Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tolkien and Translation

I was never a J.R.R. Tolkien fan as a child and for whatever reason I was quite reluctant to read his works until the past few years when, encouraged by my Tolkien-fan partner, I gave it a go. And I discovered that I actually really quite liked his writing.

So then I got interested in learning more about him and I read Humphrey Carpenter’s good (if sometimes a bit too fawning or overly detailed) biography. I was amazed to find out just how learned he was (although the books should have been a pretty clear indication) and especially how good with languages he was (both actual tongues and those he invented).

Tolkien, it turns out, also did some translation. And he had some very strict views about the art of translation. Although I haven’t yet been able to find the introduction he wrote to a translation of Beowulf, Carpenter explains that in that text, Tolkien says that translators must adopt a “high style” when translating texts about so-called “heroic matters”. Carpenter goes on to connect this to Tolkien’s own writing style, particularly in regard to the famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, which he was working on at the same time.

The film version of the trilogy is very good (and I’m eager to see The Hobbit when it comes out later this year), but I urge you to read Tolkien’s works and to pay close attention the language. And click here to read about how his trilogy was translated to Swedish.