Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation: The Shamer Chronicles by Lene Kaaberbøl

“Strickly speaking, it wasn’t really Cilla’s fault that I was bitten by a dragon.”

First line in The Shamer’s Daughter by Lene Kaaberbøl

Hi, everyone. This post is another entry in my ongoing Lost in Translation series where I take advantage of my bilingual abilities by investigating what has been lost in the translation of specific books. Until now, I’ve been looking at the Danish translations of English books, but I wanted to do the reverse so I reread one of my favorite series as a child, The Shamer Chronicles by Danish author Lene Kaaberbøl, in English to tell you all what you’re missing in the English translations. That said, it’s important to clarify that these books have been translated by the author herself so any criticism I have is, of course, completely irrelevant. This is just for fun because I love languages.

As I’m expecting none of you to have read this series, a little introduction is in order. It is a Middle Grade fantasy series published between 2000 and 2003, and it’s about the girl Dina and her family as they get mixed up in a political plot that involves the murder of the entire ruling family. Dina and her mother are shamers which means they have the ability to make people feel ashamed of things they’ve done to a crippling degree just by making eye contact. Kinda cool, but also kinda hard to make friends when everyone is afraid of you.

As per usual with these posts, I’ll show the translated covers as well. There are both some American and some British covers but I’ve picked the American ones because they were the most horrendous and therefore more fun. I’ve also given you the original Danish covers to compare with.

  • First of all, I’m extremely attached to the Danish covers so I’m probably a bit biased when judging them against the American ones. Still, the Americans clearly realized the horribleness of the first two covers and completely changed style mid-series. The last two looks a little better and I like the minimalist style.
  • While the Danish covers don’t have a single dragon on them, the Americans really wanted to show that these books are about dragons. If not a full dragon then at least dragon scales, and it is funny in the case of book two because there isn’t a single dragon in that one. I think the Danish ones are trying to focus more on the eyes of the characters because those play such an important role in these books as well, probably more than the dragons.
  • If anyone wants to take a guess at what is on the cover of The Serpent Gift, I’m all ears because I have no clue. And the raven on the last book just looks weird to me.

Now it is time for the translations, and as I know most people haven’t read these books, I’ve made sure it’s all spoiler-free.

‘Original Danish’ ‘English translation’

Lindehuset ⇒ Cherry Tree Cottage
Lindehuset is the name of Dina’s home. The last part, “huset”, is the definite form of house, while the first part “lind” is a bit more difficult to translate. It’s a tree but Google is telling me that its English name depends heavily on where you find that tree. In Britain and Ireland, they’re called lime, while North Americans refer to them as basswood, and even though the books were the American versions, I realize the need for a more universal name. ‘Lind’ is a really good name though, since the tree is also known as ‘the tree of love’ because of its heart-shaped leaves, so I love that as a name for their home. But cherry is probably a bit more recognizable across continents.

Tosse-Malte Crazy Nate
He is a very minor character in Dina’s home village who is described a bit as a simpleton, hence people calling him crazy. It’s the name itself that I find a bit weird because there’s just something about “Malte” and “Nate” that doesn’t match in my head. Of course, that is my own entirely subjective opinion. Malte just sounds like a more appropriate name for someone who’s an outsider, maybe a bit nerdy too, while naming someone Nate means they’re incredibly well-liked and popular in my mind. It might be that I’ve watched too much Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill when I was younger.

Johan Vægter Hob Turnkey
I had to include this because I read “Hob Turnkey” and thought “what the hell is that?”. It’s a name apparently, although a rather unfortunate one if you ask me. “Vægter” is an old term for a city guard, which is also the role this character has, so his name is his profession. Merriam-Webster’s definition of “Turnkey” is one who has charge of a prison’s keys, so the translation changes him from a city guard to a prison guard. No, it makes no difference. I’m a bit more confused by his first name, though. Can English people not pronounce Johan? And what kind of name is Hob? It’s making me think of hobgoblins, and I don’t think that’s the intention.

Skidenstad ⇒ Swill Town
This is a place within the major city and it’s basically where all the poor people live. “Skidenstad” is made up of two words: “skiden” meaning something dirty and “stad” meaning town. Both are, again, quite old-fashioned, but then there’s really no questioning your place in society when you live in ‘dirty town’. I had to look up the word ‘swill’ and it seems it either means garbage or something disgusting used to feed pigs. Both names really paint a picture.

Isdukken The Ice Girl
This is a chapter title that I’m not really sure why was changed. “Isdukken” means the ice doll and refers to a character freezing in fear and thereby goes all lifeless like a doll. I think the word ‘doll’ makes it more imaginative while ‘girl’ seems somewhat uninspired. It’s difficult to say why the title “The Ice Doll” was a problem.

Rosa Rose
It’s the name of a character and there’s not much to say about it. I just thought it was a curious change and I can’t think of a reason behind it.

Krudtmås Black-Arse
“Krudtmås” is a nickname for one of the characters and means something along the lines of gunpowder butt. The character likes to play around with explosives, and the story goes that there was an accident one day that left him sprinting away with a black spot on the back of his trousers and after that people were calling him “Krudtmås”. ‘Black-Arse’ therefore isn’t completely wrong, but it does leave out the gunpowder-aspect. However, Gunpowder Butt doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Another thing I noted was the use of the Danish word for ‘butt’, “mås”, because that it is of the more innocent variety. I’m not sure if ‘arse’ translates the exact meaning of that word.

Enebærhuset Yew Tree Cottage
Dina’s second home is again named after a tree, but again, the English version uses another type of tree than the original. “Enebærhuset” is made up of “enebær” meaning juniper and “huset” meaning the house. I don’t know what was wrong with the name Juniper House because it actually sounds quite fantasy-esque in my ears. It was only named so because the house is surrounded by juniper, so it was easy enough to just change it to a different tree, in this case yew. Just like with Dina’s first home, I’m noticing the change of “house” into “cottage” and I’m wondering why that is. Their home probably looks more like a cottage than an actual house so maybe the translation is just Kaaberbøl regretting not calling it a cottage in the first place. I’ll admit that the English “cottage” sounds more homey than the Danish equivalent “hytte”, so maybe that’s why.

Ellefolk Creatures of the Underworld
We’re entering folklore territory here. “Ellefolk” seems to be used almost as a synonym with elves but the few descriptions of them I could find tells me they have more in common with sirens and the fae, the exact details varying as it is with such folklore creatures. Still, a common aspect seems to be their delight in luring humans away with music and dance. That music is an important distinction in the third book. Nowhere have I found any mention of the Underworld in relation to “ellefolk”, so the translation seems to take a lot of the folklore elements out of these creatures. They are still described in the book so we do know exactly what the characters believe they are, but I still think it’s worth noting that they aren’t just fantasy creatures in this world, but something people actually used to believe in.

Bakkekonen Grim-Wife
A Google search didn’t help me much here, although the book describes this creature as being a part of the ellefolk mentioned above. “Bakkekonen” means the hill wife/woman/lady. “Kone” technically is a woman’s title when she gets married, but it can also be used as a part of her work title although it is old-fashioned. An example is a female fortune-teller where the Danish term for that is “spåkone”. I’m inclined to believe that the “kone” in “bakkekonen” is more like the work title although ‘hill’ isn’t a profession. The “kone” is more there to indicate her gender and possibly her old-age and not that she is someone’s wife, which is why I’m not really liking the translation. I’m kind of on board with “grim” because it tells you it’s someone to be afraid of, and honestly, I’m not sure what the original “hill” was supposed to mean other than tell you where she’s usually found.

Fyrste Prince
This is quite interesting because we have a title here that actually isn’t wrong. “Fyrste” is a word with German roots but its Latin name is princeps which gives you prince in English. Danish has a very similar-sounding word for prince in “prins” (which Kaaberbøl also uses in the books), so what is the difference between “fyrste” and “prins”? Well, in their very basic definitions, a “fyrste” is a ruler while a prince is only a member of a ruling family with little power of his own. In that sense, “fyrste” is more like a king but of a smaller area or state, however, there are examples of them ruling under a king as well. In the case of Kaaberbøl’s books, it’s just important to note that when she writes Prince, she means an independent ruler and not the king’s son.

This is a very nerdy post but I hope you still found it enjoyable. I love doing these posts despite how much work they require, and if you’re interested in seeing the other posts from this series, you can find them under categories on the right. But let me know what you thought of this. Did you like the American covers? What did you think of the translations?


5 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: The Shamer Chronicles by Lene Kaaberbøl

  1. 🤗🤗🤗🤗 Okay, the minute I saw you had posted this, my self-control went out of the window, because even though I was worried I might spoil myself for a few things to come, I just couldn’t not read a Lost in Translation post!!! 🥰 I HAVE BEEN MISSING THESE SO MUCH!!

    Regarding the covers – I find the Danish one for the first book creepy enough to be on par with the English one’s uglyness, so yes, your attachment might be due to childhood nostalgia 🤣 Then again, the Danish cover might be trying to mimic the discomfort of being shamed 🤔 Still, I prefer the Danish covers overall – especially because they match and I HATE miseries cover changes! But the English Serpent’s Gift one is probably my favorite cover overall 😊 It’s so aesthetically pleasing and musical because that thing on the cover is obviously a flute 😉 I’d assumed it might have something to do with snake charming because of the title, but I’m guessing not if you didn’t recognize it? 😄 Now that you’ve told us more, I’m actually assuming it relates to this ellerfolk, but I’m prepared to read the books to find out! (Also, I am now beyond curious as to whether ellerfolk is the same thing as the Erlenvolk in German mythology, as in Goethe’s extremely famous Erlkönig ballad! I’m guessing probably, but now I’m definitely doing research 😁)

    Also, I think I’ve learned that the German translator definitely had a much easier job than Lene Kaaberbøl did when translating this into English. Literally all the weird tree and royalty names are practically the same in German, so there was no trouble there. Dina lives in the “Lindenhaus” and the ruler in question is a “Fürst”. Translating “Fürst” correctly actually gave me an enormous headache while reviewing The Shamer’s Daughter, so the fact that Lene Kaaberbøl also translated it with “prince” makes me feel very validated now 😂 And as to the “cottage” thing – I don’t know how it is in Danish, but at least the German word “Hütte” is, in my eyes, not as close to “cottage” as the German word “Haus”… Like a “hytte”, a “Hütte” is not very homey at all – I actually think the English word shack better explains what it is, and I’d feel very sorry for Dina if she had to live in one. German doesn’t actually have a proper translation for cottage, which is like a fancy, idyllic, small house out in nature, so maybe it’s similar in Danish?

    Finally, before the spam filter strikes again, here are the German translations of a few of the other things you mentioned, just in case you want to get nerdy and compare: Trottel-Malte, Drecksloch, Eispuppe, Rosa – apparently, German has no trouble at all translating oddly specific things, but when it comes to general terms like “daughter”, the translators decide to get creative 🤣 Also, who on Earth is this Johan Vægter/Hob Turnkey person? I mean, I didn’t comb through the whole book again, but I don’t recall any of the guards having names… The most important one was just “der Waffenmeister”. Is it him? I’m so confused! 😅 But I obviously LOVED this post! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really did try to be as vague as I possibly could so people could still read the books afterward if they wanted 😊

      Of course, it hurts me that you think the book one covers are equally bad but I get it. The Danish one is quite dark but the English one just looks too much like a cover from the 90s. And the only one of the English covers I like is also the Serpent Gift one, and my guess was also a flute because a flute is very important in that book. However, the flute on the cover looks nothing like the flute in the book so that’s why I was confused 😅

      I also spent so much time on that ‘fyrste’ because I refused to believe that it should be ‘prince’. It’s not a prince! But apparently, it is.

      I looked up the specific definition for the Danish ‘hytte’ and one definition says it’s a small house built from natural materials and it serves as a home for a family in a poor area. In a more modern sense, it mainly means a temporary residence like a place you’d stay at on vacation, like that small house in nature you talked about. So definition-wise, I don’t think ‘hytte’ would have been a problem. I definitely think ‘cottage’ is more like ‘hytte’ than the Danish word for house, so I’m still not sure I understand that translation.

      For the other translations, I’ve very glad the German translator kept Malte. Nate is just not the same name! And Johan Vægter is mentioned once so I understand that you don’t remember him. If you want to find him, he appears when Dina and Nico are almost captured at Maunus’ place, you know when all those guards come to search the place.

      I’m so happy you loved the post! 🥰🥰 (And you avoided the spam filter this time 😉)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I very much appreciated your vagueness, because I am reading the rest of these for sure! 😊

        My guess would be that the US cover designer just didn’t read the book then, and didn’t bother to talk to the author much beyond “there’s a flute in this” 😅 At least, that’s how I’m picturing how the cover designing process works, because otherwise, I’m very unsure how we ended up with certain other covers, too… Like the green-eyed Katniss German Hunger Games ones, for instance 🙄

        And I was also astounded that English doesn’t have an equivalent for “”fyrste”/”Fürst” – they have so many dukes and earls and lords and counts that I doubt another term would have made it any more confusing. Still, I’m guessing they just didn’t have an equivalent position in England, and then maybe some German Fürst showed up and wanted to seem more important than he really was, so he told everyone he was a prince instead 😂

        It’s also interesting to know about “hytte”. In German, the word still very much has the “poor” connotation. We do also use it when you’re, say, on vacation in the mountains or woods and staying overnight at a “Hütte”, but even then, you wouldn’t picture anything fancy. There probably won’t be much other than beds and a table, and you’d be very lucky if there was running water…

        And I agree that Malte and Nate are totally different! Although in contrast to you, I don’t see Nates as being incredibly well-liked and popular. Which might have something to do with me mostly associating the name with this incredibly annoying and concieted character from a children’s detective series called “Nate the Great”, which my brother loved and I hated 😅 Nate was soooo obnoxious!! Malte is definitely better.

        And I found Johan! His name is also Johan Wächter in the German version, so again, no creative translation there 😄

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “there is a flute in this” 😂😂 But you’re right. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve suspected cover artists of not having read the book.

        I see no other explanation for England’s lack of a “fyrste/Fürst” than the one you just gave 😂

        I think it’s really interesting to hear that the German version doesn’t have any crazy translations (except for those normal words that shouldn’t be a problem). It really shows the close relations between the two languages, at least when we know how many problems they run into in English. I looked up quite a few Danish words for this post and I was so often met with a “this has German roots”. I just think that’s quite interesting to think about 😁

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, I also thought it was really interesting to see how close the languages are! I actually would have expected German to be more similar to English than to Danish, since English and German are both West Germanic languages and Danish is North Germanic, but maybe the relationship is more complicated than that 🤔 It’s astounding how much you can guess just based on similarities between words! Then again, I understand absolutely nothing when you guys talk, so maybe you only start seeing the similarities when you’re specifically looking for them 😂

        Liked by 1 person

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