We interview four AIST members on the best and worst criticisms leveled at the new translation of The Lord of the Rings.

Over the past two years, we Seekers have spoken several times about the controversy that has arisen around the new translation of The Lord of the Rings, by Ottavio Fatica. At this link you will find all our articles in which we address the topic.

Today is January 3, which is the day we remember Tolkien's birth. We would like to celebrate this day putting an end to our articles on the new translation and the controversy that has arisen around it. To decree this closure of the works on the translation of Fatigue (but not on Tolkien in general!), We give space to a local reality that we have mentioned very often, but to which we have never given a voice directly: theItalian Association of Tolkienian Studies (AIST).

So let's see what AIST is, what it has to do with the new translation of The Lord of the Rings and most importantly, what this article will be about.

What is AIST?

THEItalian Association of Tolkienian Studies (AIST for short) is a cultural association aimed at promoting and studying the works of JRR Tolkien, also through a quality debate and the investigation of transmedia works related to legendarium Tolkienian.

In this sense, AIST not only promotes the publication of essays and insights on Tolkien's literary aspect, but also organizes several cultural events theme. One of the best known is the illustration biennial FantastikA, of which AIST is a partner. Nor should we forget the Tolkien academic conferences organized together with various Italian universities, such as that of last December.

In terms of Publicationsinstead, AIST promotes not only the production or translation of new Tolkien studies, but also the translation of the Professor's own works. Indeed, the translation of the Slightly by Tolkien edited by Lorenzo Gammarelli. More recently, however, AIST has promoted the new translation of The Lord of the Rings, edited by Ottavio Fatica.

What is this article about?

As we said, this will (hopefully!) Be our last article on the new translation of The Lord of the Rings. We hope, in fact, that little by little this issue will stop arousing so much flame and that the new translation will go back to being what it has always been: one job among many, one translation among many.

Then, of course, each of us has the right to prefer a certain translation over the other, or to criticize each translation as it deems most appropriate. The important thing is that the criticisms do not expire in the hate speech, in the fans and in the criticism not supported by the actual reading of the work. Unfortunately, part of the Italian Tolkien community has not always respected this border line, and Ottavio Fatica and AIST seem to have paid for it above all.

Therefore, in this article we will interview four AIST members. We selected them from the legitimate (and interesting) criticisms and the gratuitous controversy comments that were directed at the new translation of The Lord of the Rings. The interviewed members are Roberto Arduini, Elizabeth Marchi, Giampaolo Canzonieri e Federico Guglielmi, who therefore took the opportunity to respond to the worst flame they have ever received and to give serious answers to legitimate criticisms.

Take this article for what it is: a semi-serious interview, in which we try to give (more or less) sensible answers to increasingly absurd questions and criticisms. Take it as an opportunity to discuss on the one hand, and an opportunity to let off steam after months of flame, accusations and insults on the other.

After this cathartic rash, we hope to be able to talk about Tolkien again without (too) flame.

The Lords for the Ring 2021 Art Calendar, created by Denis Medri for Eterea Edizioni and in response to the historic challenge of AIST
Il Lords for the Ring 2021 Art Calendar, created by Denis Medri for Eterea Edizioni and in response to historic challenge AIST

According to Costanza Bonelli, The Lord of the Rings it is a work that should be understandable by all, while the translation of Fatica is too difficult and not aimed at a wide audience. What do you AIST think?

The Lord of the Rings it is certainly a work understandable to all, but this does not mean that an English-speaking reader of medium culture is comfortable with every word or expression in the prose of the novel. Meet difficulties and hardships.

Lexical archaisms

Let us ask ourselves, for example, how many young British readers can recognize in the word "farthing" the meaning of "fourth part" with which Tolkien uses it, considering that "farthing", the quarter of a penny, has been out of circulation for sixty years. And how many know the archaic adjective "fell" (cruel), which recurs several times in the novel? Perhaps ordinary readers can recognize in "mead" the ancestor of "meadow", since it would be as if in the place of "pasture" I found "pasco" and had to understand the meaning in a sense; which is probably what also happens when instead of «near» they read the adverb «anigh».

Faced with an alliterating phrase like: "But news from afar is seldom sooth", one wonders how many English speakers would use the archaic form "sooth" instead of "truth". And how many know what a "vambrace" is? Or that "kine" is the archaic plural of "cow"? How many recognize the obsolete past participle «dolven», of the already obsolete verb «to delve»? Or the Old English form "wight" meaning "creature"? Or the poetic "laved" instead of the common "washed"? How many understand precisely the meaning of the sentence pronounced by Legolas: "Rede oft is found at the rising of the Sun"? Again: which English speaker would not associate the places called "Harrowdale" and "Dunharrow" with agriculture, but with pagan religion, since in spoken English "harrow" means "harrow" and no longer "temple"?

And are you ready to bet that in current English the meaning of the archaic toponym "Mark" is immediately understandable? Not to mention the recurring archaic adverbs and interjections, such as 'lo', 'alas', 'verily', 'thither', 'wither', even 'whithersoever', etc., which are all anomalous words for a modern reader.

Archaisms between syntax and metrics

One could go on for a long time, because the prose of the novel is studded with archaisms whose meaning is understandable by educated readers and at most intuitive by others, but which serve precisely to create the archaic atmosphere sought by Tolkien.

Often the syntactic structure is also aimed at this effect. An archaism claimed by Tolkien himself, for example, is the prolapse of the object or verb with respect to the subject, which in English - a language syntactically much more rigid than Italian - raises the register of a sentence conspicuously and sounds anomalous to an average reader modern. Not to mention the poetic prose, based on alliteration and metrics, skilfully camouflaged in the text.

How many who have not completed higher classical studies are familiar with these archaic stylistic features? The nice thing is that despite all this, the prose of the novel remains absolutely usable. Like the rest, despite the difficulties and hardships, that of Fatigue remains usable, trying to reproduce the same effects.

According to a user on YouTube, the new translation uses a "contemporary and down-to-earth language" that "reinterprets the work in a materialistic sense", thus removing the Catholic and spiritualist component. But then, is Fatigue too difficult, or is it "down to earth"? And how does it relate to Tolkien's "Catholic component" in the book?

This is the opposite criticism to the previous one. Critics of the new translation cannot agree on whether Fatigue's language is too high or too low. To solve this dilemma they would have to go back to reading the original English and they would realize that the language of the novel is modern, fluent, sometimes even down-to-earth, but with ups and downs from time to time, obstacles, archaic constructs, words not immediately recognizable or obsolete, poetic lines scattered throughout the prose. Like the translation of Fatigue, in fact. 

What does this have to do with a phantom materialism / spiritualism conflict we cannot say. Perhaps because Fatica, unlike the historical translator, did not use the term "soul", since in the novel the word "soul" appears only in an idiomatic expression? This is not materialism, it is fidelity to the text. The Christian-Catholic substratum of the book is intact: the Christian virtues of the characters and the providential and teleological vision of history are all there. And who touches them? As Tolkien says in letter 142: "the religious element is in fact inherent in history and symbolism".

The illustration by Ivan Cavini taken up in the poster of the Trento conference, organized by AIST and Unitn
The illustration by Ivan Cavini resumed in the poster of the Trento conference, organized by AIST and Unitn

Another YouTube user states that Tolkien had children as an audience and that "baroque terms and musicality serve to tone down the markedly epic tone of the narrative." Are there "baroque terms" suitable for children in Tolkien?

The Lord of the Rings it's not a children's novel, of course. It might seem like it perhaps reading the first chapter, but it is a deceptive effect, because immediately afterwards it starts to become anything but. Apart from this, it has been said that musicality and archaisms (rather than baroqueisms) are part of Tolkien's stylistic repertoire. Trying to render them in translation is a challenge for experts. Non-experts don't even try.

The surrender of archaisms in the translation of Ottavio Fatica

Fatica tried to reproduce the archaic effect of the novel's prose by using, for example, verbs such as 'roar' rather than a modern 'growl'; or "grab" rather than "claw"; or even "groping" understood in the less common sense, rather than a more literal "stretch the legs" (which, however, actually has the same double meaning).

Or when he translates an expression such as "for a staring moment" with a refined "in the background of an instant", using the poetic-pictorial lexicon, Fatica does it not so much because what he describes is an image worthy of Hieronymus Bosch , but rather because Tolkien wrote the whole passage in poetic prose.

An example of poetic archaism: the "vagule clouds"

An analogous example is the description in which Fatigue translates "drifting cloud" with the alliterating "vagule clouds" (DT, IV. THE). "Vagulo" is a decidedly out of the ordinary adjective, a Latinism used only in poetry. It seems really free to use such a demanding adjective to make "drifting" simple.

Fatica, however, does not want to render only the meaning of the individual words: he chooses the register of translation based on the effect that the sentence must have, making the Translation Studies, Eugene Nida, called "dynamic equivalence". If the original sentence is poetic and archaic, Fatica uses poetic and archaic terms that restore its semantic and emotional effect.

Let's look at the original then: «rose the broken highlands crowned with drifting cloud». Tolkien composes a hendecasyllable, resorting to the alliteration ro- / bro- and crow / clou, and to the prolapse of the verb with respect to the subject (which any English teacher at school would mark with a red pencil). Fatica rightly accepts it as archaic poetic prose and tries to render it in Italian by choosing a vocabulary that gives this effect. Obviously a questionable choice, but understandable.

Another example of the rendering of poetic symmetry

In the same passage, a little further on, he translates the phrase «the sickly green of them was fading to a sullen brown» with «the faded green changed to dark brown». The logic is the same: Tolkien's sentence is based on the symmetrical and alliterating contrast between "sickly green" and "sullen brown" (sl / rn), with that verb "fade" in the middle which literally stands for fading out, here in the sense of fading from one color tone to a darker one. Fatigue maintains the syllabic symmetry with "faded green" and "dark brown" and uses the vaguely archaic verb "cangiare", which is often referred to shades of color (hence "iridescent").

Ultimately, even if it is not necessary to like the result - and even if we, like others, have our reservations about certain specific choices - there is no doubt that Fatica has worked to render the effect of Tolkien's style in Italian. No one before him had ever done it with this expertise. And it is thanks to his choices that we are rediscovering the style of Lord of the Rings.

According to another commentator, "The new translation of The Lord of the Rings is an academic exercise, not an art, and in fact almost only academics like it." What do you think?

We have not recorded any academic opinions on the new translation. In any case, it is worth remembering that the author of the novel was an academic, a philologist, a scholar of medieval language and literature, and moreover in one of the most prestigious universities in the world. If anyone thinks that he has not poured his knowledge and experience into his most important novel, he is very wrong.

The Lord of the Rings it is a layered work, that is, on several levels: apparently popular, but in reality very cultured. It is the intention of the author, first of all, who has opted for a popular literary form - the novel -, but of a high and anachronistic genre - the epic novel -, and has chosen a language that is easy to use, but taking steps to make it archaic with the clever devices of a man of letters and linguists He even inserted some tricks and winks into the prose for those who would be able to catch them. Was he worried about how many, besides his fellow philologists, might have understood the meaning of the terms in Old English that appear in the text? Or how many would have read the quotes from B? And the hapax? And the neologisms?

The translation of Fatica showed the second level, it made it clear in Italian that it is not a novel for fanatical nerds, but a refined poetic and linguistic work. And unless for someone that's the problem, it would be very short-sighted not to register it as a big step forward after decades.

The cover of the illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings
The cover of the illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings

Vittoria Alliata suggested that the new translation served to "disguise The Lord of the Rings in LGBT fashion in deference to newism". How queer is the new translation of The Lord of the Rings?

As for the "LGBT style", it does not appear that Fatica translated "Merry" with "Gaius" and "Pippin" with "Pea": homophobes can sleep peacefully.

If, on the other hand, we mean "queer" in the literal sense of the word, then we can say that the new translation is indeed strange and eccentric. Reading it cannot fail to be alienating after only one version, quite different, has been read for half a century. Fatica is undoubtedly a very characteristic style, but everything can be said except that it is new. Indeed, what is attributed to him is to have chosen obsolete words that must be searched in the dictionary.

The importance of having multiple translations

The fact remains that retranslating is a healthy activity. More points of view, more looks, different perspectives from which to reread the original.

If there is one thing that connotes the classics of literature, it is that they are periodically retranslated, because they never stop telling us something, they are living works, which need to be continually reread. It has always been like this. Recently it has happened to contemporary classical authors such as James Joyce, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, all retranslated by expert translators or translators.

Abroad The Lord of the Rings it had already been retranslated in France, Germany and Sweden. At an early hour it was also the turn of Italy. In any case, the error behind some reasoning is to think that any translation can be something definitive. A little over a month ago a conference was held at the University of Trento, which had as its theme precisely Tolkien and translation. All the professional translators who participated - academic and non-academic - agreed that every translation is an interpretation, one of many possible. For this reason it is desirable that after the translation of Fatica there will be a third and perhaps a fourth.

On a blog, a columnist writes about the translation of Fatigue: "No more poetry, no more mystical-religious inspiration, no more warrior heroes and immortal values, but simple and pure politically correct." How politically correct is the translation of Fatica?

What we notice is that generally the translation of Fatica is more faithful to the original text than the previous one. Perhaps we should ask ourselves how much "Italian" there was in the image of the novel that has been conveyed for half a century in certain local circles.

After that someone should explain to us how a translation could make the heroes disappear from Lord of the Rings unless parts are amputated.

What would be "politically correct" in the new translation? We understand that the Orcs remain ugly, dirty and evil as in the original; the Haradrim keep their Middle Eastern features intact and the Hobbits are called "Half-men"; Sauron does not redeem himself; Gollum is not sent to a recovery community and Ted Sandyman remains very unpleasant without anyone investigating his childhood traumas (which must be heavy); Éowyn does not found a feminist commune with Rosie Cotton; Bill Ferny is still a hateful spy to be kicked and his partner is still cross-eyed; Aragorn is Isildur's heroic heir who returns to the throne.

So what are we talking about? Of the fact that someone has taken away the noble "Raminghi" to give us simple "Foresters"? Or that they took away «Gran Burrone» to put «Valforra»? Sometimes the vocabulary can be merciless.

Commentators from Facebook groups ask what sense does it make to translate the names of The Lord of the Rings differently not so much from the Alliata-Prince translation, but more than the movie version. Should the relevance of films in Tolkien's imaginary somehow influence the new translation of books?

Why should it? Why should a literary translator be conditioned by the Italian dubbing of a film?

It would mean establishing that film voice actors have some sort of pre-eminence over literary translators. No serious professional would accept such a condition. When the Lord of the Rings it was dubbed in Italian there was only one translation. There are now two and the dubbing director would have a choice. Then if you want "real" names you have to reopen the Lord of the Rings. Or once and for all decide to see the film in the original language.

Ottavio Fatica, the second translator of The Lord of the Rings, suggested to Bompiani by AIST
Ottavio Fatica, the second translator of The Lord of the Rings, suggested to Bompiani by AIST

Other commentators claim that Fatigue is reinventing Tolkien from scratch. It's true?

In a certain sense, every translator must reinvent the work. He is obliged to do so, because he translates it from one linguistic context to another, and none of the terms he chooses will ever perfectly coincide with the original.

How did Vittoria Alliata reinvent Tolkien?

Does anyone think that the old Italian translation did not reinvent Tolkien's prose? Not if he had done it and in a very marked way.

For example, he had introduced stylistic features from scratch, such as the systematic doubling of adjectives and in some cases even nouns. He had burdened the syntax by adding sentences and periphrases, making the text much more cumbersome than the original. He had inserted arbitrary homonyms such as that between the "Sorcerers" and the "Witch King" or between "the Ringwraiths" and the "Moundwraith". And he had put Gandalf on Doctor Freud's couch by making him say "I understood ... what I had unconsciously feared", and the Hobbits at Versailles in 1789 at the "National Assembly". And so on.

How the translator has to make uncomfortable choices

Fatigue has made other choices, or other inventions, if you want to call them that, which many did not like, such as "spisci" or "groped", but only an optical defect can make us perceive them as heavier than those we have kept for fifty years.

Tolkien retrieves the Middle English term "Westernesse" from literature: the previous translation rendered it as "Westuria", Fatigue instead translates it as "Occidenza". They are both Italian inventions.

Tolkien often forces translators to do this. If you play with the triple meaning of the English word "Ranger" (wanderer, forest ranger, frontier soldier) and in Italian there is no term that contains the same facet of meaning, you need to choose one and let the narrative context do the rest. The old translation "Ramingo" leaned towards one of the three meanings, the new translation "Forestale" for another. Both leave out two, which become intuitive only thanks to the context.

The translation of Fatica is said to be "politically and ideologically oriented". It's true?

Directed to where? It is probably asking too much for someone, text in hand, to prove certain bizarre statements.

Today we read a text in Italian that at times has Ariostean echoes. We read the Montian rendition of the poems contained in the novel, the Petrarchian descriptions of the female figures, or the Tassian descriptions of the charges in battle, and more than any ideology we see Tolkien's poetry and poetic prose in an Italian rendition of equivalent quality.


The impression is that certain accusations thrown there are the indicator of an unconscious frustration, that is, that the problem of certain commentators is not so much the translation - which is only a translation, in fact - as the unsettling circumstances in which they found themselves. It is not easy to suddenly realize that you know little or nothing about the original style of your favorite novel, perhaps after having declared yourself to be passionate experts for years and having stressed all the time how important the language was for Tolkien, and to discover it thanks to a guy like Fatica who isn't even of proven Tolkien faith. It's a hard whammy to swallow. Nonetheless, it will be necessary to rationalize, that is, to get over it.

Someone claims that “Mr. eighth effort, emeritus, with his crooked and vaguely hypnotic gaze, has sprung up quietly from the dark womb of Angband himself to bring evil to mortals ”. Tell us the truth: Where did fatigue come from?

Obviously it came out of Isengard's forges, in homage to the old allegorical reading Saruman = Stalin.

Despite these ambiguous origins, however, it seems that he is also one of the translators with the most extensive experience on English-language authors between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that is of the period preceding and coeval with Tolkien, having experimented with Melville, Conrad, Kipling, James, Graves, Joyce, Yeats, Auden, and many others. Especially with Moby Dick Fatica's work was important in finding a series of Melvillian stylistic features and restoring the complexity of the prose. He also struggles, even though he hasn't read The Lord of the Rings, however, had previously read The Hobbit, Il The Silmarillion and the essays and stories contained in Tree and Leaf, therefore he knew Tolkien's poetics.

It seemed natural to us to suggest a professional with this resume to the publisher, offering him our advice. And the publisher agreed with this assessment. He then proceeded to communicate with Orthanc through the Palantir kept in the basement of the publishing house. And here we are.

JRR Tolkien, whose works are the object of study and promotion by AIST
JRR Tolkien, whose works are the object of study and promotion by AIST

A commenter on the AIST Facebook page states: “It seems clear to me that there hasn't been an editor by mistake. An editor would never let certain things pass ”. So Giampaolo Canzonieri doesn't really exist?

It is very likely that those who make certain statements do not really know what an editor does and what their skills are.

In this case it was a big job by Giampaolo Canzonieri, the partner designated by AIST to assist Fatica (and who, as far as we know, is the only Italian Tolkienian who has spoken of the poetic prose of Lord of the Rings before the same Fatica, to be precise at the 2017 Children Book Fair in Bologna). Dozens and dozens of reports were sent to the translator, also proposing the corresponding alternatives, a good 80% of which were accepted. What the editor cannot do, because it does not belong to him, is to challenge the translator's style, especially when it comes to an expert translator as in this case. It is certainly not his last word on translation choices.

Subsequently there was the collective editing of the readers, which made it possible to collect many other recommendations and corrections, to improve the translated text already in the single volume edition. This shows how a part of the fandom has been able to give a constructive response, rather than abandoning itself to the rejection crisis. It is a consoling fact, it means that there are adults in the room, as they say.

Someone says that AIST means "Italian Association of Togliatti Studies". Is this your secret?

Some even claim that it stands for "Italian Association of Tolkien Rape", and there are probably even more beautiful ones, which now elude us.

This "apotropaic verve" is completely understandable. A small association, which does not even reach a hundred members, agile, with excellent contacts abroad and a great quality work in Italy, based on translations, publications, public events, academic conferences, editorial consultancy, in a few years has imposed a different step to Italian Tolkien studies. The opposite would be strange, that is, if those who have had to undergo this change praise our work.

For us, the results we have achieved are the demonstration that a small team, focusing on the quality of cultural action and on study, can open new paths and change the scenarios of a cultural niche. AIST has no tides of followers, has no economic means, has no political patrons. Yet anyone in Italy who is deeply interested in the Tolkien universe looks at what we do. Out of sincere interest or to denigrate ourselves, it does not matter: the point of reference is however "we lucky few". It is clear that we have a responsibility by now, whether we like it or not, and we will have to be good at bearing the weight by making wise choices, understanding where and how to invest our energies that are not great, in fact. It is certainly an interesting challenge.

A YouTube user states: "Tolkien was a linguist if he meets the translator he hits him." If we put Tolkien and Fatigue in a ring where only punches are allowed, who would win?

Fatigue. He has been practicing boxing for years and is constantly training the bag.

If AIST members went to dig the land as some users suggest, what would you farm?

For granted: piparin grass, of course.

The AIST stand at the Gubbio Medieval Festival, September 2020. Source
The AIST stand at the Gubbio Medieval Festival, September 2020. Source

Two conclusive words

We thank the members of AIST who have had the patience and the goodness of spirit to respond with seriousness and commitment to both serious and unsound questions.

Despite all the flame and the loads of hatred they have received in recent months, they still have a great desire to explain, argue and educate. In their place, I don't think I would have kept myself so peaceful.

We hope that this interview will clarify the legitimate doubts of several readers, and that it can sometimes even make you smile. Let's hope 2021 takes the discussions about Tolkien into less hot water, leaving all the remaining flame in the comments to this article.