Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Danish

“It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

We’re nearing the end as we today are looking at the second to last book in the Harry Potter series and how it was translated into my native language, Danish. I’m taking a closer look at Harry Potter-specific terms, names, and places that changed or lost meaning in the translation process. This is all just for fun as I greatly admire and appreciate translators of books, especially fantasy books. If you missed the other posts in this series, you can find the first one here.

As always, we start by taking a look at the cover for the Danish edition, so here is the cover for the first paperback edition:

⚡ It’s the most popular scene to depict on all other covers for this book that I’ve seen. Nevertheless, I still feel like the Danish one is a little more spoilery than the others because we actually see Harry touch the water. However, you could also argue that we already know he’s going to touch the water the moment he’s told he’s not allowed to. It’s Harry after all.

⚡ I notice how Dumbledore has magically disappeared, although he should be in this scene. They probably thought that would be too much of a spoiler.

⚡ It’s one of my least favorite of the Danish covers as it’s more creepy than it’s pretty, and not a lot happens in the picture.

I also need to show you the back of this book because that gave me nightmares for years:

⚡ WHAT! IS! THAT?!?

⚡ My only guess is that it’s a werewolf, and no, I don’t know why it looks like a pomeranian either. Is Fenrir Greyback actually a were-pomeranian? And those tiny hands look so creepy!

Horace Slughorn = Horatio Schnobbevom

The new Potions Master is given a new last name, and it is quite funny. ‘Slughorn’ doesn’t carry much meaning that makes sense in this context other than the ‘slug’ might be a jab at his appearance. His Danish last name can be split into two separate words: ‘Schnobbe’ and ‘Vom’. The latter, ‘vom’, literally means big belly… which he has.
‘Schnobbe’ on the other hand is a little more difficult to explain. It is very reminiscent of the word ‘snob’, which means the exact same in Danish as in English. My guess is that the ‘ch’ is added to make it sound more German. And why is that? It’s not something that changes the pronunciation a whole lot (especially not when pronounced by a Dane), but it still adds meaning to his name. Or rather, it underlines the snobbishness of his character with a big marker. You see, we have a thing here in Denmark where we will often name a character something German-sounding if that character is a rich snob and generally unaware of their privilege. You know the type. It’s most often used to make fun of said character. The reason behind this, I’m guessing, is historical. It so happens that back in the day a lot of the nobles in Denmark were Germans or at least had German ancestry. Later on, we also had the Occupation during World War II, so Germans have often been in positions of power in Denmark, and thereby deserving of their ‘snob title’ in the eyes of the common Dane. And it’s just so tempting to make fun of people in power. That naturally affected our language and our culture, and that’s why Slughorn is German.

(To the Germans: I’m sorry!)

Libatius Borage = Homøopartus Hjulkrone

The author of Advanced Potion-Making, and I’m going to be totally honest with you: I have no idea how to pronounce his Danish first name. It looks just as odd to me as it probably does to you. Libatius is assumed to be derived from ‘libation’ which is some kind of ritual offering. That ‘Homøopartus’ translates to homeopathy, which is a kind of alternative medicine. Not exactly the same as the English version, but I’m not sure it matters all that much when children (and maybe most adults) don’t know the meanings behind these words anyway. The last name is a direct translation of the herb borage.

Gaunt = Barsk

Even though Gaunt seemed a very fitting name for Voldemort’s family, they don’t get to keep it in the Danish version. The reason: We don’t know what it means, and we can’t say it. ‘Barsk’ is not a direct translation because that would sound stupid, so instead ‘Barsk’ means harsh/rough. It works quite well, especially since the chapter title of their introduction-chapter is changed from ‘The House of Gaunt’ to “A Harsh (Barsk) Visit”, giving it a double meaning. Seeing how Merope was treated in that chapter, nothing about that title strikes anyone as odd.

Ambrosius Flume = Ambrosius Sukkerroe

The owner of Honeydukes doesn’t have a last name that is particularly fitting as ‘flume’ is an artificial channel made for carrying water (maybe a channel of candy instead?). His Danish name, though, means to highlight his work with sweets as ‘Sukkerroe’ means sugar beet.

Apparition = Spektral Transferens

Yeah, so apparently, Danish needed two words to describe this uncomfortable method of transportation. The original name ‘apparition’ is derived from the Latin word ‘appareo’, which means ‘appear’ or ‘becoming visible’. My first Google-search of ‘spektral transferens’ told me it’s a spell in World of Warcraft… weird cross-over, but okay.
When looking at each word individually, it was difficult for me to find a meaning behind ‘spektral’. One source states it is derived from the Latin word ‘spectralis’, which means to look at/to observe. It’s most often used as ‘spectral analysis’, which is something very sciencey I’m not going to bore you with. Still not sure how it relates to apparition, though.

Then we have ‘transferens’, which is just another version of the word transfer. That makes a lot more sense in an apparition context. The curious thing is that this would have worked just fine on its own. No need for that ‘spektral’ to be included. Even when characters talk about how they apparated somewhere, the Danish version will say that they just ‘transferred’ there. The ‘spektral’ is often omitted. So what’s the point of it?

Barnabas Cuffe = Barnabas Skåneærme

We’re on a roll with the name changes in this one. Here we have the editor of the Daily Prophet who is mentioned very casually, but I had to include him. His original name could just be a reference to standard cuffs on sleeves, or it could refer to some metaphorical (hand)cuffs that the ministry has put him and his newspaper in so that they don’t write anything they aren’t allowed to.
I had a hard time finding a translation of his Danish name ‘Skåneærmer’ (which I’ve never heard before), but my own attempt would be sleeve protectors. Apparently, that’s a thing, so I found a picture for you, of course:

Look at all that pink. Not sure what the point of ‘protectors’ is when you’re not wearing something with long sleeves, though. I think it is a very odd name for the editor of the Daily Prophet.

Bonus

This is the section where I talk about how certain translations change over the course of the seven books because why would something be translated the same way every time? I don’t know why you would assume that.

If you read my post for Chamber of Secrets, you know that Voldemort’s real name, Tom Riddle, was changed to Romeo Gåde Detlev Junior to make the anagram work. That hasn’t changed in Half-Blood Prince (unfortunately), but we hear a lot more about his father in this one. His father who is supposed to have the same name, right? Well, he did in Goblet of Fire when we were first introduced to him. Back then his name was also Romeo. In Half-Blood Prince, he is suddenly Tom again, which made me all kinds of confused. The reason for this is a small, insignificant comment from Dumbledore when he visits child-Romeo at the orphanage and explains to him how to get to Diagon Alley: “Ask for the barman Tom – easy enough name to remember, right?” You can almost hear the translator cursing when reading that.
Now our Romeo suddenly needed to have a connection to the name Tom for him to have the negative reaction he has upon hearing the name. So the translator was left with the option of either changing his father’s name to Tom or changing to barman’s to Romeo. The latter would without a doubt have been easier but oh so wrong! Luckily they went with the difficult option of changing the father’s name to Tom, and by difficult I mean that a lot of the dialogue about the father had to be changed completely to make it all make sense. Completely new sentences were added, and stuff was rearranged. For example, Merope still names her son but explains Romeo as the name she used to call her husband (yikes). However, I would almost say that the biggest problem with this translation is that the ‘junior’ in Romeo’s name now clearly shouldn’t be there. I’m not sure about the exact rules, but I believe there needs to be a Romeo Senior somewhere for that to make sense.

I hope you all enjoyed this little insight into the Danish version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Only one more book left. Please let me know what you thought of the translation-choices made, especially the problem about Voldemort’s father. Was there a better way to solve the problem?

5 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Danish

  1. These just get better and better every time 😊 That Romeo/Tom situation would have driven me nuts as a translator, too. The easiest thing to do would probably have been to rename the barman Romeo, like you said, but it’s not like the translator would have known that while translating the first book, since I assume the Danish versions also came out before Half-Blood Prince was even published in English… I guess that’s what you get from trying to be creative and naming the Dark Lord after a Shakespearean lover boy 😂😂

    And that cover is so creepy! Though what are you talking about – I’m sure Dumbledore is just out of frame behind the inferi somewhere. Why should you pay attention to the books saying Harry was right next to him, after all? And I actually thought that thing on the back cover might be a pygmy puff! Although a were-pomeranian also sounds like an exciting option 😂😂😂

    Also, thanks for making me aware of how you Danes are secretly offending us Germans in literature – we will need to have a serious talk someday! 😂😂😂 Though, in all honesty, I think your reasoning seems pretty justified. And I definitely know some people here whom the term “Schnobbe” would be perfect for! Maybe I’ll have to use it someday, when I don’t want anyone to understand that I’m actually insulting them 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Danish versions were published before Half-Blood Prince, but I would say it was still possible to change the barman’s name even though he had been Tom previously. People clearly change names all the time in this series 😂 But then I think the barman might suit the name Romeo even less than Voldemort, so I’m really glad they didn’t go with that. It would have given me a completely different image in my head 😂

      Haha, it was really puzzling to me to figure out where Dumbledore was in the frame. It looks like such a tiny island, but I think you’re on to something. He must be hiding behind the inferi because he’s cursing over Harry’s stupidity.
      And pygmy puff is an interesting idea! Less scary at least. I’ve just always assumed that the creepy tiny hands were to signify that it was something human-like. As if it’s a werewolf (pomeranian) mid-transition. Otherwise, I don’t know why the hands are there.

      And I’m really sorry about the snobbish Germans!! If it’s any consolation, I don’t think we’re all that conscious about it. It’s just part of our culture and also mainly done in children’s literature and comedy sketches. But it’s funny because I still think a lot of the wealthiest families here have German names, so I think it’s something that’s going to stick, unfortunately. 😅 However, I can promise you that we would much rather make fun of the Swedes than the Germans. They just have too similar names to ours, so we have to do it some other way 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, yes, Tom the barman as another Romeo seems even more unfitting to me, too 😂 Though maybe that’s because I’ve had a while to get used to Voldemort as Romeo by now – when you first told me about that, I could barely wrap my head around it, either! 😁

        And of course, that must be it! Despite being delirious, I’m sure Dumbledore is cleverly hiding rather than being dumb like Harry 😁

        And I’m glad there’s another nationality you enjoy making fun of even more 😎 As for us, I think we’re probably most unfair to the French 😀 Although the Americans’ chances are getting better and better, too… 😅

        Also, I completely forgot to mention those sleeve protectors in my first comment! That picture is one of the most priceless things I’ve ever seen! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I’ve also had about 17 years to get used to Voldemort as Romeo, so it’s not that weird to me anymore 😂 And it sounds like you’re embracing that Romeo-name, too 😉

        I can imagine that Germans make fun of the French. And I think it’s a European thing to laugh at the Americans 😅 It’s really hard not to.

        Glad you appreciate my sleeve protector illustration. It was one of the first pictures of it that came up in my Google search, and I just knew it was the one 😂

        Liked by 1 person

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