What was said at the Tolkien conference in Trento, Failing better and better? And what was said in Ottavio Fatica's speech? Here is a brief summary and some reflections.

It had been a few months since there was talk of the new translation of The Lord of the Rings. Today we talk about Failing better and better: translating Tolkien, Tolkien translator, that is, of the Tolkien conference that was recently held in Trento. We also take the opportunity to point out that two workshops on Tolkien have already been held at the University of Trento, of which we have spoken Thu e Thu. We also remember that, always under Unitn, the conference was held Gender and R-existences, in which the research of Women, dice & data on discrimination in the Italian role-playing community, also reported in Outside the Dungeon.

There would be a lot to discuss, especially regarding the various interventions that have been made by scholars and professionals in the sector. Unfortunately, as you will see, it will not be possible to talk about all the talks. This article, on the other hand, will focus more on the speech of Ottavio Fatica, the new translator of The Lord of the Rings, and on the personal reflections it aroused in me.

The article will then be divided into two parts. In the first part, I will report the program of Failing better and better, with a particular focus on Ottavio Fatica's speech and subsequent questions addressed to him. In the second part, however, I will insert some of my reflections, without too many mints.

If you want to read our articles on Tolkien and the diatribe on the new translation of The Lord of the Rings, here is an article that summarizes them all!

Part of the poster for Failing Better and Better
Part of the poster for Failing better and better

Failing better and better: the program of the Tolkien conference in Trento

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, ie the 30th November and 1th December, the Tolkien conference was held at the University of Trento (Unitn) Failing better and better: translating Tolkien, Tolkien translator. The conference was organized byESSAY (Italian Association of Tolkien Studies) and the Unitn literary translation seminar, LETTER.

Failing better and better was held totally online, featuring a good participation: about 100 people connected on average, with a minimum of 70/80 users and a maximum of 150 users.

I had the pleasure of attending the speeches on Monday and Tuesday morning, but, for reasons of time, I was able to take precise notes only on the speech of Ottavio Fatica. In this sense, I apologize to the other speakers and the other speakers of Failing better and better. Fortunately, we will be able to read their interventions in detail in the acts of Failing better and better which, hopefully, should be out in early 2021. At that point, we can devote an entire article to all their essays.

Meanwhile, we report the program of Failing better and better, which you can also read on the Unitn website and in these two articles (Thu e Thu) on the AIST website.

The speeches on Monday 30 November

Failing better and better it opened at 15pm on Monday 30th November. After the initial greetings from the organizers and the scientific committee, moderated by Prof. Andrea Binelli, four speakers spoke: Ottavio Fatica, Luca Manini, Maria Elena Ruggerini e Marco Picone.

Fatica and Manini illustrated their experience as Italian translators of Tolkien, respectively de The Lord of the Rings and the unpublished writings of the Professor (such as Beren and Lúthien e The Fall of Gondolin). Ruggerini, on the other hand, focused on Tolkien as a translator from Old English and Old English. Finally, Picone made a speech on toponymy in Tolkien, comparing and commenting on the translations of Alliata and Fatica.

The speeches on Tuesday 1 December (morning)

On the morning of Tuesday 1 December, then, a Failing better and better there were guests from abroad and some interventions on more international aspects of Tolkien's work. Moderated by Roberto Arduini, they spoke Renée Vink, Alessandro Fambrini, Kersti Juva e Roberta Tosi.

Renée Vink, Dutch translator de The Hobbit, The Dragon Hunter e The Adventures of Tom Bombadil spoke about the translation of the Professor's last works (such as Beren and LúthienThe Fall of Gondolin) and the difficulty of translating his poems. Alessandro Fambrini, on the other hand, spoke of the relationship between Tolkien and his German publishers. Kersti Juva then recounted her personal experience as a translator into Finnish de The Lord of the Rings, before later devoting himself to translating (or re-translating) other Tolkien works, such as The Silmarillion o The Hobbit. Finally, Roberta Tosi has deepened the figure of Tolkien as an artist and illustrator of his works.

The speeches on Tuesday 1 December (afternoon)

Finally, on the afternoon of Tuesday 1 December there were four other speeches, this time moderated by Claudio Antonio Testi. Not having been present in this part of Failing better and better, I can only bring you the titles of the interventions, pending the documents. The speakers at the last session of the conference were Fulvio Ferrari (Tolkien in Sweden), Roberta Capelli (Decir quasi the same chose: parallel readings of the Lord of the Rings) is Antonio Crespi (Tolkien in the cinema: transpositions and rereadings on the screen).

Finally, Roberto Arduini, Stefano Giorgianni and Federico Guglielmi have closed Failing better and better presenting the proceedings of the last Tolkien conference and the new Italian Tolkien academic journal: The Notebooks of Arda.

Ottavio Fatica reflecting on the questions to Fail better and better
Ottavio Fatica reflecting on the questions a Failing better and better

The speech of Ottavio Fatica a Failing better and better: Retranslating The Lord of the Rings

Let's now talk more in depth about Ottavio Fatica's speech a Failing better and better. Fatigue's intervention is entitled Retranslating The Lord of the Rings and, including the time devoted to questions, lasted around 50 minutes. During this intervention the maximum number of spectators of the conference was recorded, with 140/150 users connected on average.

NB: this report is the result of my memory and my notes. If you notice any kind of inaccuracy or error, please let me know in the comments to the article, thank you!

Fatigue's intervention a Failing better and better opens with a reflection on the fact that after translating The Lord of the Rings, had several second thoughts, which will resume at the end of his speech.

A reflection on Tolkien's position in twentieth-century literature

Fatica then reflects on how Tolkien was a particular writer compared to other authors and other female authors of the time. In fact, together with the rest of the Inklings, Tolkien produced a completely different type of literature than that of the modernist current, and therefore compared to the works of authors such as Joyce and Eliot. For this reason, for a long time it took place a different classification of Tolkien literature, because if from the modernists “serious” literature seemed to descend, from Tolkien a genre literature, that is the fantasy literature, was made to descend. However, Tolkien's works have been defined as fantasy mostly for ease of classification and because for a long time it was difficult to insert the Professor in the great literature of the twentieth century.

Fatica claims that he cannot predict whether future literary scholars will continue to regard Tolkien as one of the great twentieth-century writers. However, Fatica also claims that he, today, considers Tolkien one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

A reflection on the criticisms of Tolkien

The translator then briefly retraces the literary criticism of Tolkien, making an excursus on what polarized have always been the judgments on Tolkien: basically, either you love him, or you hate him, with no middle ground. Even today, according to Fatica, it is difficult to comment or review Tolkien objectively, admitting both his strengths and his shortcomings as a writer. In fact, according to Fatica over time some very valid criticisms have been leveled against de The Lord of the Rings. Flying over Vittorini's initial Italian criticism, which responded more than anything else to the taste of the time, Fatica instead focuses on some British critics. For example, Edmund Wilson did not know how to take Tolkien's story, seeing it as a children's tale that got out of hand by the author. Instead, according to Harold Bloom, The Lord of the Rings has a style that is too repetitive and irritating, with a language that is too self-conscious.

According to Fatigue, these are all valid criticisms of Tolkien, as it is true that Tolkien is verbose, repetitive and overconfident. However, Fatica also points out that virtually every author is like that. And just as Tolkien has flaws, Tolkien is always able to make up for these flaws with his many qualities. Therefore, according to Fatica there is no point in talking about Tolkien either supporting him in everything, or completely rejecting his work. We must recognize both the strengths and weaknesses of The Lord of the Rings, and let negative and positive criticism coexist together, without blaming one or the other as inherently wrong. In fact, according to Fatica, the non-unanimity of judgments is the oxygen of art.

A reflection on The Lord of the Rings as a translation and on the "hidden verses" in prose

That said, Fatigue offers some of its considerations on The Lord of the Rings, collected from the notes he took during the translation of the work.

One of the main things to keep in mind when translating The Lord of the Rings, according to Fatica, is the fact that the work, in Tolkien's mind, is not an original production, but the translation of a book written by Bilbo and Frodo into their language. Therefore, according to Fatica, when translating The Lord of the Rings it is important to render the work as a whole, and then, after having found the rhythm of the text, to keep it until the end.

This is particularly important for Tolkien's poetry, which, according to Fatigue, holds great beauty even in its being old-fashioned. The translator then notes that Tolkien plays with rhythms and verses even in prose. You see it very well in sentences like the following.

Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe.

Fatica reports that this tendency to insert poetic lines within prose is peculiar not only to Tolkien, but also to several other authors.

A reflection on Tolkien's different levels of meaning

Fatica therefore faces the fact that Tolkien can be contrived, antiquated and not very valuable even to readers who have English as their mother tongue. In fact, both English readers and Italian readers who read Tolkien in English do not necessarily understand all subtexts de The Lord of the Rings. According to Fatigue, it is seen in cases such as the name Hamfast, which will convey to an English reader the most obvious idea, namely that of Ham. In that sense, not even a native speaker will grasp the fact that the name Hamfast it has nothing to do with hams, but derives from Old English hámfæst, that is “who stays at home”.

Similarly, Italian readers who read the work in the original language will not necessarily grasp the changes in tone (such as that of the fifth book) or puns, which may be more evident to a native speaker.

A reflection on the linguistic rendition of Tolkien's secondary world

Fatigue at this point talks about their job to avoid anachronisms or the insertion of words that, within de The Lord of the Rings, have little sense to exist. Therefore, Fatigue has avoided expressions and metaphors that refer to concepts or technologies present only in our world, but absent in the secondary world of Middle-earth, such as in single file o swooping. In fact, in single file assumes that Native Americans exist in Tolkien's world, while swooping is an expression that derives from the lexicon related to aircraft. Similarly, Fatigue avoids words coined too recently for the kind of world represented in Middle-earth, such as panorama (of eighteenth-century invention) e pony (which the Italian adopted as a loan from the Scotsman powney in the nineteenth century).

However, Fatica also points out that Tolkien himself sometimes uses terminologies that have little to do with the world of Middle-earth. For example, to describe the state of Ithilien, Tolkien describes it as a "driade disheveled "(disheveled dryad). In another passage, Tolkien uses the term drunk (soul) in a figurative expression, although in Middle-earth the concept of soul does not exist in the same way as it is understood by the expression drunk. Similarly, Tolkien also inserts some obvious biblical references, as in the use of the term babele. Many of these "Tolkienian anachronisms" are present in the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring, perhaps because Tolkien, while writing this part, took the linguistic rendition of Middle-earth less seriously.

A reflection on the corrections in the single volume

Finally, Fatica commented that he had taken into account the fixes reported by Tolkien fans, when he revised his translation in view of the single volume, released a few months ago. The translator underlines how the timely screening of the fans helped him to eliminate typos, errors and inaccuracies. In some cases, these corrections have been important to capture terms that have little to do with the atmosphere of Middle-earth, such as chimera, or with the knowledge of those who use them, like maretta, used (I seem to remember!) by Hobbits who have never seen the sea.

Fatigue also rethinks some choices he currently regrets. First, he regrets having listened to the more cautious advice he received, which advised him to keep the surnames of the main characters in English. After all, says Fatica, there will be a reason why major world translations have translated the main surnames! Finally, the translator reflects on how he changed his mind about the translation of Strider (in Alliata / Principe, Strider), rendered as Long step, but that would have turned out better like Falcante. That said, Fatica says she has a few more regrets, but that there will be time to revise her work in further revisions and translations.

Cover of the first volume of the Quaderni di Arda, in which the proceedings of the last Tolkien conference were published
Cover of the first volume of Notebooks of Arda, in which the proceedings of the last Tolkien conference were published

The questions to Fatigue

After Fatigue's surgery a Failing better and better, the moderator reported some of the questions written by the audience and asked some of them in turn. Here are the translator's questions and answers.

Given the various temporal stratifications of the drafting of the text, to what extent did you feel you had to translate the last chapters with the initial style in the Shire?

To this question posed by Binelli, Fatica replies that, The county cleanup, Tolkien returns to the flat style of the first chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring. This change of tone you hear a lot, especially after the epic peaks of the immediately preceding chapters.

Precisely for this reason, Fatica admitted that he had a hard time returning to that style.

Have you seen any other fan-favorite fandoms giving so many suggestions?

Fatica affirms that the ranks of fans of de The Lord of the Rings she was very helpful and thanks them. Indeed, it is inevitable that in a huge work like The Lord of the Rings there are oversights and typos, so the help of these fans is extremely valuable.

How would you place the Tolkien reader?

This question was initially read and (supposedly) paraphrased by Binelli, who however did not understand the meaning. So, the author of the question intervened in person, saying that she really cares about having a Fatigue answer, because she has been trying to get an answer on this question for months.

According to the spectator, in fact, the translation aims to make the work legible in the language of new readers, so you have to ask 'who am I addressing?' and 'what kind of audience size am I in front of?'. In this sense, the viewer claims to have a problem with the translation of Fatigue, since, according to her, The Lord of the Rings it is very understandable and fluent for native English speakers, even seventeen-year-olds, while the translation of Fatica contains terms (dialectisms, technicalities, Latinisms) that force the reader to leave the story and look for them in a dictionary.

Fatigue replied that, according to him, Tolkien is not so understandable to a seventeen year old Englishman, because Tolkien also uses archaic terms or terms of English dialects. The surname is an example (given previously) Gamgee, which Tolkien took from the Birmingham dialect, where it was used as a colloquial term for cotton.

Fatica then states that even his translation of The Lord of the Rings it can easily be read by a seventeen-year-old Italian, who, however, may not understand all the terms. However, if a young reader were encouraged to look up a term in the dictionary it would certainly not be a bad thing.

Furthermore, according to the translator, the fact that Tolkien is not always so transparent in the lexicon used is also demonstrated by the presence of numerous lexicons e dictionaries based on his works. Among other modern authors, only Joyce can boast so many dictionaries.

What was the most difficult step to translate?

Fatica was unable to answer this question precisely, but admits there were some complex steps. For example, Tolkien's writing becomes very difficult to render in the passages of Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom, as well as during battles. Furthermore, since the travel descriptions they are an attempt to exactly reproduce fantastic territory, these passages are quite complex to follow, but they are also the ones where Tolkien is at his best.

An interesting slide from Renée Vink's presentation to Failing always better
An interesting slide from the presentation by Renée Vink a Failing better and better

A personal comment on Failing better and better and on other matters

Personally, I really enjoyed it Failing better and better in general, since I found it full of food for thought and extremely choral. I believe that, for those who have had the patience to follow him even after Fatigue's intervention, Failing better and better showed how difficult and fascinating it is to translate Tolkien. The interventions were, in general, clear and informative.

It is certainly a shame not to have been able to have a conference in person, as it would have been an excellent moment of conviviality and to meet the translators and scholars who spoke in person. However, the telematic modality has allowed to have many people connected and to be able to easily have guests from abroad.

Two words on Ottavio Fatica's speech

As for the Fatigue intervention, however, not much new has been said. In Failing better and better, Fatigue was kept on the generic, reporting mostly examples we had already heard at conference in Parma. Many disliked Tolkien's long introduction to criticism and reception which, while interesting and informative, is not the "linguistic flab" one would have wanted to hear.

For my part, I appreciated Fatigue's intervention, but like many I would have liked more technical information. I would have liked Fatigue to give more space to the hidden lines in Tolkien's prose and the use of English dialectisms. I then appreciated Fatica's attention to the use of a lexicon that was as suitable as possible for the secondary world of Middle-earth and which resulted in the translation of a text written by Frodo.

I also believe that Fatigue's intervention was affected by two factors. First of all, Fatica made a rather precise reference to some passages of the text de The Lord of the Rings and several English terms. So, in my opinion, the surgery would have been easier to follow if the whole thing had been accompanied by one power Point presentation or from a handout. Secondly, it is clear that Fatigue is not a speaker, so his speech will likely turn out clearer and more rhythmic in writing. Moreover, in the proceedings, probably, the initial introduction will be better integrated in the intervention.

Cover of Morgoth's Ring, dealing with fëa and hröa, mentioned in Failing Better and Better
Cover of Morgoth's Ring, in which we speak of fëa e hröa, mentioned in Failing better and better

Two (so to speak) words on the controversy that arose during Ottavio Fatica's speech

As I said at the beginning of the article, this report will cause, like all articles on the new translation of The Lord of the Rings, a certain amount of controversy. We have already seen them born during the Fatigue a Failing better and better, in the form of two questions.

The concept of fëa e hröa, and on purely provocative questions

The first was a dry question, in which Fatica was asked if she knew what they were fëa e hröa. To this question, Fatica candidly admitted that she could not answer. I think, at this point, it is important to explain why this question was totally out of place and unnecessarily provocative.

Indeed, this question refers to Fatigue's claim that the idea of soul/drunk it is not present inside de The Lord of the Rings, countering the assertion that, in reality, in Middle-earth it is actually present in the concept of soul: fëa. And although this statement is true, it must be emphasized that the concepts of fëa (soul) is hröa (body) were presented not ne The Lord of the Rings, but in Morgoth's Ring, the tenth volume of the History of Middle Earth.

Therefore, in the economy of the tale de The Lord of the Rings, the concept of fëa does not exist, since it was not explicitly stated by the author within the work. Then, certainly, making a broader discussion, it can be said that in legendarium Tolkien, which is much broader than The Lord of the Rings, the concept of soul exists. However, the existence of the concept of fëa in legendarium does not invalidate the affirmation of Fatica, since in the text de The Lord of the Rings de facto we never talk about soul, if not in a single figurative expression.

Why is this question problematic not in content but in form? (Why yes, shape matters)

Whoever asked this question had the right to know if Fatigue, in his work, had taken into consideration the concept of fëa explained in Morgoth's Ring? Certainly. In fact, it would have been a good question to ask. If it had been placed like this:

You have stated that the concept of soul ne The Lord of the Rings does not exist, but in the History of Middle Earth we speak of soul, using the term fëa. Did you take this information into account in your translation?

Because this is a serious question. Asking curtly, “You know what I am fëa e hröa? " without giving further information is the parody of a question, in which we try to understand if Fatica is "really an informed fan" or an "expert" of the legendarium Tolkienian. It can be argued that the translator of The Lord of the Rings should have read every single work by JRR Tolkien or Christopher Tolkien. However, this debate should remain on the line of dialogue. And the sterile questioning is not a dialogue.

That there is statistical evidence of Tolkien's readability

The second controversial question, which I have also reported above, has a very valid content, that is "For which audience does Tolkien translate". In my opinion, a good discussion could have started. And from the question "Is Tolkien understandable, in his linguistic nuances, even to young readers?" one could draw inspiration for a good research.

Precisely for this reason, in my opinion, it is a pity that this question was wasted because of the tone (and here I am talking about the tone of voice) with which it was asked and the tendency of the spectator to interrupt Fatigue while he answered. In fact, in general, the viewer posed rather aggressively against the translator, starting with the accusation of being ignored by Fatica in the previous months and then vigorously insisting that he has "statistical evidence" that Tolkien is easy to read for young native speakers.

A question of statistics that should be deepened and / or formulated better

Now, to me this question was the part about statistics to be more annoying, for a very simple reason: I am a linguist who works on empirical data, so I also have to do statistics. And I can assure you that, if someone claims that Tolkien is easy to read, backing up their theory with supposed "statistical evidence", which boils down to asking some native English-speaking kids if Tolkien was easy or difficult for them to understand. read… well, what about? I have some doubts that this person can do statistical research.

First of all, to make a serious study of the question one would have to understand if the English seventeen are able to grasp the submerged meanings of Tolkien and his various linguistic references, rather than asking generically if The Lord of the Rings whether it seemed easy or difficult to them. Furthermore, it is easy to imagine that a very large and varied sample of young readers would be needed, making sure you also know their literary tastes and what reads they have done. Furthermore, for each of them one should make sure that they know, among other things, even if they have read essays and accompanying volumes, such as The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion.

In short, to have true statistical data on this matter, a very serious and very long study would have to be carried out. Also for this reason, as well as out of respect for those who work on similar issues, it would be appropriate to bring out the "statistical evidence" only when there are real statistical evidence.

Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton, imagined by Ted Nasmith. Note the Gamgee / Cotton pun, explained by Fatigue in Failing Better and Better
Sam Gamgee and Rosie Cotton, imagined by Ted Nasmith. Note the Gamgee / Cotton pun, explained by Fatica in Failing better and better

Two words on the reception of Ottavio Fatica's speech

From the "reports" and the alarmist articles published in the wake of the conference Failing better and better, it seems clear to me that, in the discussion on the translation of Fatica, there are two polarized and incommunicable shores. Fatigue can explain her choices as much as she wants, but she will always find a wall of hostility on the other side. Fatigue may speak in the quietest tone in the world, but will always be labeled as a pompous inflated balloon. And Fatica will be able to study as much as he wants, but he will always be branded as "unprepared" and "not as good as a real fan".

On one of these two sides of the discussion, Fatigue will never go well, and therefore can never be respected. For one of these two shores, the translation of Fatigue will not be what it actually is, that is, one of the many existing translations of The Lord of the Rings. No, the translation of Fatica will always be perceived as a personal affront, and therefore it will never be just another voice in the chorus of Tolkien's criticism, but a stain to be erased.

Now, let's clarify: respecting Fatica and his work does not mean always agreeing with him, or generally agreeing with his choices. Just be aware that behind these writings there is a person who has dedicated time and energy to this work, using all the care and precision he was capable of. And I believe that, from this post and from the previous ones, it should be clear by now that Fatigue, as a non-Tolkien fan, approached the Professor with commitment and respect, trying to put himself in the author's shoes and do justice to his immense linguistic work.

Personally, I appreciate the translation of Fatica, I appreciate his commitment to work, even if I don't like all his choices. I admit he made mistakes. I admit that his release on Vittoria Alliata was unhappy. Nevertheless, while making these criticisms, I do not allow myself to disrespect him, or to define the entirety of his work (I repeat, over 1300 translated pages) a shit just because I don't like "foresters".

I know that, on the other side of the fence, there are those who spit on Fatica's work and turn every statement around to make it despicable and distorted. I don't know what to say to these people. I have said on other occasions that I find their way of doing bad. I continue to support him.

The image of the poster of Fallire always better comes from the pen of Ivan Cavini
The poster image of Failing better and better comes from the pen of Ivan Cavini

Conclusions on the conference

Personally, witnessing Failing better and better, I saw in general great preparation and great professionalism on the part of all the people who gave a speech. Furthermore, following the various talks, one thing should become clear: translating Tolkien is not easy. Translating Tolkien requires several attempts, a lot of study, a lot of reflection. And it will be impossible not to make mistakes, or to have second thoughts in the future, or to see different translators making different choices. The fact that translating Tolkien has been such a challenge for practically all translators and translators who have spoken in Failing better and better underlines how the Professor has loaded his work with many meanings and many references, how rich it is The Lord of the Rings.

See this unanimous reflection on the challenge of translating Tolkien (and beyond The Lord of the Rings, of course) and on the limits that every person who translated the Professor has had, should make them understand one thing, namely that translating Tolkien is a journey of discovery and rediscovery of his works. That a translation will never be the ultimate and perfect rendition of Tolkien's work, because each translation, by adopting different choices, will bring to light something new.

Each new translation, whether satisfying or unsatisfactory, sheds a new light on the original work. This is why it is important that there are many translations of The Lord of the Rings. And also in Italy we will have others, made with different methods and with different attentions. And without the Foresters. Maybe with Frodo Sacconi. Maybe with choices that we will like even less, or that on the contrary we will love. And that will be fine.

The cover of the new illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings, with the translation by Ottavio Fatica
The cover of the new illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings, with the translation by Ottavio Fatica
Meanwhile, if you want to support the Atlantean Seekers and the new translations of Tolkien's works, here's how!

You can purchase the following volumes through affiliate links, with which you can support both our site and the new Tolkien translations.

Here you will find the new illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings in one volume, translated by Ottavio Fatica.

Here you will find the translation of Beren and Lúthien by Luca Manini.

Here you will find the translation de The Fall of Gondolin, again by Luca Manini.