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 = Tusmรธrkegyden

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 ‘Tusmรธrkegyden’ 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 ‘Gรฅde’ 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.

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

  1. I somehow completely missed this post, so thank God you linked it to your new one! I am still cackling over Romeo G. Detlev Jr. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ Yes, Detlev is a German first name, but it’s extremely outdated – my dad actually called one of my childhood dolls that when he wanted to annoy me, so now I have a picture of Voldemort as a chubby blond baby doll in my head. Great ๐Ÿ™ˆ
    In case you’re interested, the German anagram is Tom Volorst Riddle (=Ist Lord Voldemort.), which I guess at least preserves the first and last names, even if I have never heard the name Volorst in my life…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually wondered if you’d missed it so glad you found it ๐Ÿ˜€
      His name is something that has only become funnier to me as I grew older. I thought Romeo was his original name because it’s certainly not very Danish. And good to know that about Detlev. I figured as much because I believe that name has been used in Denmark as well (we’re neighbors after all), but definitely not anymore. Sorry about the baby doll image ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚
      About the anagram, I guess that’s an easier way of going about it. Keep the names that matter and then make a ridiculous middle name to make it all fit. I mean, it is fantasy. Made-up names seems to be a requirement ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s at least better than Romeo G. Detlev Jr.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So am I! This is was too good to miss out on ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚
        The Romeo part is even more ironic considering that Voldemort’s whole deal is not being able to love – and then he gets named after the protagonist of the most famous love story of all time… I just can’t stop laughing about it ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ Honestly, I’m starting to rethink my frustration with weird translations since it is SO funny to learn about them in posts like this one ๐Ÿ˜ The Danish version is definitely much more interesting than the German one, I’ll give it that.
        Oh, and by the way – what does the G. stand for? ๐Ÿค”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think the irony is completely intentional which doesn’t make it any less funny, of course. I used to think that it fit very well with the person he is at Hogwarts, you know, when everybody loved him. No one is going to suspect a Romeo of opening the Chamber of Secrets.
        The G. in his name? It stands for Gรฅde which means Riddle. The books doesn’t tell us this until Goblet of Fire though.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that! I guess that does make sense. And if he’s still named after his father (I suppose there’s no reason to change that), it also makes the love story between Voldemort’s parents so much more tragic… Sort of like an anti-‘Romeo and Juliet’, where Juliet’s love was never requited and she died anyway. (Clearly, I’ve been reading way too much Shakespeare ๐Ÿ˜‚).

        Liked by 1 person

      4. With a character called Romeo, I think you’re allowed to mention Shakespeare ๐Ÿ˜‰ Voldemort’s name definitely has some interesting connotations in Danish that the original doesn’t have.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There is actually another mistranslation/rewriting, at least in my Danish version of Chamber of Secrets that has always bothered me terribly: One of the ingredients of the Polyjuice potion.

    The original English text calls for “Boomslang skin”. A boomslang is a real species of venomous snake native to subsaharan Africa; the word comes from Afrikaans and literaly means “tree snake” and in danish it’s called almost the same: boomslange – it fits with the overall snake-theme story arc of Chamber of Secrets and also the snake as a symbol of deception and lies, which is what you do with a polyjuice potion. Seems perfectly straightforward to me.

    And what did the translator make of that?

    “Revet skind fra en ronkedor” – shredded skin of a… yeah what even is a “ronkedor”? It’s an obscure danish word for an old male elephant that has left it’s herd to die in solitude, as old male elephants often do. It is also a slang, especially in a professional context, for an aging man that is very set in his ways, obstructs new thinking and initiatives and probably should have retired a couple of years ago.

    Yes, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t believe I missed that one! Probably because I had no idea what either “boomslang” or “ronkedor” meant before reading this comment so thank you. But yeah, that is so strange! Even if the translator didn’t see that symbolic meaning behind boomslang, why change it when the word exists in Danish? I’d maybe make half an argument about “boomslange” being a bit too unfamiliar/complicated for a children’s book but then when you change it to “ronkedor” what’s the point?


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