Wednesday, September 01, 2010

In Translation

Some of the best children's books of all time are books translated into English from another language- Pippi Longstocking comes to mind, as well as The Story of Babar and Madeline. It's true in grownup land as well. I'm thinking of that current ever-so-popular trilogy that starts with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is directly related to the purpose of this post: at least two book events with translators are happening next month, including the translator of Dragon Tattoo and the other books in the series, and I find myself really excited. I've never thought of it before now, but I'd absolutely have questions to ask the translators of a work I loved. I know people who write translations and it takes an amazing amount of work to perfect the finished product. The kind of discussions that can ensue over a single word make a language-lover like me drool.

Our translator event is with Cornelia Funke, author of super children's books including The Thief Lord, Inkheart, and the soon-to-be-released Reckless. We're hosting her at the Showbox Theater on Sunday, September 19th, at 1:30 pm (click & scroll down to the 19th for the listing and ticketing info). This event is unique in the number of people arriving with the author: the actor Elliot Hill to help her do a dramatic reading, musical guest Adam Watts, and her translator Oliver Latsch (Funke is German). Having both the author and the translator there to speak sounds like a dream.

Sadly, we can't hear from the author of Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson died in 2004), but we have the opportunity to hear from his translator Steve Murray, who translated the Larsson novels under the pen name Reg Keeland. That may be my first question- why the pen name? He's speaking with fellow translator Tiina Nunnally, who I know best for her translations of Andersen folktales and a beautifully illustrated, very well-received new translation of the aforementioned and best-ever children's book Pippi Longstocking. They'll be speaking at Elliott Bay on Sunday, September 12 at 5:00 pm.

I know translators do events sometimes (I've seen it most often with poetry), but these in particular I find really exciting. I love that people who do such diligent and creative work can get some stage time, and we can ask them questions about the process. And someday I hope we can move on to the next frontier: have book and cover designers come talk about that process. I'd be completely fascinated.



  1. Hi Anna, looking forward to hearing your questions at Elliott Bay. The pseudonym was because of a dispute over the editing. "Reg"

  2. So I bought the Harry Potter series in Arabic to help me learn. I'm nowhere near proficient enough to read them yet, but my friends who are native speakers have looked through them and all have said that it "sounds too formal" in Arabic (which can be a pretty formal language in standard form.) It's made me wonder what tones the English language misses or adds to works in translation. Even the differences between the British Harry Potter and American Harry Potter, back when they were still separate releases, still amuse me. I'd be interested to hear how a reader of both the Swedish and English versions of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo feels about the differences between them in tone. This post makes me want to go back and read something like Babar or Madeline in Arabic to see if they sound differently.


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