“Det første man opdager, når ens hund lærer at tale, er, at hunde ikke har ret meget at sige.”First line in Knivens Stemme by Patrick Ness
Hello, everyone, and welcome to a very special post I’ve been dying to share with you. You may or may not remember that I had a series on this blog called Lost in Translation where I looked at the Danish versions of Harry Potter. Now I finally have a new post for that series, and I even had some help this time from none other than Naemi @A Book Owl’s Corner. Naemi and I found each other’s blogs through those exact Harry Potter-posts I did, so us collaborating on a Lost in Translation post seemed bound to happen at some point. I hadn’t exactly imagined that anyone would care about the Danish versions of Harry Potter, but I guess I should have expected them to draw other language nerds out of the woodwork. Naemi and I have bonded over a shared love of languages ever since and even found that we have very similar reading tastes.
In today’s post we’re taking a closer look at some translated book titles. Naemi is German and I’m Danish, so we have found a bunch of book titles that have some odd or outright awful translations in both languages. And hopefully that provides some entertaining content for you.
For each book we’ll share a bit about what the translation in each language means and how well it represents the book. Then both of us vote for the title we think did it better. And now the exciting part: you get to vote too! There will be a poll after each book, so you can decide whether you agree with our assessments or not, and we’re very interested in your opinions!
Since this a collab, this is not the only post of course. Naemi has one on her blog as well so remember to check that one out after you’re done here if you haven’t already. But enough rambling, let’s laugh at some book titles!
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Line: The Danish title “Pigen og Mørkningen” translates to The Girl and the Gloaming/Twilight/Darkling. I’m inclined to say that “Mørkningen” means the Darkling, but the other words are what the dictionary claims it means, so I felt I had to include them. In all honesty though, I’ve never heard that word used before and actually thought it was made-up. And the first part of the word, “Mørk”, means dark, while the rest is a generic ending to Danish words. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s a weird translation, though.
Naemi: The German title, “Goldene Flammen”, translates to Golden Flames. I’m at a bit of a loss as to what this is supposed to be referring to, but if I had to take a stab, I suppose it might be Alina’s Sun Summoner abilities? Sure, I was actually under the impression that her powers manifested as some type of light, but why not change it to fire? It’s a lot more dramatic, and maybe the translator thought it would fit well with Germany’s absolutely “gorgeous” cover.
Line’s verdict: I’m not really liking any of these titles, but I guess I’m voting Denmark because the title represents the story best despite how vague it is. Where are the flames, Germany?
Naemi’s verditct: I’m also going to have to give the point to Denmark here, because at least your title kind of makes sense. Besides, I actually think it’s kind of neat that the translator came up with a creative new word for the Darkling. I just looked it up, and apparently, he’s called “der Dunkle” in German, which is just a nominalization of the German adjective for ‘dark’. I don’t think it sounds anywhere near as cool as Mørkningen!
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Line: The Danish title “Den Sorte Kætter” translates to The Black Heretic. It is one of the many names for the Darkling, and I have to admit that I don’t remember a ton about this book. Is the Darkling so important in this book that he deserves to have his name as the title? I kinda doubt it, and nevertheless, it’s not anywhere near a direct translation of Siege and Storm albeit that is a bit vague too.
Naemi: The German title, “Eisige Wellen”, translates to Icy Waves. And don’t worry, Line, apart from Nikolai, I also didn’t remember too much about this book until very recently. But after becoming absolutely obsessed with the Netflix show, I went back and reread the entire Grisha Trilogy, so I now know that icy waves are definitely more relevant in Siege and Storm than golden flames were in Shadow and Bone. Quite a chunk of this book takes place on Sturmhond’s ship, which is actually pretty neat! And, as to your question, I’d say the Darkling is definitely important, but I’m very unsure as to whether he’s relevant enough to warrant another book being named after him. The Danish translator might just be one of those people who was super obsessed with the Darkling and never saw the true value of Mal.
Line‘s verdict: I’m going to agree with Naemi and say that the Danish translator was definitely in love with the Darkling. And I love Icy Waves as a title for this! It sounds cool and from the little I do remember from the book, I believe it’s fitting to have something water-related in the title. I’m voting for Germany.
Naemi’s verdict: I also prefer Icy Waves, but just barely. I actually think the Danish title makes the book sound much more intriguing than the German one does! Eisige Wellen, like Siege and Storm, is kind of vague, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of being an alliteration… Still, Denmark, you can’t just name all the books in this series after the Darkling! There are other characters in this, too, you know! For that reason alone, I’m giving this point to Germany.
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Line: The Danish title “Rødt Hjerte, Blåt Blod” translates to Red Heart, Blue Blood. Well, the big problem in this title is that “royal blue” because in Danish that translates to ‘kongeblå’ (king blue), which can be misleading because there are no kings in this book. The Danish translator went with blue blood to signify royalty instead which I think is kind of clever because it still includes the color. I’m not sure whether ‘red heart’ is meant to signify some kind of American patriotism or simply romance.
Naemi: Don’t ask me what Germany was going for here, because I’m not entirely sure, either… Apparently, the translator thought sticking with an English title fit well with the whole “American First Son gets to know British Prince” idea but decided that “Red, White & Royal Blue” was a bit of a mouthful. So she just kept the last part. I’m not so sure if I find this new, shortened title particularly convincing, though. I mean, with just Royal Blue, you lose the entire notion of the United States being involved in the story. And, come on, if you expect German readers to understand the word “royal blue” – which would be Königsblau (king blue) in German – you could surely also expect them to know what “red” and “white” mean, too.
Line’s verdict: I’m not one to criticize other countries for just sticking with the original English title because that is the preferred strategy by Danish translators. BUT cutting off half the title seems kind of lazy. Both titles seem to cut the United States reference from the original, although the Danish one comes closest to including it. And I’m still impressed with that Blue Blood so I’m voting Denmark.
Naemi’s verdict: I also appreciate the Blue Blood – Hats off to the Danish translator for somehow making that color pun work! – but with that Red Heart bit, I just think the Danish title sounds incredibly cheesy. So even though I think Germany’s half-title is very mediocre compared to the original, I still like it a bit more than the Danish one.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Line: The Danish title “Oprør” translates to Rebellion. The title really making a mystery of what happens in this book. I know they did translate the word mockingjay within in the book to “Sladredrossel”, but maybe they thought it a bit too weird and specific to have as a title. They went with the boring one instead, although it’s also simple as the other titles in the trilogy and it doesn’t sound too bad.
Naemi: The German title, “Tribute von Panem: Flammender Zorn”, translates to Tributes of Panem: Flaming Rage. Apparently, Germany has a thing for putting flames in their book titles. But I suppose the title is pretty accurate when you think about it. The whole reason the Districts decided to rebel against the Capitol is because they were burning with rage and had the Mockingjay to finally set things in motion. To put it in Katniss’s own words, she has plenty of fire herself. So I don’t think this title is too bad, especially when you compare it to the one for Catching Fire, which you can read about in the post we wrote over on my blog. I still prefer Mockingjay, though – which, in case you’re wondering, was translated to “Spotttölpel” in the German editions.
Line’s verdict: I’m conflicted here because I do like the German one, but I also cannot read the words ‘Flaming Rage’ and not think about that Hades-GIF from Hercules (see below). Still, I think Naemi has a point with the burning rage the Districts feel and the Danish one is just boring.
Naemi’s verdict: I don’t think either of these titles are particularly good or bad, but I think I like the simplicity of the Danish one a tad more. Especially now that I’ve seen that GIF and will forever have that Hades connection burned into my brain. Also, thanks to “Oprør”, I just had a huge language nerd moment and realized that “uproar” and the German word “Aufruhr” (revolt, turmoil) can probably be traced to the same root. I mean, since the meanings are so similar and the sound changes are very consistent with historical consonant and vowel shifts, I probably should have realized this sooner, but now I am so fascinated that I can’t not vote for Denmark!
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Line: The Danish title “Knivens Stemme” translates to Voice of the Knife. This book has a very difficult title to translate because it barely means something in English. However, the Danish title is actually kind of perfect when you know what the original title actually means. I would spoil something if I explained it, so I’m not going to, but I’m very impressed with this translation.
Naemi: The German title “New World: Die Flucht”, translates to New World: The Flight. And no, the “New World” part isn’t German. I think this is just a thing German publishers do, where they think adding an English series name to the title makes the books sound way cooler. “Chaos Walking” was probably considered too confusing, so they decided to change it to “New World”. But while people would probably understand what it means, I can’t help but think that it still reminds me more of the United States or Dvořák’s ninth symphony than an alien planet humanity has colonized. After reading the book, it makes sense, but I’m not sure if the title would make me gravitate towards the series if I saw it in a bookstore. As for “The Flight”, I suppose it’s pretty accurate, if uninspired.
Line’s verdict: The thing that bothers me most about the German title is that “New World”. It’s the kind of book where it’s very easy to spoil something and you really shouldn’t go into it knowing much. So I’m thinking calling it New World is a tiny spoiler? “Chaos Walking” is more vague, although also practically impossible to translate correctly. And then calling this particular book “The Flight” is just boring compared to the amount of thought that went into the original. So I think Denmark wins this one.
Naemi’s verdict: Yeah, I agree that New World is a bit of a spoiler. But then again, I think it’s also very misleading, so maybe that part doesn’t matter too much. What bothers me more is the absolute blandness of the German title. However, I must admit that I am super impressed with the Danish one!! It makes so much sense when you’ve read the book, and I think each installment in the series adds even more meaning. I actually love how you gradually gain an understanding for it the more you read. So I am most definitely voting Denmark!
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Line: The Danish title “Fjendens Ansigt” translates to Face of the Enemy. I’m sure translators hate Patrick Ness and his weird book titles. In this case, the problem is The Ask which is the name for a group of people in the book, and I haven’t actually read the book in Danish, so I don’t know how they handled the name within the book. However, I can’t imagine they did anything but a direct translation, which makes me wonder why the title isn’t. Then again, Face of the Enemy isn’t a horrible representation of the book since the characters spend a lot of time figuring out who the real enemy is.
Naemi: The German title, “New World: Das dunkle Paradies”, translates to New World: The Dark Paradise. And as with the previous installment in the series, I don’t think this title is a horrible representation of the book, but it also doesn’t seem like more than about two seconds of thought were put into it. While The Ask and The Answer is a pretty ingenious play on words that also plays a role within the story, The Dark Paradise is, in my opinion, a very generic title that only tells you what anyone with a brain would figure out after a couple of pages anyway: As perfect as people might have originally painted this society to be, there’s some serious darkness lurking beneath the surface.
Line’s verdict: I actually think both of these titles are alright. They were never going to be as clever as the original, but they’re still hinting at important themes within the book without being too obvious or cringy. And “New World” is way more fitting here than it was for the first book, so I don’t hate it as much. Still, maybe a slight advantage to Denmark here for being closer to the original title.
Naemi’s verdict: I’m neither very impressed nor very disappointed by either of these. They’re both okay, but can’t compete with the English original. I slightly prefer the Danish title, though. Who is good and who is evil and what makes us perceive others that way is such an important theme in the book, and I really like how the Danish translator tried to hint at that without making it too obvious. “The Dark Paradise” seems a bit more in-your-face in that regard.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
Line: The Danish title “Eventurhuset” translates to The Fairy Tale/Adventure House. So the words for fairy tale and adventure in Danish are the exact same so there’s really no way of knowing what the translator was going for. I’m leaning more towards fairy tale because the inhabitants of this house can be said to come from fairy tales while adventure house sounds like one of those crazy houses at a carnival or something. However, I’m also not sure Fairy Tale House is representative of the story since it focuses a lot on making other people see these children as human beings and not creatures to be afraid of. Implying they’re all from fairy tales doesn’t really accomplish that. And the original title isn’t all that difficult to translate.
Naemi: The German title, “Mr. Parnassus’ Heim für magisch Begabte”, translates to Mr. Parnassus’ Home/Orphanage for the Magically Gifted. Unlike Line, I haven’t read this book myself, but since it’s so incredibly hyped, I think I know enough about it to conclude that the German title is pretty accurate. This is about magical orphaned children staying at a house owned by a guy named Mr. Parnassus, right? And while I love how mysterious and soothing the English title makes the book sound, German just doesn’t have an adequate direct translation of “cerulean” that would have done the book justice. We only have the word “himmelblau” (sky blue), and The House in the Sky-Blue Sea just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the original title.
Line’s verdict: This book is getting compared to another book about orphans a lot, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, so Germany just went ahead and stole that title, apparently. I personally wouldn’t have minded the title “The House in the Sky-Blue Sea” (it would have been the exact same in Danish), but I also think the new German title is very fitting, so they win this one for me.
Naemi’s verdict: It’s funny you should mention Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because that is yet another title where the Germans decided to get … creative. The German version is called “Die Insel der besonderen Kinder” (The Island of the Special Children), so I guess Germany thought the “XX’s Home for YY” option was still up for grabs. Stolen or not, though, I also slightly prefer the German title. “Fairy Tale House” just reminds me too much of the gingerbread house from Hänsel and Gretel and Christmas time… Which I somehow doubt is the impression I’m supposed to be having.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Line: The Danish title “Outlander – Den Engelske Kvinde” translates to Outlander – The English Woman. They chose not to translate the name of the series, and that’s fairly normal for Danish translators to do if the book has an adaptation. You want readers to recognize it. But then I don’t know if ‘The English Woman’ is supposed to be a translation of ‘Outlander’ or if they were going for a translation of the very important word ‘Sassenach’. It’s Gaelic and means foreigner, but is used to refer to English people in a derogatory way. I don’t think ‘The English Woman’ captures the essence of that word.
Naemi: The German title, “Feuer und Stein”, translates to Fire and Stone/Rock. See, I told you Germany apparently had a thing for fire in book titles! Because, let’s be honest, there’s no particularly prominent scene involving fire in this book that would warrant putting it in the title. Unless we’re talking about metaphorical, romantic fire, because this book does get pretty steamy at times… Stones, though? They’re definitely important. I still think this title doesn’t really tell you anything much, though.
Line’s verdict: In terms of accuracy, the Danish one comes closest obviously, but I’m actually really liking the German one. I’m thinking ‘fire’ is referring to the romantic fire because I also cannot think of any other instance where fire is important in that book. Then I also just think it sounds like a proper title for a book in this series. If you look at the other titles, “Fire and Stone” doesn’t stand out, so I want to vote for Germany.
Naemi’s verdict: While I really don’t like how vague the German title is, I can’t, in good conscience, give this to Denmark. I mean, they tried. The Scots in this book call the protagonist Claire “Outlander” because she is an English woman, a stranger from a country that has continually tried to oppress them. But, tell me honestly – would you pick up a book called The English Woman if you saw it in a store? And as someone from Germany, the associations that come up when I read this aren’t exactly positive… It sounds exactly like the title of one of those Nazi “racial science” pamphlets, where they explain to you what exactly makes “the German women” so superior to other types of women. This is obviously not Denmark’s fault, but I’m pretty sure there would be an uproar if anyone ever tried to publish something with a title like this here in Germany.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Line: The Danish title “Nobody” has no meaning in Danish. It’s so ridiculous! “Nobody” is the name of the main character, but that name carries a great deal of meaning, so it probably should have been translated. Another important thing to know about this book is that it’s a retelling of The Jungle Book, just in a graveyard because it’s Neil Gaiman. The original title references that but the Danish one doesn’t.
Naemi: The German title, “Das Graveyard Buch”, translates to The Graveyard Book. Nothing weird, there, right? But, well, the German word for “graveyard” actually isn’t “graveyard” at all, but “Friedhof” (Which literally translates to ‘yard of peace’. Sometimes, I actually kind of like how German works!). Not having read The Graveyard Book, I couldn’t really say if there’s some kind of reason for translating everything except that one word. However, as Line has just informed us, this does take place at an actual graveyard. So even if there is some kind of wordplay involved, wouldn’t it be kind of important to have the word for ‘graveyard’ in the title so that readers would understand?
Line’s verdict: No way I’m giving this to Denmark. Yes, it’s a bit weird that the Germans didn’t translate all of it, but now knowing that the German word for graveyard means ‘yard of peace’, I kinda see the problem. It’s quite a lively graveyard we’re dealing with in this book, so describing it as peaceful wouldn’t do it justice. And then the Germans just gave up, but at least it’s more fitting than the Danish one because it includes the ‘book’-part.
Naemi’s verdict: I’m also giving this to Germany. Although I still think it’s dumb that they didn’t translate “graveyard”. The word “Friedhof” is so normalized that I doubt anyone would make the “peace” connection if they weren’t consciously thinking about it. So while I appreciate Line trying to cut us some slack, I think that explanation is a weak excuse for what seems like plain laziness to me. However, I can’t forgive Denmark for getting rid of that The Jungle Book pun. I’m a sucker for intertextual references like that, so Germany has immediately regained my favor just for keeping it.
🇩🇰 Denmark: 8 🇩🇪 Germany: 10
Congrats to Germany who just manages to eke out a victory here, but remember to check out Naemi’s post to see if they can claim the title of Superior Book Title Translator. Don’t hesitate to tell us what you voted for in the comments. We’re incredibly curious. Which title did you think was the worst? Any you want to applaud?
Finally, I started with a different kind of first line in this post, and if you hadn’t already guessed, it was the first line in the Danish translation of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and the original looks like this:
“The first thing you find out when yer dog learn to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”