“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?