“The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.”First line in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
We’ve made it to the end! It took me a little longer to reread the books and make these posts than I had anticipated, but we’re finally here. In case you’re new, Lost in Translation is a series of posts where I take a closer look at the Danish translations of Harry Potter and see what meaning has either been lost or changed in the translation process.
This book is a little different for me because I didn’t grow up reading this one in Danish as I did with the other six books. I had learned enough English upon its release that I didn’t want to wait for a translation. That means that this reread was pretty much like experiencing the translation for the first time, so you get my initial reactions this time.
Before we get started, I’ll say that this was a pretty good translation, so I didn’t find much to talk about. Instead, I’ve taken the opportunity to include some of the weird/funny translations I skipped from the previous books. Hope you enjoy!
First, let’s take a look at the Danish cover for the first paperback edition:
⚡ I love this cover! For one, I love how it contrasts the three previous books’ covers by being so bright. We’ve had three very dark and gloomy covers, but this one comes along and exudes some kind of hope, which I think is perfect for a final book.
⚡ I also love how Harry is the only human in this picture. The rest are the statues and creatures of Hogwarts that join the fight against Voldemort. It just screams epicness and underlines how Harry is defending his home.
N.E.W.T. = F.U.T
The wizard exam that Harry doesn’t take is actually almost directly translated in Danish, even though we’re missing a letter. N.E.W.T. stands for Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test, and the Danish version looks like this:
F = Forfærdelig (English: terribly)
U = Udmattende (English: exhausting)
T = Troldmandseksaminationer (English: wizard examinations)
As you can tell, ‘terribly exhausting wizard examinations‘ isn’t that far from the original, and the missing letter is due to Danish’ love for long words. We don’t split them.
The more interesting part is the word the letters make. A newt is a small animal, but I don’t think it has any deeper meaning in the context of wizard examinations. ‘Fut’ is not a neutral word in Danish, though. You know the phrase “choo choo train”? A phrase that is often connected to children and playtime, and we use the same phrase in Denmark. Choo is just changed to ‘fut’. So whenever I read about the most difficult and exhausting wizard examinations… I’m also thinking about a child going “choo, choo”. The irony is quite funny when you think about it.
Viktor Krum is Bulgarian = Viktor Krum is… German?
Apparently, something happened to Viktor Krum between book 4 and book 7 because he no longer has the same accent. He’s German now, apparently. And it’s a thick accent! Every single sentence from him includes some word that either partly has German spelling or is just straight up a German word. Some examples are macht meaning ‘power’ (Danish: ‘magt’), and wichtig meaning ‘important’ (Danish: ‘vigtig’). As you might be able to tell, the similarities between Danish and German means that Krum’s accent is perfectly understandable to Danes.
This revelation of Krum’s accent left me utterly confused. Had I missed his German accent back in book 4? I went back to check, and no, I didn’t. He had a more unidentifiable accent back then, where he mostly made ‘e’s sound like ‘a’s. Practically all foreigners will do that, but I also already knew that he was Bulgarian, so his accent didn’t need to help me identify his nationality.
Translating an accent is difficult. In the original English, Krum’s accent is mostly made clear through his pronunciation of ‘w’s as ‘v’s. That is not directly transferable to Danish because we don’t use ‘w’s, so something different had to be done. Why the translator didn’t stick with their solution from book 4, I don’t know.
I’m going to assume that Krum had to go into hiding because of Voldemort, and therefore fled to Germany. In order to fit in completely and not draw attention to himself, he then also adopted their accent when speaking English (or Danish 🤔). Where is that novella?
Ottery St. Catchpole = St. Odderby
The home village of the Weasleys is mentioned quite a few times in this book, and at first glance, the Danish translation doesn’t change that much, but that’s because it’s cheating. I’ll get back to that.
‘Odderby’ means otter town/city, and I think the ‘town’ was added so that readers wouldn’t confuse it with the real-life Danish town called Odder.
The curious part of this translation is that the Danish translator just copied that ‘St.’ abbreviation. It just doesn’t mean the same thing in Danish, and I’ll say that it almost had me fooled. The English ‘St.’ is an abbreviation of Saint, while the Danish one can mean a few different things, though none of them is saint. In this case, I’m guessing station is the most appropriate. The Danish abbreviation of saint is ‘skt.’
However, it might explain why the ‘Catchpole’ was left out of the translation completely. We’re no longer talking about a Saint Catchpole but a station town. And no, it’s doesn’t matter at all in a larger context, but it’s funny to notice.
River = Strøm
We have our first and only character-name-change of this post. The radio program called Potterwatch is hosted by Lee Jordan whose code name is originally River, but in Danish, he’s called ‘Strøm’, which has a few different meanings. The meaning that is most related to his original name is current, as the current in a river. So we’re very close!
My guess as to why this particular name was changed when the trend of the book has been to keep the original English names no matter how British they sound is that ‘river’ is a word in Danish. But it doesn’t mean the same, as ‘river’ is our present tense form of rip. To avoid any confusion, I guess I can see why there was a need to change it.
Pals of Potter = Potters Protagonister
We’re staying on Potterwatch, and this one is a little weird to me. One of the features on the show, Pals of Potter hosted by Lupin, has been translated into ‘Potters Protagonister’, and yes, that means Potter’s Protagonists.
‘Protagonist’ is originally a Greek word for the main character in a story, and that is also the primary meaning of the word today. Which gives that feature on Potterwatch a bit of a pretentious air if you ask me. Protagonists sound more important than pals, at least. On top of that, ‘protagonist’ isn’t exactly a word we use a whole lot in Denmark, not even when talking about characters in books. It has a bit of a posh feel to it, which alienates it even further from your standard ‘pals’. However, it should be noted that the word can also refer to someone who fights passionately for a cause, but I’m not sure Danes reading this book would make that connection. I still feel weird about it. But I guess the translator felt it was more important to translate the alliteration.
Probity Probe = Trickfølere
Here we see that the importance of translating alliterations wasn’t a consistent theme of this book. But never mind that, Probity Probes are the devices used at the entrance to Gringotts to detect spells of concealment or hidden magical objects. In case you’re unfamiliar with the word ‘probity’, it means integrity or having strong moral principles.
The Danish translation, ‘Trickfølere’ means trick feelers, and yes, that’s what they are. It just doesn’t sound all that magical.
There’s also a slight shift in the focus of the object as the whole probity aspect is left out. In Danish, the object isn’t investigating the visitor’s integrity but merely checking if they’re hiding anything magical. And yes, the Danish version is probably a more accurate description of the object and its function… but the metaphorical connotations of the original aren’t transferred to the Danish version.
The Boy Who Lived = Drengen Der Ikke Kunne Slåes Ihjel
Of course, Harry’s infamous title isn’t revealed in this book, but I’ve decided to put it in this post anyway. His Danish title, ‘drengen der ikke kunne slåes ihjel’, means the boy who couldn’t be killed. It might seem like two ways of saying the same thing, but I found a new appreciation for the Danish version here in the last book. It must be the way Voldemort thinks of him, right? That this boy just cannot die, no matter how hard he tries to kill him. Where the English version focuses on Harry surviving, the Danish one literally says that you can’t kill him, and I’m sure Voldemort feels that way in the end.
Throughout the books, Harry is sometimes also referred to as ‘the boy who survived’, although never the direct translation of the Boy Who Lived because that does not work. Fun fact: the old video games of Harry Potter translated that Boy Who Lived directly. I have vivid memories of me and my brother laughing for 5 minutes after hearing that. Every single time.
That’s it! We made all the way through seven translated books. I’ve covered some very weird translations along the way, but I generally felt that the translations improved a whole lot from book 5 and onward. Nevertheless, I’ve had so much fun writing these, and I know a few of you have enjoyed these posts immensely, too. So far, I don’t have any other Lost in Translation posts planned as all my ideas require that I reread books I don’t particularly want to reread. But I’ll probably come back to it when I miss it too much.
I really hope you had fun reading this final post. Let me know what you thought of the translations down in the comments!
8 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in Danish”
My favorite thing is obviously that Viktor Krum mysteriously became German in this one 😂😂😂 Of course, your explanation for this particular change makes perfect sense, and let’s just say that I think Viktor Krum is a great improvement on Gellert Grindelwald, so we’ll take him!
And now that you’ve mentioned accents, I’m suddenly so curious! Because one of the things I love about Harry Potter is how, even within Britain, we get so many regional accents that are reflected in writing, such as Hagrid’s or Mundungus’s. Did the Danish translators try to preserve that somehow? Because I’ve heard that those characters simply have no accent in the German books, which is kind of sad when you think about it… But then again, all German accents are so closely linked to a specific regional culture that using those would be kind of ridiculous, too. I don’t even want to imagine Hagrid with a Saxony accent, for instance 🙈😂 Anyway, I only just thought of this, so I’m very intrigued!
I’m not so sure what I think of that cover, though… I’m glad you like it, but I have to say that that angel-gargoyle thing behind Harry seriously creeps me out 😁 Much more than that possibly pygmy puff thing on the back of that other cover!
Also, I agree with your feelings on Potter Protagonister! It sounds so pretentious!
Now, though, I think I’m gonna have to go and cry over the fact that we’ve reached the end of these posts 😭😭 I’m going to miss them so much!! I really hope you find a good replacement, though I can’t think of one, either. (Unless you’re fluent in loads of other languages you didn’t tell us about and would like to reread Harry Potter again in those 😉)
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I had to go and check my books to answer that accent question because Hagrid does have an accent in the Danish versions. However, it’s mainly him “swallowing” some letters here and there, and don’t we all do that? It’s hard to discern a dialect in writing, but I wouldn’t say that the translator picked one of the stronger Danish dialects for him. It’s just more subtly made clear that he speaks a little differently compared to the others, which is a good thing I guess to avoid those regional culture differences you talk about.
But it’s funny because I also thought a lot about the translation of accents when I wrote this! Like, what is Krum’s accent in the Bulgarian version? Now I need to know! 😂
Hahaha yeah, the cover is a bit creepy, but they’re all on Harry’s side, right? They need to look like that to scare the Death Easters 😉
Oh, don’t cry! But yeah, I’m going to miss them too, and I’m also going to miss your enthusiasm for them 😄 And any new idea I have will never be the same because nothing has the amount of creative world building Harry Potter has.
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Ooo, thanks for going and checking! 😍 I think that’s super interesting, but yes, I agree that doing it this way was probably the best decision the translators could have made: hinting at a dialect but not going with some regional variety that immediately brings up connotations that don’t fit in a British setting 😂 Also, you’ve now made me insanely curious about the Bulgarian versions! I need to know this! But I guess the next best thing would be to continue on with reading Harry Potter in French and seeing what they did with the French accents. I only have the first book at home, but one of my goals this year was to read more in French and Russian, so maybe I’ll eventually get to Goblet of Fire? 😅
And that’s true 😂 That angel should definitely do it’s part in scaring the Death Eaters off…
And don’t worry – I’m only crying metaphorically 😉 But still, this is such a sad occasion! Maybe we’ll just have to hope for a new book that’s equally as creative as Harry Potter 🤗 (Though I do realize that that is an expectation that’s nearly impossible to live up to 😢)
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You’re the one who is going to be making these kinds of posts for French and Russian, right? 😉 And then we need to find someone from Bulgaria!
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We’ll see 😅 Give me a few years to get more fluent and maybe I’ll have enough understanding to grasp the subtleties of French and Russian wordplays 😂 I still haven’t made it past the first chapter of the Russian Harry Potter… But I guess we can use that time to find that Bulgarian Harry Potter fan! 😁
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Wow, I never realized how much changed when translating a book. This was a really interesting read!
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Translations are difficult, so some things are bound to change, but I’m really glad you found this post interesting 😊