20 years ago, JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was published for the first time.
The book follows the main character, Harry Potter, as he completes his first year at a school for magic called Hogwarts, and has a series of adventures along the way with his friends Ron and Hermione. It was the first in a seven-part series that captivated the world and united readers old and young over their love for the books.
Though Harry Potter was first published in English and the story is set in the United Kingdom, the stories have always had international appeal and have been translated into many languages. According to Bloomsbury, the publishers of Harry Potter in the UK, the official number is 79 – though of course there are many more “unofficial” translations.
Because the plot of Harry Potter takes place in a highly detailed magical world, translators were faced with translating all sorts of incredible words for animals, spells, and people – staying faithful to JK Rowling’s imaginative vision while also appealing to readers of their language. Many translators therefore were incredibly creative in helping weave the magical world in their own language, with some of the translators becoming famous in their own right for their interpretation.
Any name changes of characters or places in foreign translations had to be approved by JK Rowling herself. As she herself loved languages (she studied French at university), she found this a very interesting and entertaining task!
A couple of the strangest examples of translation trickery include:
- Hagrid, who has a West-Country English accent in the book, has a different regional accent related to the language the book is translated to
- Tom Marvolo Riddle’s name is an anagram of “I am Lord Voldemort” in the English version, so his name is changed to allow an identical anagram in translated versions
- In Dutch, Hermione Granger is called “Hermelien Griffel”. A griffel is a pen to use to write on slate, and a prize you can win for excelling at school in the Netherlands (so a very appropriate translation!)
- Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, is named for an Old English word for “bumblebee”. Many translations use variations on bumblebee for their version
What differences can you find between Harry Potter in English and in your own language? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.