Posted in Lost In Translation

Lost In Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Danish

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Hi, guys. It’s time for the second entry in my Lost in Translation series of posts where I compare the Danish versions of the Harry Potter books to the originals to see how much meaning is lost in the translations process. Check out the first one if you missed it. I grew up reading the books in Danish, but switched to the English ones when I was old enough to understand them.

As I mentioned in my post about the first book, I took a few translation classes when I studied at university, so I know a little bit about the thoughts that go into a translation. These posts are really just for fun and an excuse for me to combine my love for Harry Potter and languages.

First, let’s take a look at the Danish cover for the first hardback edition:

  • Aesthetically, I really like this cover. Lots of green colours that goes with the Slytherin theme of the book, but Harry still pops out with his orange/red colours.
  • Love that it is in the air which adds to the giantness of the snake.
  • Don’t know why Quidditch is put so front and center as it isn’t that big of a plot element in this book compared to others. But it looks pretty.
  • We spend most of the book wondering what’s inside the Chamber of Secrets… and you decide to put it on the front cover? Right. Also, I looked at some images of basilisks and this one actually looks more like a King Cobra. It’s small things like this that annoy me a little.

Now, let’s get into the translation part. Just like in the previous post, you don’t need to know a single word of Danish to understand this.

*Be aware that this will contain SPOILERS for the entire series*

‘Original English’ = ‘Danish translation’

The Burrow = Vindelhuset

Harry’s second favorite place in the world, the Weasley home. Looking up the word burrow, it told me that it’s basically a hole or a tunnel in the ground. So naming a house, The Burrow, gives connotations of it being homey and safe, maybe even secluded, but also tells you that it’s not exactly a mansion.

The Danish word for the house is ‘Vindelhuset’ which means The Winding House (like a winding staircase). This name tells you more about the look of the house than its feel. It’s still a very fitting name for the house in my opinion because it indicates its very odd look.

Celestina Warbeck = Celestina Himmelflugt

A name-change for a pretty unsignificant character. In case you don’t remember, this is the singer Molly Weasley loves dearly and listens to every Christmas. Her original last name doesn’t really have a meaning but in Danish it actually does. The literal meaning of ‘Himmelflugt’ is heaven escape, while it’s more often used to describe a quick and major rise or surge in something such as prices. In this case, it might be a reference to Celestina’s voice though.

Floo Powder = Susepulver

It’s really only the first part of this uncomfortable travel method that’s interesting as ‘powder’ translate directly to ‘pulver’. ‘Floo’ is a made-up word but still somehow just fits. In Danish, we have the word ‘suse’ which means ‘to whizz’, which is completely accurate. Whizz Powder. Am I the only one seeing a missed opportunity there?

Knockturn Alley = Tusmørkegyden

This is one of the funny ones. ‘Knockturn’ doesn’t mean anything in English, but when you follow it up with ‘alley’ and say it fast enough it becomes ‘nocturnally’, meaning something that happens at night. This play on words is very difficult to translate exactly, and so the Danish translator just tried to translate the meaning behind it. It came out as ‘Tusmørkegyden’ which means Twilight Alley.

It’s just not possible that there aren’t vampires down there. Thank god, Hagrid found Harry before he ran into Cedric.

The Voldemort Anagram

I’ve always imagined that anagrams must be a translator’s worst nightmare. And this one is quite important. In the original we have:

Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort

In Danish that is turned into:

Romeo G. Detlev Jr. = Jeg er Voldemort

So much to unpack here, but first let it sink in that Voldemort’s actual name is Romeo… No wonder he wanted to change it. No one would have taken him seriously as Lord Romeo.

Next up is that G. It’s not revealed in the second book here, but it actually stands for ‘Gåde’ which means riddle. This isn’t revealed until the name pops up again in book 4 though, which made the first chapter of that book a little bit more mysterious. We hadn’t been introduced to that name’s connection to Voldemort. I’m still impressed with the translator’s ability to get that ‘Riddle’ into the name and the anagram.

Then there is ‘Detlev’ which really has no meaning and is just there to make the anagram work. It’s actually more of a German name and not really used in Denmark, at least not anymore. It’s also more a first name as far as I’m aware, so it’s a little weird use of it.

I think it was very clever to add the Jr. (junior) because it’s so often mentioned that it’s his father’s name, and that Jr. is a constant reminder for him. Another reason why he was so adamant about changing it.

Lastly, his title of Lord is left out because they ran out of letters. All other times, he’s still referred to as Lord Voldemort so it’s not a permanent delete. I’m thinking that it was the sacrifice they had to make to get the ‘Riddle’ part in there, and the only other solution would have been to add another name and make it even more complicated. I think it’s fair.

That last one made my head hurt a little, but we managed to get through. I have way too much fun writing these posts so I really hope you guys just find it slightly informative. Let me know if there were any of these translation you found particularly interesting.

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