual lines of the song are also rather longer than they are in English–an inevitable consequence of working with German, as I know from my day job and the translation efforts required for software. It does require you to think a bit differently about how that song’s melody might work, though. And now I’m very curious as to how it might have been rendered in the German-dubbed version of the movie!

Interestingly, the name “Morag MacDougal” in German becomes “Morag McDougal”. Which makes me wonder whether “Mac” names in German in general become “Mc”.

Dumbledore’s “few words” are fun in German: “Schwachkopf! Schwabbelspeck! Krimskrams! Quiek!” (Moron! Not sure about the second one… fat wobble? XD Rubbish! Squeak!)

And the German word for the humbugs wins for my favorite word in the chapter: “Pfefferminzbonbons”. (Both the German and French editions go literal with the candies here, and call them peppermint candies.)

German Worldbuilding Terms

Interestingly, the Sorting Hat is “Der Sprechende Hut”. Google Translate claims this means “the Sorting Hat”, but poking at this further shows me that “sprechende” is actually “eloquent”. Or, roughly, “speaking”. So literally, the Hat is getting called ‘The Speaking Hat’ here. Whether there’s an idiomatic connotation here too, I don’t know.

The Sorting Ceremony in German is called “Die EinfĂŒhrungsfeier”. Which I’m calling out here in particular since “EinfĂŒhrungs” refers to “induction” or “introduction”, rather than “sorting”. So it’s interesting to see a lack of “Sorting” here too.

The ghosts in the German: “der fette Mönch”, “Fast Kopflose Nick”, and “Der Blutige Baron”. (Fun note about ‘Kopflose’: this definition here says there’s a connotation here of panic, or how we’d say in English, like a chicken with its head cut off. Which says interesting things about Nick as a character that don’t come across in the English!)

Hogwarts: A History is Geschichte Hogwarts’ in German. Note the apostrophe.

Next time in Chapter 8: we find out more about Snape!

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