A little over a month ago, I published a review of Dictionnaire Tolkien in Medievally Speaking, an open access review publication associated with the International Society for the Study of Medievalism. This book challenged me to think about the reception of Tolkien in languages other than English; specifically in this case, in French. It hadn’t occurred to me before to wonder about which of Tolkien’s works had been translated and when, but the various entries in the Dictionnaire, edited by the prominent Tolkien scholar Vincent Ferré, filled in the picture for me; here are a few facts from my review:
The Hobbit, published in English in 1937, was translated into French in 1969. The Lord of the Rings, published in English in 1954-55, was first translated into French in the year of Tolkien’s death (1972-73) but the Appendices, which contain a wealth of background information, were only translated in 1986. Various translations of Tolkien’s other works have followed, such as Tolkien’s letters in 2005 and in 2006 the important essays in Les Monstres et les critiques et autres essais (The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays). Most recently, the lag time between first publication and translation has narrowed considerably with Les Enfants de Húrin (The Children of Húrin) in 2008 and La Légende de Sigurd et Gudrún (The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún) in 2010, both appearing in French only one year after their first English publication. The most recent posthumous publication, La Chute d’Arthur (The Fall of Arthur) appeared in translation only a few months after the English version in 2013.Certain texts, however, are still unavailable in French, such as the last seven volumes of The History of Middle-earth, a twelve-volume series published in 1983-96 by Tolkien’s son Christopher, who compiled this record of his father’s early stories, manuscript drafts, and previously unpublished essays.
Translating any piece of Tolkien’s fiction would be challenging enough; can you imagine translating the drafts of his stories as well as Christopher Tolkien’s commentaries in The History of Middle-earth?
Most of us are aware that Tolkien’s fiction is read in many languages around the world. What I would love to know more about is how Tolkien’s work is perceived in other cultures. Do translators try to create an understanding of a geographically and historically remote English and northern European culture that is foreign to, say, a Vietnamese reader? Or do they try to translate Tolkien’s concepts into more familiar ideas in their target culture? Does the Tolkien Estate have any guidelines for translators? Certainly, we know that in his lifetime JRRT was very concerned about nomenclature in translations. And if there are to be a number of Tolkien’s texts translated into one language, who oversees the consistency in translation choices?
If anyone has any recommendations for readings on these issues, please let me know!
And one last note: in my review, I mentioned that an online bibliography listed in the Dictionnaire was unavailable when I tried to access it. Since then, the Dictionnaire editor, Vincent Ferré, has supplied the missing link for a bibliograpy on feminist readings of Tolkien: http://www.pourtolkien.fr/spip.php?article164 (The bibliography consists of English sources).