Posted in Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Danish

“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Welcome to my third Lost in Translation post where we’ve made it to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the series of posts where I compare the Danish versions of Harry Potter to the originals, because I grew up reading them in Danish. If you missed the first two posts, you can find them here (book 1) and here (book 2).

Before we get into the translations, let’s take a look at the cover for the first hardback edition in Danish:

⚡ So here front and center we have… a hippogriff butt 🍑. It’s pretty, though. The hippogriff, that is.

⚡ It might be hard to see on this picture, but Hermione’s hair is actually kind of reddish. I don’t remember that being a thing in the books. I also didn’t think she was Hermione when I first saw the cover and hadn’t read the book yet. I assumed it would be some new character. And excuse me, but why is she sitting like that?

⚡ It’s a kind of pivotal scene they’ve chosen to spoil even though it does represent the book well with the hippogriff and the full moon in the background.

Moving on to the translation part. Just like in the previous posts, you don’t need to know a single word of Danish to understand this.

‘Original English’ = ‘Danish translation’

Stan Shunpike = Stan Stabejs

Names tend to have meaning in Harry Potter and this is no exception, even though Stan is a minor character. Shunpiking refers to the act of deliberately avoiding roads that require a payment of a fee or toll to travel on. Funny since the Knight Bus goes literally anywhere it fancies without paying any fees.
In Danish his last name is changed to ‘Stabejs’, because we don’t have a single word for shunpike. Stabejs actually means odd man. Yes, that seems appropriate. Do note, though, that it’s a very old word that isn’t used anymore so people nowadays would probably just read it as a little weird last name and nothing more.

Ernie Prang = Ernie Kabang

We’re staying on the Knight Bus, but move on to it’s driver who also got a new last name. His original name, Prang, means to damage a vehicle in an accident, which is what would happen to the Knight Bus if it wasn’t magical. This a very British term so it needed a translation. His Danish name, Kabang, I’m guessing is more of a reference to the loud noise the Knight Bus makes when it jumps from place to place. It doesn’t carry meaning on its own.

Knight Bus = Natbus

The actual bus also loses a tiny bit of meaning in the translation. ‘Natbus’ simply means night bus so you don’t get the play on words of ‘knight’, which implies that the bus comes to the rescue of those who need it.

Firebolt = Prestissimo

This is weird. The meaning of firebolt is something like ‘missile of fire’, and I’m guessing it’s also alluding to thunderbolts and being as fast as lightning. The “Danish” word for the broom is actually an Italian music expression meaning extremely fast. In that sense, no meaning is lost and it’s actually a very clever translation… if people knew that word. As mentioned, it’s a fancy music expression and isn’t used in any other connection. I had no idea what it meant when I read it at least and just figured that ‘Prestissimo’ was the original made-up English name.

Dervish and Banges = BĂĄl og Brand

Dervish and Banges is a shop in Hogsmeade and my guess is that those are the names of the owners. Their names are changed to ‘bĂĄl’ and ‘brand’ which basically means fire and fire. The shop has nothing to do with fire, just to be clear. There is a slight difference in what kind of fire the words are referring to, though. ‘BĂĄl’ is more of a bonfire while ‘brand’ refers to a out-of-control-fire in a building/forest. None of the two words function as last names though, meaning that I as a child thought this shop specialized in firefighter equipment. No, I don’t know why wizards would need that either.

Zonko’s Joke Shop = Zonkos Spøg og Skæmt

Another shop in Hogsmeade and we’re seeing a theme. Zonko’s Danish name, ‘Zonkos Spøg og Skæmt’ means… Zonko’s Jokes and Jokes. I don’t know why two ‘jokes’ were needed when the original only has one. The slight difference between the two words is that the latter, ‘skæmt’, implies a certain level of spookiness.
What I will praise the translation for, though, is its alliteration. It sounds really good when you say it. And it’s not as if meaning is directly lost. We know what it is.

Buckbeak = Stormvind

Our favorite hippogriff also gets a new name. I haven’t been able to find a definite meaning behind his original name other than it sounds like an appropriate name for a creature with a beak. His Danish name is ‘Stormvind’ which you might be able to translate on your own as it means storm wind. And that’s an appropriate name for a creature that can fly.
I actually think I might prefer the Danish name in this case. Just because it sounds better. I also believe that’s why the translator decided to avoid a beak-related name. It doesn’t work in Danish.

Butterbeer = Ingefærøl

This one is a little odd because the Danish version of butterbeer is ginger beer/ale. Which is an actual thing. It’s not just a wizard drink.
I’ve haven’t personally tasted either of the two drinks but from what I can gather, they are somewhat similar without being the exact same. That might explain why the translator went with that choice. However, the ‘butter’ in butterbeer comes from one of it’s ingredients, butterscotch, which Danish does have a word for that could just as easily have been used. Because it wasn’t, as a child I just assumed Brits had a weird love for ginger beer that I didn’t understand.

Moony = Hugtand

The nickname for our dear Lupin. In Danish he’s called ‘Hugtand’ which means Fang. And just to be clear: No, Lupin does not turn into Hagrid’s dog. As you might recall if you read my post for the first book, the dog has an entirely different name in Danish which left ‘Fang’ available for Lupin.
It does transfer the focus of his nickname from being related to the moon to being related to his transformation. It might also be considered less… subtle.
But what to do? You could probably come up with some moon-related nicknames in Danish, but I promise you that none of them will sound good. Which I guess is what the translator realized and went with ‘Hugtand’, and it still does the job of alluding to his werewolf state.

That was it for the third book in the series. The introduction of Hogsmeade provided me with a lot of content this time so I really hoped you enjoyed the post. Next up will be Goblet of Fire when I can find the time to reread it.

Posted in Lost In Translation

Lost In Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in Danish

“Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four, Privet Drive.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Hi, guys. It’s time for the second entry in my Lost in Translation series of posts where I compare the Danish versions of the Harry Potter books to the originals to see how much meaning is lost in the translations process. Check out the first one if you missed it. I grew up reading the books in Danish, but switched to the English ones when I was old enough to understand them.

As I mentioned in my post about the first book, I took a few translation classes when I studied at university, so I know a little bit about the thoughts that go into a translation. These posts are really just for fun and an excuse for me to combine my love for Harry Potter and languages.

First, let’s take a look at the Danish cover for the first hardback edition:

  • Aesthetically, I really like this cover. Lots of green colours that goes with the Slytherin theme of the book, but Harry still pops out with his orange/red colours.
  • Love that it is in the air which adds to the giantness of the snake.
  • Don’t know why Quidditch is put so front and center as it isn’t that big of a plot element in this book compared to others. But it looks pretty.
  • We spend most of the book wondering what’s inside the Chamber of Secrets… and you decide to put it on the front cover? Right. Also, I looked at some images of basilisks and this one actually looks more like a King Cobra. It’s small things like this that annoy me a little.

Now, let’s get into the translation part. Just like in the previous post, you don’t need to know a single word of Danish to understand this.

*Be aware that this will contain SPOILERS for the entire series*

‘Original English’ = ‘Danish translation’

The Burrow = Vindelhuset

Harry’s second favorite place in the world, the Weasley home. Looking up the word burrow, it told me that it’s basically a hole or a tunnel in the ground. So naming a house, The Burrow, gives connotations of it being homey and safe, maybe even secluded, but also tells you that it’s not exactly a mansion.

The Danish word for the house is ‘Vindelhuset’ which means The Winding House (like a winding staircase). This name tells you more about the look of the house than its feel. It’s still a very fitting name for the house in my opinion because it indicates its very odd look.

Celestina Warbeck = Celestina Himmelflugt

A name-change for a pretty unsignificant character. In case you don’t remember, this is the singer Molly Weasley loves dearly and listens to every Christmas. Her original last name doesn’t really have a meaning but in Danish it actually does. The literal meaning of ‘Himmelflugt’ is heaven escape, while it’s more often used to describe a quick and major rise or surge in something such as prices. In this case, it might be a reference to Celestina’s voice though.

Floo Powder = Susepulver

It’s really only the first part of this uncomfortable travel method that’s interesting as ‘powder’ translate directly to ‘pulver’. ‘Floo’ is a made-up word but still somehow just fits. In Danish, we have the word ‘suse’ which means ‘to whizz’, which is completely accurate. Whizz Powder. Am I the only one seeing a missed opportunity there?

Knockturn Alley = Tusmørkegyden

This is one of the funny ones. ‘Knockturn’ doesn’t mean anything in English, but when you follow it up with ‘alley’ and say it fast enough it becomes ‘nocturnally’, meaning something that happens at night. This play on words is very difficult to translate exactly, and so the Danish translator just tried to translate the meaning behind it. It came out as ‘Tusmørkegyden’ which means Twilight Alley.

It’s just not possible that there aren’t vampires down there. Thank god, Hagrid found Harry before he ran into Cedric.

The Voldemort Anagram

I’ve always imagined that anagrams must be a translator’s worst nightmare. And this one is quite important. In the original we have:

Tom Marvolo Riddle = I am Lord Voldemort

In Danish that is turned into:

Romeo G. Detlev Jr. = Jeg er Voldemort

So much to unpack here, but first let it sink in that Voldemort’s actual name is Romeo… No wonder he wanted to change it. No one would have taken him seriously as Lord Romeo.

Next up is that G. It’s not revealed in the second book here, but it actually stands for ‘GĂĄde’ which means riddle. This isn’t revealed until the name pops up again in book 4 though, which made the first chapter of that book a little bit more mysterious. We hadn’t been introduced to that name’s connection to Voldemort. I’m still impressed with the translator’s ability to get that ‘Riddle’ into the name and the anagram.

Then there is ‘Detlev’ which really has no meaning and is just there to make the anagram work. It’s actually more of a German name and not really used in Denmark, at least not anymore. It’s also more a first name as far as I’m aware, so it’s a little weird use of it.

I think it was very clever to add the Jr. (junior) because it’s so often mentioned that it’s his father’s name, and that Jr. is a constant reminder for him. Another reason why he was so adamant about changing it.

Lastly, his title of Lord is left out because they ran out of letters. All other times, he’s still referred to as Lord Voldemort so it’s not a permanent delete. I’m thinking that it was the sacrifice they had to make to get the ‘Riddle’ part in there, and the only other solution would have been to add another name and make it even more complicated. I think it’s fair.

That last one made my head hurt a little, but we managed to get through. I have way too much fun writing these posts so I really hope you guys just find it slightly informative. Let me know if there were any of these translation you found particularly interesting.

Posted in Lost In Translation

Lost in Translation: A Look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Danish

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

First line in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Hi, guys. So back in April I reread Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but I read it in my first langauge, Danish, for the purpose of this post right here. I grew up reading the Danish versions of the books but switched to English when I was old enough to understand them. So I had this idea that I wanted to compare the translated version to the original to see how much meaning is actually lost in the translation process.

I’m not doing a word for word comparision of the entire book because nobody wants that. I’m focusing more on the Harry Potter specific terms/names because those are the hardest to translate and therefore more fun to analyze. I do have a little bit of a background when it comes to translating. When I went to university to study International Business Communication, I took a few classes on the topic so I know a little bit without being an expert. All of this is really just for fun and a way for me to combine my two favorite things: Harry Potter and languages.

First, however, I wanted to show off the Danish cover for the first edition hardback which is the edition I own. And do a little commentary on it. Hope you enjoy!

  • Now, first I have a question: WHAT IS THAT HAT?!? Down by Harry’s feet? The book specified that their pointed hats needed to be black. You might be able to convince me that Dumblefore would wear a hat like that, but that kind of hat is never described in the book so what is it doing there?
  • Is Harry able to create lightning? In year 1? And why is he reaching for it? Is he actually suicidal in this one? I mean I wouldn’t be surprised with the Dursleys and all but damn that’s dark.
  • No more jokes. I actually really like the colour scheme of it and that sort of rock thing around the edge. I imagine that I as a reader broke through a wall to get to read about Harry Potter and Hogwarts.

Now, let’s get into the translation part of the post. I’ve tried to make it as easy for non-Danish speakers to understand as possible. So don’t worry, you don’t need to know a single word of Danish to understand this post.

*Be aware that this contains SPOILERS for the entire series*

‘Original English’ = ‘Danish translation’

The Philsopher’s Stone = De Vises Sten

We’re starting with the infamous title that not even English-speaking countries can agree on. It’s pretty straight forward actually because “philosopher’s stone” isn’t a Harry Potter expression and has existed as a term for several hundred years. So the Danish title is therefore just the Danish version of it.

The direct translation of “De Vises Sten” would be “The Stone of the Wise (Ones)”. So the philosopher is changed into a wise one which is not that big of a stretch. The meaning doesn’t change. However, the translation also changes the number of people involved. In English there’s only one philosopher, but in Danish it’s plural. So I looked into that. Turns out that English has of form of the concept that’s also plural (The Philosophers’ Stone) so both options would work when in Danish, it only existed as this plural form.

Gamekeeper = Godsforvalter

Gamekeeper is one of Hagrid’s titles and that basically means that it is his job to “manage” The Forbidden Forest and all its creatures. The Danish version gives him several other duties, however, by giving him the title of “Godsforvalter”. The most direct translation would be “manager of the estate”, as in a very large estate. Like it’s Hagrid job to make sure that everything runs smoothly at Hogwarts. I imagine his tasks would be something like hiring house-elves for the kitchen and ordering supplies and decorations for festivities. For some reason, I can’t picture Hagrid doing that.

So the meaning changed in the translation but of course not something that changes the entire story. I just remember always being kind of confused about Hagrid’s job at Hogwarts, but it all made sense when I read the English version. The word “godsforvalter” is also a very old Danish word. The title still exists but there are very few of them left so 10-year-old me did not know what it entailed.

Chocolate Frogs = Platugler

This one truly baffles me. The direct translation of “platugler” is… “stupid/lame owls”. OWLS?!? Where did that come from? That’s not even close to the original animal.
Although, “platugler” can have another meaning because it’s also an idiom. It can also refer to someone who cheats/cons, but that makes even less sense in this context.

In my research of why this translation was chosen, I came up with very little. My own guess would be based on the fact that we in Denmark already had something called chocolate frogs. A very popular type of candy actually from a big company. So my guess is that the translator wanted a name that was uniquely related to Harry Potter and not a big brand name.

Still weird to watch the movie when the “owls” turned out to be frogs.

West Ham = Liverpool

This is something you would think didn’t need a translation but here we are. In the English version, Dean Thomas is a supporter of the football team West Ham. In Danish he’s a fan of Liverpool.

As someone who watches football and the English Premier League, I simply needed to address this. West Ham is NOT Liverpool! They aren’t even based in the same city as West Ham is a London club.

The explanation? The only reason I can come up with, is that Liverpool is a more well-known club in Denmark. The Premier League has a lot of supporters around the world, and in Denmark the two clubs with the biggest following (at that time at least) were Liverpool and Manchester United. So maybe the translator just picked one of those so the team would be more recognizable. I still think it’s unnecessary because it’s a book for children so why does it matter? It’s also something that’s mentioned so off-handedly in the book. It’s really not that important.

Fang = Trofast

Here we have the first character-name-change, and it’s Hagrid’s dog Fang. In Danish, he’s called “Trofast” which means loyal or faithful. Now, it’s been difficult for me to know how much meaning the name Fang has but to me it has always been kind of ironic. It sounds like a name for a dangerous dog. One you shouldn’t mess with. It’s ironic because the only thing we really know about Fang is that he’s a huge coward.

That irony isn’t transferred to the Danish edition where his name is much more fitting in my opinion. “Trofast” is the kind of name a dog would have if he was big and lazy. It’s often the name of the dog in old movies here when an old man lives alone and has a dog. 9 out of 10 times that dog’s name will be “Trofast”.

Another thing is that Hagrid probably named him. As “Trofast” is a name for a calm and easy animal, I can only imagine Hagrid giving that name to some vicious and highly dangerous animal. I mean, he named a three-headed dog Fluffy, and so this translation isn’t exactly in character for Hagrid.

The Mirror of Erised = Drømmespejlet

That is one tricky mirror. “Drømmespejlet” can be translated into the mirror of dreams which is actually something that makes sense, unlike ‘erised’. The Danish translation succeeds in describing the workings of the mirror in its name, but should it do that when the original doesn’t? At least not if you haven’t figured out that backwards thing. You don’t get that puzzle in Danish.

The even more interesting part about The Mirror of Erised, however, is it’s inscription: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. This was just copy-pasted into the Danish version which is a problem because it only has a meaning in English. Backwards it says: I show not your face but your heart’s desire.

I can only assume that the translator wasn’t aware of its meaning, and thought it to be gibberish. It’s not explained anywhere in the book, but is just left there for the reader to figure out on their own. Imagine how mindblown I was when I, years later, saw someone talking about this online because I had no freaking idea that it meant something. It’s a code that’s easy enough to translate so my guess is that the translator didn’t know it needed to be translated.

Phoenix Feather = Kimærehorn

The most “oh no you didn’t”-translation of this book is the fact that it changes the core of Harry’s wand. Instead of a phoenix feather, Harry’s wand contains a horn from a chimera.

It kept the dual core thing by still explaining that Voldemort’s wand was made from a horn from the same chimera. You’re just still going to run into a problem in book 4 when it’s revealed that the “chimera horn” came from Fawkes…
Now, I don’t actually remember this being a problem as a child and only noticed that change in my recent reread. I have an inkling that when the wand’s core is mentioned in book 4, it’s going to be a phoenix feather. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.

As to why this change was made, I have absolutely no clue. It sort of broke my brain when I noticed because I can’t think of a reason why it needed to change to a different mythological creature. But it’s all just really unlucky. The translator had really no way of knowing that the core was going to be that important later on. That’s just J. K. Rowling and her amazing plotting for you.

I think this is the longest post I’ve ever done so thank you if you made it all the way through. I hope it was somewhat interesting. I know I had a lot of fun writing it and looking out for these little things while reading. A few of these I hadn’t actually noticed before.

I want to make it clear that I think translations of books are really important to make books as accessible as possible. No translation is perfect, however, and I find it interesting to ponder the different ways there are to translate a word.
I’ll be doing a post like this for the rest of the books as well whenever I get around to rereading them. Did any of these translations mystify you as much as they did me?