Posted in Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Danish

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Hi, guys. So back in April I reread Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but I read it in my first langauge, Danish, for the purpose of this post right here. I grew up reading the Danish versions of the books but switched to English when I was old enough to understand them. So I had this idea that I wanted to compare the translated version to the original to see how much meaning is actually lost in the translation process.

I’m not doing a word for word comparision of the entire book because nobody wants that. I’m focusing more on the Harry Potter specific terms/names because those are the hardest to translate and therefore more fun to analyze. I do have a little bit of a background when it comes to translating. When I went to university to study International Business Communication, I took a few classes on the topic so I know a little bit without being an expert. All of this is really just for fun and a way for me to combine my two favorite things: Harry Potter and languages.

First, however, I wanted to show off the Danish cover for the first edition hardback which is the edition I own. And do a little commentary on it. Hope you enjoy!

  • Now, first I have a question: WHAT IS THAT HAT?!? Down by Harry’s feet? The book specified that their pointed hats needed to be black. You might be able to convince me that Dumblefore would wear a hat like that, but that kind of hat is never described in the book so what is it doing there?
  • Is Harry able to create lightning? In year 1? And why is he reaching for it? Is he actually suicidal in this one? I mean I wouldn’t be surprised with the Dursleys and all but damn that’s dark.
  • No more jokes. I actually really like the colour scheme of it and that sort of rock thing around the edge. I imagine that I as a reader broke through a wall to get to read about Harry Potter and Hogwarts.

Now, let’s get into the translation part of the post. I’ve tried to make it as easy for non-Danish speakers to understand as possible. So don’t worry, you don’t need to know a single word of Danish to understand this post.

*Be aware that this contains SPOILERS for the entire series*

‘Original English’ = ‘Danish translation’

The Philsopher’s Stone = De Vises Sten

We’re starting with the infamous title that not even English-speaking countries can agree on. It’s pretty straight forward actually because “philosopher’s stone” isn’t a Harry Potter expression and has existed as a term for several hundred years. So the Danish title is therefore just the Danish version of it.

The direct translation of “De Vises Sten” would be “The Stone of the Wise (Ones)”. So the philosopher is changed into a wise one which is not that big of a stretch. The meaning doesn’t change. However, the translation also changes the number of people involved. In English there’s only one philosopher, but in Danish it’s plural. So I looked into that. Turns out that English has of form of the concept that’s also plural (The Philosophers’ Stone) so both options would work when in Danish, it only existed as this plural form.

Gamekeeper = Godsforvalter

Gamekeeper is one of Hagrid’s titles and that basically means that it is his job to “manage” The Forbidden Forest and all its creatures. The Danish version gives him several other duties, however, by giving him the title of “Godsforvalter”. The most direct translation would be “manager of the estate”, as in a very large estate. Like it’s Hagrid job to make sure that everything runs smoothly at Hogwarts. I imagine his tasks would be something like hiring house-elves for the kitchen and ordering supplies and decorations for festivities. For some reason, I can’t picture Hagrid doing that.

So the meaning changed in the translation but of course not something that changes the entire story. I just remember always being kind of confused about Hagrid’s job at Hogwarts, but it all made sense when I read the English version. The word “godsforvalter” is also a very old Danish word. The title still exists but there are very few of them left so 10-year-old me did not know what it entailed.

Chocolate Frogs = Platugler

This one truly baffles me. The direct translation of “platugler” is… “stupid/lame owls”. OWLS?!? Where did that come from? That’s not even close to the original animal.
Although, “platugler” can have another meaning because it’s also an idiom. It can also refer to someone who cheats/cons, but that makes even less sense in this context.

In my research of why this translation was chosen, I came up with very little. My own guess would be based on the fact that we in Denmark already had something called chocolate frogs. A very popular type of candy actually from a big company. So my guess is that the translator wanted a name that was uniquely related to Harry Potter and not a big brand name.

Still weird to watch the movie when the “owls” turned out to be frogs.

West Ham = Liverpool

This is something you would think didn’t need a translation but here we are. In the English version, Dean Thomas is a supporter of the football team West Ham. In Danish he’s a fan of Liverpool.

As someone who watches football and the English Premier League, I simply needed to address this. West Ham is NOT Liverpool! They aren’t even based in the same city as West Ham is a London club.

The explanation? The only reason I can come up with, is that Liverpool is a more well-known club in Denmark. The Premier League has a lot of supporters around the world, and in Denmark the two clubs with the biggest following (at that time at least) were Liverpool and Manchester United. So maybe the translator just picked one of those so the team would be more recognizable. I still think it’s unnecessary because it’s a book for children so why does it matter? It’s also something that’s mentioned so off-handedly in the book. It’s really not that important.

Fang = Trofast

Here we have the first character-name-change, and it’s Hagrid’s dog Fang. In Danish, he’s called “Trofast” which means loyal or faithful. Now, it’s been difficult for me to know how much meaning the name Fang has but to me it has always been kind of ironic. It sounds like a name for a dangerous dog. One you shouldn’t mess with. It’s ironic because the only thing we really know about Fang is that he’s a huge coward.

That irony isn’t transferred to the Danish edition where his name is much more fitting in my opinion. “Trofast” is the kind of name a dog would have if he was big and lazy. It’s often the name of the dog in old movies here when an old man lives alone and has a dog. 9 out of 10 times that dog’s name will be “Trofast”.

Another thing is that Hagrid probably named him. As “Trofast” is a name for a calm and easy animal, I can only imagine Hagrid giving that name to some vicious and highly dangerous animal. I mean, he named a three-headed dog Fluffy, and so this translation isn’t exactly in character for Hagrid.

The Mirror of Erised = Drømmespejlet

That is one tricky mirror. “Drømmespejlet” can be translated into the mirror of dreams which is actually something that makes sense, unlike ‘erised’. The Danish translation succeeds in describing the workings of the mirror in its name, but should it do that when the original doesn’t? At least not if you haven’t figured out that backwards thing. You don’t get that puzzle in Danish.

The even more interesting part about The Mirror of Erised, however, is it’s inscription: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. This was just copy-pasted into the Danish version which is a problem because it only has a meaning in English. Backwards it says: I show not your face but your heart’s desire.

I can only assume that the translator wasn’t aware of its meaning, and thought it to be gibberish. It’s not explained anywhere in the book, but is just left there for the reader to figure out on their own. Imagine how mindblown I was when I, years later, saw someone talking about this online because I had no freaking idea that it meant something. It’s a code that’s easy enough to translate so my guess is that the translator didn’t know it needed to be translated.

Phoenix Feather = Kimærehorn

The most “oh no you didn’t”-translation of this book is the fact that it changes the core of Harry’s wand. Instead of a phoenix feather, Harry’s wand contains a horn from a chimera.

It kept the dual core thing by still explaining that Voldemort’s wand was made from a horn from the same chimera. You’re just still going to run into a problem in book 4 when it’s revealed that the “chimera horn” came from Fawkes…
Now, I don’t actually remember this being a problem as a child and only noticed that change in my recent reread. I have an inkling that when the wand’s core is mentioned in book 4, it’s going to be a phoenix feather. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.

As to why this change was made, I have absolutely no clue. It sort of broke my brain when I noticed because I can’t think of a reason why it needed to change to a different mythological creature. But it’s all just really unlucky. The translator had really no way of knowing that the core was going to be that important later on. That’s just J. K. Rowling and her amazing plotting for you.

I think this is the longest post I’ve ever done so thank you if you made it all the way through. I hope it was somewhat interesting. I know I had a lot of fun writing it and looking out for these little things while reading. A few of these I hadn’t actually noticed before.

I want to make it clear that I think translations of books are really important to make books as accessible as possible. No translation is perfect, however, and I find it interesting to ponder the different ways there are to translate a word.
I’ll be doing a post like this for the rest of the books as well whenever I get around to rereading them. Did any of these translations mystify you as much as they did me?

9 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Danish

  1. I loved this!! I’m glad someone else gets upset when things are translated in ways that make absolutely no sense whatsoever 😁 In the German version they actually translated Sirius Black’s last name in the first book, but from the third one on they didn’t – so it’s like these are two different people! (Though, honestly, the wand core thing is probably a lot worse 😂). And I’m also kind of mad that they changed Hermione’s name to “Hermine” in the German version, probably because Hermione is hard to pronounce. But this book is set in England – we can educate kids about foreign names! Anyway, I’m glad I grew up reading the English versions and only had to learn about these things from friends 😊And if you want to feel a little better about the Danish covers, maybe go look at the Finnish ones 😉 At least the Danish illustrations of the characters aren’t traumatizing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh translating his last name is bad enough but then they didn’t stick with it? That’s just confusing. Some characters in the Danish version have different names but at least they keep that name all the way through. I understand your frustration about Hermione. It’s not even that hard to pronounce compared to other names you find in fantasy books. And removing a single letter to make it easier? Can’t help but think that’s kind of lazy lol. In Danish her name just has a different pronounciation but you only know that if you listen to the audiobook or watch the dubbed movies.

      Just googled the Finnish covers… not sure how to describe my horror…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s definitely a mystery – the German books even translated some of the spells from Latin into gibberish… Maybe the translators just wanted to get creative as well?
    And, yes, those covers really are a bit of a shock when you first see them 😂 When my brother first told me they were ugly, I thought he must be exaggerating, and then I looked them up and was traumatized for life…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m getting the sense that a post like this about the German versions would have taken hours to read lol. You don’t translate Latin. But yeah, maybe the translator was bored or they just hated Latin.

      The day after and I’m still in shock. Now I’m wondering whether there are fewer readers of Harry Potter in Finland because why would you want to pick those up from the bookstore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A through analysis would probably be the length of an entire Harry Potter book lol
    And that’s so true! I guess Finnish kids are lucky that the books got so popular or they might never have given them any attention… Though I do kind of wonder if the covers influenced the way they imagined the characters – that sometimes happens to me when they are people on the cover, and in this case, you really wouldn’t want those images to stick!

    Liked by 1 person

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