A few recollections from the Tolkien Society Seminar (2021-11-06)

I carved out a day to virtually assist the Tolkien Society Seminar on Translating and Illustrating Tolkien's works. Here are a few things I learned:

A few recollections from the Tolkien Society Seminar (2021-11-06)

This past Saturday was the all-day virtual conference put on by the Tolkien Society on Translation and Illustration. Having greatly enjoyed the papers presented back in February (see my notes here), I knew I would not want to miss the conference on translation, and I was able to carve out some time out of my weekend (and "Chill NaNoWriMo-ing," more on that to come) to attend.

→ En français svp!

Despite some minor connectivity issues, the day was chock-full of very interesting papers. I really felt like I learned a lot not only about the various interpretations of Tolkien's works around the world, but also about the nuances and challenges faced by literary and poetic translators who have to deal with a philologist's archaisms and recontructions, linguistic constructions, and intense myth and worlbuilding. It was really one of those all-too-rare days where one's nerdy creative interests intersect perfectly with one's professional practice (as I myself am a language worker and an aspiring writer who does quite a lot of translation)!

Here are a few of the moments during the conference which grabbed my attention, in no particular order (unlike last February, I won't be able to attach time stamps to the recording since the talks are not yet shared on the Tolkien Society's YouTube Channel):

  • The first lecture by Eric Reinders about the subtleties in the various Chinese translations of The Lord of the Rings with regards to Glorfindel's prophecy (that famous one about the Witch King of Angmar and whether any Man could slay him...) and Merry and Eowyn's person-hoods was really thought-provoking and interesting. Learning about the various Chinese translators' choices and approaches, and the way that subtly emphasized different parts of Eowyn's story and characterization was simply fascinating.
  • Helena Real's discussion about gender in the Spanish translations (remember: Spanish's usage of grammatical's gender is very close to the way it's done in French) was very thoughtful. I especially appreciated the insight in the cultural conflicts between Castellano (Peninsular) Spanish and the Spanish spoken in the rest of the world, and how it affected in particular the translation of The Silmarillion. The screenshot of the very real usage of Illuvatar saying "Y tú, Melkor" will go down in infamy amongst the hispanophone translators and readers watching the talk!
  • Martha Celis Mendoza's & Aline Esperanza Maza Vázques' discussion of Roverrandom (an early novella by Tolkien not part of the Legendarium — that is, the world of The Lord of the Rings) was really interesting, and I was not actually familiar with Roverrandom before that Saturday! Additionally, Aline's comparison of the story of Roverrandom and ancient Aztec stories in Mexico was absolutely gripping, and I always love to see that kind of literary analysis!
  • In the chatroom of the conference in the late morning, there was an interesting discussion about the particular difficulty of translating evocative folkloric names of plants, and the discussion in the chat turned to how fiction translators should or could look to how poets have translated poetry to find inspiration and actually take chances with the translation in order to create something beautiful that still respects the original intentions of the author in their own language.
  • Sonali Chunodkar's discussion about the Marathi translation of the Lord of the Rings ("From the Black Gate to the Krishna Dear: On the Curious Evocative Resonances of Swami Mudrikancha") was completely fascinating to me from both a religious, cultural, and linguistic standpoint. Unfortunately, I was having some rather bad technical issues during some of the meatier bits of the presentation. This is absolutely a talk I hope to revisit once the lectures are finally online.

As I tweeted on the day of:

  • Marie Bretagnolle's paper on the map illustrations and the French translations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was very good. It was also full of very funny details! Such as, in the very first French translation of The Two Towers, the very first chapter of the book which in English is called "The Taming of Sméagol" was translated as « L'approvisionnement de Sméagol » (approvisionnement = supplying). Very big error! On the first chapter! Another funny early error appearing in one of the early poor translations of a map in The Lord of the Rings is when "Hobbits" was translated as « Les lapins » (the bunnies!) Also, I'll never stop giggling about how anglophones get so aghast when they discover the names Bilbo and Frodo are spelled Bilbon and Frodon in many of the French translations — including the ones I read growing up! (Until the lecture is available up on the Tolkien Society YouTube, you can check out the abstract of Bretagnolle's paper here.)
  • The last paper by Sonja Virta was also so interesting, discussing the in-depth differences not only in the Swedish and the Finnish translations of The Lord of The Rings (and The Hobbit too), but also how the two translations were approached sometimes quite differently, and what that reveals about different creative, cultural, and literary approaches to translation. Because so much of Tolkien's Legendarium takes direct inspiration from Beowulf, the Norse Eddas, and the Finnish legendary epic the Kalevala, it was also super interesting to see how the translators in Sweden and Finland approached the work.

There were other very interesting papers absolutely worth being looked at, but these were the ones that really stuck with me.

Thank you to all the presenters and for the organizers at the Tolkien Society for all your hard work. It was a very good Saturday to spend with you all, and I look forward to the next Seminar!


The comments section is open below. You can also throw a coin to your blogger, check out the guestbook before leaving, and come find me on the fediverse.