At a speech at the University of Parma, Ottavio Fatica recounted in detail the challenge that translating Tolkien represented for him, giving many answers on the new translation of The Lord of the Rings and its most controversial choices.
After months of reading controversy about the new translation of The Fellowship of the Ring Tolkien, finally some choices of the translator, Ottavio Fatica, can be commented with greater knowledge of the facts.
We will not be taking up every single article we have written on the matter (you can retrieve them all here!). However, those who follow us will know how little we liked many of the negative judgments written a priori on the translation of Fatigue. In fact, criticisms and accusations have flooded not only from those who have not read this new translation at all, but also from people who, de facto, do not have the skills to criticize Fatica's choices from a linguistic point of view.
It is a striking case of that youtuber that we will not name, who has well thought of throwing up on the choice of translating Samwise with Samplicio because, according to him, "Samwise means 'wise', because it contains the word 'wise'" . Of course, this dislike of ours doesn't extend to those who don't appreciate the new translation choices for personal tastes: it is in fact more than legitimate not to find to one's liking, for example, “Omorzo Farfaraccio”, preferring the old “Omorzo Cactaceo”.
However, personal taste should not be confused with a sudden (and improvised) proficiency in the archaic English sometimes used by Tolkien.
Ottavio Fatica's speech in Parma
In this sense, Ottavio Fatica recently (so to speak: we are the ones who arrive late!) Held a long and interesting speech at theUniversity of Parma. The meeting, held on 12 December, was presented by the linguistics professor Davide Astori and the translator Joan Granato. Details of the event can be found here.
In fact, within an hour and a half Fatigue has given many answers on the new translation de The Lord of the Rings, explaining the logic behind their choices. Where does "forestry" come from? Why did The Prancing Pony become a Hovering Pony instead of a Prancing Horse? Why did he translate or not translate certain proper names?
In this article, we want to report the salient points of the Fatigue speech, finally dedicating some space to the answers to the questions of those present.
We want to thank you Daniele DiRubbo for sending us your very accurate notes on the surgery!
An overview of Tolkien's historical and editorial context
Ottavio Fatica begins his speech by briefly talking about the controversies that have always followed Tolkien in Italy.
First of all, however, Fatica underlines how the Professor's work was the result of numerous rearrangements during the long years of his writing. The same English publishers were frightened by the size of the work, too massive to be published in its entirety in a period of crisis like that of the Second World War. However, despite having some initial success, The Lord of the Rings he will only see his fame grow over time. Only later will he ascend to the perfect opera status that many have attributed to him.
Tolkien's arrival in Italy
The arrival in Italy, however, was not easy. In fact, Vittorini and his collaborators rejected Tolkien, but Fatica does not blame them: it was simply their thought, their literary tastes. It was Astrolabe to publish The Fellowship of the Ring, translated by Vittoria Alliata, but without continuing, since the volume sold very little.
As Tolkien's fame grew worldwide, Rusconi took the rights, but the translation was deemed deficient. Then one of the publishers, Quirino Principe, heavily put his hands on it, changing practically all the names and correcting several errors. In this form, Tolkien has also gained success in Italy.
The Rusconi edition will undergo many changes, accumulating a series of corrections approximately every five years. After 50 years, Bompiani he finally decided to do a new translation and asked Fatica. He, however, is not a fantasy specialist, although he knew a little about the work. It was a great challenge for a great book. Fatica says that the idea intrigued him, also because he is normally called when it is necessary to translate large and difficult books.
Tolkien as a political totem of the right and problems with sectarian Tolkien readers
However, Fatica points out, we, the only nation in the world, had a small group of right-wing Tolkien readers. The Italian left, which was young and alternative, had not been interested in Tolkien. For this, only Tolkien remained as his reference author on the right. This led to events such as hobbit camps, while in the rest of the world this privileged relationship between the right and Tolkien had not taken off equally. Fatigue notes, then, that
the Tolkienians, for better or for worse, are gods sectarians. They are stuck in their closed world and started with the idea that the new translation would surely suck.
Fatigue is not on social networks, but they have told him a little about the accusations or questions that some have moved him. Starting from this premise, therefore, Fatica started to give answers on the new translation of The Lord of the Rings.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: How complex is Tolkien really?
How many other authors of the twentieth century can be said to have glossaries, encyclopaedic dictionaries and essays that speak his language? Volumes that are continuously renewed, why do they always find new things to say?
Not many, it must be said. But Tolkien has glossaries, dictionaries and encyclopedias dedicated to his legendarium, and there is a reason: Tolkien is difficult even for the British.
Fatigue then gives us some examples to show the various linguistic levels that Tolkien inserts in every word he coined.
An example is the surname Cotton. In this case, in fact, a banal word like this hides a secret etymology. For this reason, Cotton it does not mean cotton, but rather cottage town.
Dunharrow becomes Valfano. But why?
Let's see, for example, Dunharrow, the place where the Rohirrim camped before riding to Gondor, and from which Aragorn set off along the Path of the Dead. Dunharrow in the old translation was rendered like Dunharrow, but Fatica wanted to dig into Tolkien's philology. In fact, Dunharrow is how Tolkien made the name that the place had in the language of the Rohirrim in modern English, Dunharg, which means "the heathen fane on the hillside".
Now, Fatigue would translate Dunharrow as Valfano, and explains why. It doesn't talk about why dun go translated with valley, in reality. But in this case I believe (I believe!) That he would make this choice based on the fact that, in ancient English, dun both the phonetic reduction much of Dūn (= hill) how much of deny (= valley), at least second A Dictionary of British Place-Names. Then I could be wrong.
Fatigue however points out as normally in English harry means harrow (a type of plow). However, harry in this case it should not be translated as harrow, because what lies in the valley is not an agricultural tool, but, as Tolkien's description says, a fane. Fane here is a word nobody cares about, but it means lives, since it derives from the Latin lantern. Lantern gave rise to the word in Italian fano. So actually harry it does not mean harrow, here, but fano. So, to preserve the real meaning of the word, Fatica tried to translate Dunharrow with Valfano, similarly to how he translated Valforra.
Rivendell e Mirkwood they become Valforra e Forest. Why?
Speaking instead of Rivendell, which in fact Fatica has translated as Valforra, where Alliata and Principe preferred Rivendell, see Tolkien's further linguistic levels. If you go and look in the dictionary, below dell there is a very long string of terms with which it can be translated; not only ravine, but it goes up to horrid. Fatigue, here, has translated with gorge, similarly to how Rivendell was translated into Portuguese. Valforra seems, in reality, an Italian name, but the thing is wanted; but also in English, says Tolkien, there is a place called Rivendell.
Certainly, Fatica is a personal choice, albeit a reasoned one. It is not certain that others would have made the same choices as him and maybe they would have had different sensibilities. However, for Fatica the important thing in making choices of this kind is the stay consistent. Therefore, if these names have been univerbated (val + forra = Valforra, val + fano = Valfano), then a similar choice must also be made for all the other compound names. For this reason, therefore, Mirkwood will not be Bosco Atro or Bosco Scuro, but rather Forest.
Farthing is no longer Decumano, but Neighborhood. Why?
instead, Farthing, which in Alliata-Principe was translated as Decumano, has little to do with the Roman nomenclature of spaces. Farthingin fact, it is a word that in English today means a quarter of a penny o something that matters little.
But Tolkien refers to the Old English meaning of the word, that is fourth part (fearing). The Professor even says that to a contemporary English ear hear hearing farting in this way it makes a comic effect.
Fatigue therefore decided to translate the term with Neighborhood because it is a way of saying "the fourth part of a thing". However, the translator stresses that it is his choice, and that others could have found other solutions.
Cactaceous omorzo becomes Butterbur omorzo and Soaring Foal becomes the Pony tree. Why?
Moving to Brea, we go to see some of the most discussed choices of Fatigue.
Barliman butterbur, the owner of the Prancing Pony, had previously been translated by Alliata-Principe as Cactaceous omorzo. Butterburin this case, it referred to a family of succulents. However, although the butterbur is a plant (the Petasites Asteraceae), its effective Italian translation is the one that later adopted Fatica, that is butterbur.
Regarding the translation of Prancing Pony with Pony tree, Fatica says that the fans have, in fact, raised, because they would have preferred prancing Horse. Tuttavia, lunch in heraldry it is used to say rearing o rampant with animals like lions. Horses, however, also in Italian are not said rampant, but rather hoisted, according to the technical lexicon of heraldry. So actually translate lunch with rearing o rampant is, de factoincorrect.
I said the right thing, then if you grew up with the translation "wheelie" [...] it's a mistake. I'm sorry you grew up with that thing there, but I don't know what to do. I also grew up with Superman who was called Nembo Kid.
And i Forestry instead of Rangers? IS Long step in place of Strider?
Here I quote verbatim Fatigue:
As for Forestali (who are the rangers), the old translation had wanderers.
Now to me wanderers it seems a kind of order of friars, it does not convince me.
If the first translation had written forestry and I had translated with wanderers they would send me back to me.
However, I have chosen forestry, because? Because these are gentlemen who go up and down the county boundaries to protect them from a potential threat, and they secretly wander around protecting.
About forest, they told me "but it looks like a ranger". Eh, e creak what does it look like? You said creak this is what he would think of an English boy of the time. Cleaning means this in English.
About the translation of Strider, the Alliata-Principe version used Strider. Fatigue, however, has translated Long step because strider means lope.
Fatigue speculates that Long step it occurred to him from a translation of kholstomer, a story by Tolstòj on a horse called, precisely, Passolungo. A few months ago, however, after the book was published, it occurred to him that he could translate Strider with falcante / falcatore, which according to Fatigue is nicer.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: and proper names?
Fatica has translated the names of the four main hobbits as follows: Frodo Baggins, Sam (Samplicio) Gamgee, Pippin Took and Merry Brandaino. That is, some names and surnames have been translated, others not. Why this discrepancy?
I quote Fatigue again:
When you move on to the names, you have to make a premise: there is no precise cast for this stuff.
Also because the Nordic languages are much easier compared to us, but apart from that Tolkien is not consistent either.
Apparently I'm saying a heresy, but that's not true. Without offending him, he had thought about doing this, then he had second thoughts, he changed his mind, he explained things in one way and then in another, his attempt is beautiful, but it has its flaws.
So let's see how the names of the protagonists (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin) are not at all homogeneous in their etymology and in the possibilities of surrender.
Frodo baggins: a theoretically rather simple name
Frodo is called Frodo.
Fatigue states that Frodo means which has been made wise by experience. In fact, I would add, the original name in the hobbit language was Maura, In which Moorish- means precisely essay / expert. Tolkien therefore made it Moorish- with its equivalent in Old Germanic, fraud-. And Fatigue emphasizes how similar this name is to that of King Froda in Beowulf, which is one of Tolkien's reference texts.
However, those who do not read the book in English, but in a language based on Latin, think of fraud. But, by dint of reading Frodo, Fatigue says that I no longer associate this name with fraud. However, leaving the name as it is, the Italian reader will not think of it wise. For this, Alliata had initially translated Frodo's name into Savio, then returned to its original form as a Prince.
bagginsInstead, it is the English translation of the word hobbit labingia, linked to against, what does it mean bag / sack, and Tolkien was keen that the original meaning transpired from the translations. Also because otherwise it was difficult to catch a word game like that of Bag End, which basically means Cul-de-sac.
Fatigue says that this surname could have translated it, because in all other languages in which the work has been translated, too baggins has been translated.
In short, we have been wrong all this time. Then they [the Bompiani? ed] they didn't want to [translate it] and I accepted in order not to quarrel.
Samwise Gamegee: why translate the name, but not the surname?
Let's move on to Sam Gamgee. Samwise is the opposite of frodo by meaning. Indeed, if frodo mean made wise by experience, Samwise means unwise or, to quote Fatigue, "you are not a top". Fatigue did not want to adapt Samwise in Samwise, as in the Alliata-Principe edition, because it means nothing. Then, Fatigue thought about simpleton o simplicity in Italian. So, Samwise has become Samplicius, also because then throughout the book it is always called Sam and the initial syllable could be maintained.
Gamgee instead it is the anglicized version of a hobbit surname (Galpsi). Galpsi means something like from the village of Gammidgy, then passed to English Gamwich and then to Gamgee. Tolkien, here, therefore recommended to treat this surname as meaningless, at most to be adapted only graphically.
Pippin Took: a name that makes you think of apples?
PippinPippin remained in the Fatigue version. The translator claims that he does not understand well why in the Alliata-Principe edition it was transformed into Pepinunless you're referring, goliardically, to Pepin the Short.
However, actually to the ear of an English reader, the name Pippin immediately calls a kind of apple, which is a kind of renetta. Do you think that, even in the nineties, Apple launched the Apple Pippin console, therefore the relationship with the apple is quite felt. Therefore, we in Italian should call it renetto o Melozzo, reason Fatigue, but the public would have gone mad. Yet Tolkien wanted the audience to think of the apple or the pip, the seed.
Also, I add the full name Peregrine, of Latin root, would be the translation of the hobbit name of Pippin, that is Razanur. Razanur, in fact, contains the root raza (foreigner) is razan (stranger), and it was the name of a famous traveler.
Merry Brandybuck: a name that is not happy
Merry it's another name, like Cotton, which is less simple than it looks.
Indeed, according to Tolkien you have to read merry without thinking about allegro. In fact, merry it's just a reduction of Meriadoc and should, according to the Professor, be considered as meaningless at the time of translation.
Meriadoc, on the other hand, is a Welsh word, which derives from big (large) e udd (sir), or "great lord".
Then, I add, Brandybuck is instead a translation from the hobbit language Brandagamba and combines elements of Brandywine and Oldbuck.
Names with different roots and different translation requests
In short, as we have seen, the names of the four protagonists do not have a homogeneous etymology. Frodo has Germanic roots, English Samwise, Latin Peregrin and Welsh Meriadoc. And all, somehow, are translations of hobbit words.
There is no consistency, so how do you make it? You can't do it either.
We have made a highly questionable compromise.
For this reason, Fatica has left Frodo, Merry and Pippin unchanged, instead translating Samplicio and Brandaino.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: the surrender of poems
Here is the comment of Fatigue:
Then another thing that made the Tolkienians very angry (and I'm a little sorry) are the poems. Now, some kids have read these previous versions, which he liked.
I honestly don't know what to tell you here, because suddenly all of them improvised experts, analyzing the poems worse than Dante's triplet or Montale's verse.
Tolkien makes strange metric forms and I have tried to re-propose those, more or less.
Regarding the Poetry of the Ring, some commentators sent it back to me saying "but you didn't even put the rhymes", but the rhymes are actually there and in the same places where Tolkien put them. Then those who made the comment did not want to see them.
Fatigue then reflects on the fact that some got angry at win e captivate them, when the old translation used bring them, in the Poetry of the Ring. But, the translator says, he needed a rhyme and this solution has the same reason that Tolkien uses sky e the.
Fatigue liked the duo win e charm because they are not the same, they are not like win e to convince. Win comes from the Latin to win e charm comes from the Latin wintherefore have two different etymological meanings.
Then even this is all questionable and perhaps some forms have started to please me because by dint of working on them I got it into my head, but it is not that they have survived.
It's not that I got up one morning to say "I'm doing this".
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: poetry within prose
Fatigue then hints that even in prose writing there may be a hidden metric. He has already had experience and Tolkien is no different:
Another aspect on which I have worked, and which very few know, is that of verses hidden in prose.
Let's start from the fact that I come from a world of poetry of a completely different kind. Mallarmé used to say that there is no prose, only poetry exists, because prose in turn has internal rhythms.
But this is a habit of many writers, and so does Melville in some very high points, where numerous hendecasyllables are hidden. Many of us have done it, among which we remember Calvino, who would not have titled a book If a traveler a winter nightif it hadn't been a hendecasyllable.
Tolkien loved chivalric poetry and remade chivalric style, according to Lewis, better for the contemporary reader.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: the internal style changes
Fatica then points out how a book like Tolkien's has also undergone changes during its writing. And therefore resumes a consideration already mentioned in the interview with Friday di The Republic.
At the beginning of the last book, Tolkien went back to rewrite part of the The two Towers. In fact, when Fatigue came to translate the fourth book, he noticed a very strong change of style.
Tolkien is a master of descriptions and in fact two thirds of the book are descriptions of the places that the characters pass through, especially of nature, but also of cities, villages, castles and the like. In the fourth book, these expressions are long and become more and more complex, more poetic, more lyrical, even more difficult to render.
But these style changes can also concern only few pages. Fatigue says there are points where Tolkien continually repeats formulas like "And Aragorn said", "and he said", but then he doesn't do it anymore.
In short, it is not entirely consistent.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: archaisms, register changes and typos
Regarding the Professor's now known use of obsolete words, Fatica reiterates that Tolkien often uses words that were normal in other times. Precisely for this reason, you often have to look for them in the Oxford English Dictionary. And there too, only in the fourth or fifth meaning do they mean what Tolkien meant.
Fatigue has tried to do more or less the same thing, going to look for equivalent archaic terms in Italian. But otherwise he could have used other stylistic contour archaisms to give the whole an older flavor, like For, instead of o conciodissecosaché. Which, I specify, are true archaic uses of Italian.
Then, it is not said that I did well, but before criticizing my choices a priori it would be appropriate to know that Tolkien used these archaic meanings.
This also applies to the various Registry, which in the old translation had skipped. Elves are almost always courtly, while Sam is very down to earth. Indeed, stresses Fatigue, precisely for this Sam is very nice, probably the cutest character in the book.
In the construction of the sentences, then reflects the translator, Tolkien very often reverses the order of words. Moreover, when translating an author, one must discover his underground rhythm, and keep it throughout the book. But the errors I'm always around the corner!
You have no idea how many things are skipped during a translation. Years later, reprints are released that correct the typos.
For example, in Joyce's translation of Pavese, one of the last sentences of the book is missing, in which Dante is mentioned. This sentence is very important and essays have been written about it, but in the edition of Adelphi in which Pavese's translation is repeated this sentence is still missing.
Know Tolkien before translating it?
During the question and answer session following the intervention, Fatica shed light on other issues related to translation. In this case, Fatigue talks about not having been a fan (or reader) of Tolkien before accepting this work. And maybe it was good.
I am not a Tolkien specialist. I had read many essays and knew the Inklings well, but I only read Tolkien recently.
And in some ways it's good, because maybe if I had read it years ago this knowledge would have clipped my wings a bit, because maybe I too would grow up with Samvise and say I would never change him. I mean, I don't want to tear the old stuffed animal out of anyone's hands.
The relationship with Vittoria Alliata
Fatigue, always during the questions, underlines that he does not want to attack Vittoria Alliata, nor that he has made a translation with the intent of opposing the previous one. Furthermore, Fatigue claims that he did not translate Tolkien with the idea of differentiating himself at all costs from the previous translation.
The first translation was made by a very young girl, too young, and she made a small business, even if lacking, and then it was all revised.
I was not controversial at the Book Fair e I have not translated to distance myself from Alliata, I was just doing a different thing, I retranslated.
Regarding what I said at the Book Fair, I'm convinced of what I said, but maybe I could say it another way and I'm sorry if it was taken as an attack. Of course there were 500 errors on the page, but there were more or less five. But it's like when instead of saying you went to a place seven times you say you went a thousand times. It's hyperbole, it wasn't controversial.
Translate or betray? Is a beautiful, but inaccurate translation always better?
Always answering the questions, Fatica tackles the speech of beautiful, but unfaithful, translations. Above all, he is asked if it would not be appropriate to make Tolkien's text lexically simpler, so as to make it comprehensible even to Italians.
An English native speaker struggles to fully appreciate Tolkien in English. Because maybe he appreciates adventure, but certain things are understood only by going back to it.
Tolkien also renders without using too archaic words, but he uses the language in a particular way and if you want to put it on a literal level you have to make this use of it. In this case, it doesn't make much sense to betray Tolkien's literal.
According to Fatica, in fact, it may make sense to betray a poet who has been translated a hundred times, like Catullus. This, in fact, has been translated into Italian in all possible ways, therefore, if one then translates / betrays it in a creative and literary way, it does him no harm.
In fact, according to Fatica the translation of a creative person is falsifying only in appearance, but in reality it is not, because you read his translation with the awareness that you are approaching a more creative and original version.
Does translating Tolkien also mean approaching nerdy culture?
Fatigue, in fact, says he has had relatively few contacts with nerdy Tolkienians. This is why he doesn't use social media, either because, as was said before, he was not a fan or expert of Tolkien before translating it.
However, Fatigue points out that he had a Beta-reader of his own translation which was, instead, a Tolkienian expert, which was very useful for correcting the shot in some points.
Finally, Fatica also notes that another goal of the new translation was to remove Tolkien from the corner of the bookcase where the fantasies are, gadgets, manga. In this way, the Professor could have been brought back to the literature corner, because Tolkien is an excellent writer of the twentieth century.
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: but if it is not evocative?
One of those present at the presentation brought to Fatica's attention the fact that for him, although he likes the idea of a new translation, some of Fatica's ideas are less evocative compared to those of the Alliata-Principe version.
For example, for this listener forest it is less evocative than wanderer. This is followed by this interesting exchange of jokes:
FATIGUE: But evocative is very personal as a thing, for example for me it is evocative of an order of friars.
LISTENER: No, but in fact it is evocative for those who have read the old translation
Answers about the new de translation The Lord of the Rings: let's sum it up
Personally, I found this intervention by Ottavio Fatica very interesting and illuminating not only on his work, but also on his person.
In fact, we find ourselves in a time when we need to talk, in some way, also about the attitude of a translator, as well as about his work. This is absolutely absurd and ridiculous, since the quality of a translation is presumed to be unrelated to the translator's sympathy. Nonetheless, one of the main comments relating to Fatigue and his work consists precisely in a series of judgments about his supposed arrogance.
Personally, from this intervention I got the impression of listening to a professional who knows what he is doing, who has his own reasons, but who does not consider himself above criticism. Precisely for this reason, Fatigue seems to be a person well disposed to dialogue and comparison.
Too bad we must remember that the confrontation does not consist in a series of insults. Or in a series of judgments on Fatigue's supposed arrogance. Judgments that, alone, show quite well the arrogance of those who allow themselves to, pass me the expression, shoot judgments on a guy you don't know. Also because if having respect and esteem for one's abilities means being arrogant, we are in bad shape.
However, secondly, this intervention was also illuminating on many of Fatica's reasons behind its translation choices. Not only are they introduced to us punctual and precise examples, but these examples also help us understand the depth of Tolkien's philological work. In front of an author with multiple linguistic layers of a lasagna, each word must be weighed, and it seems that Fatigue did not approach the Professor lightly.
Of course, it is clear that translating Tolkien is not a job for everyone. And although still choices like forestry I don't like them, I can understand the reasoning behind them and I respect the work done by Fatica. Because not agreeing on the results does not mean not recognizing and appreciating the effort made.
We then pass over the long etymological explanations on the yield and origin of Tolkien proper names. I could spend hours reading about such linguistic minutiae, because I have so much fun. And I understand more and more how Tolkien was a linguistics nerd; maybe he would have appreciated RPGs like dialect!
If, as mentioned in other public works of Fatigue, it will really be written and published an essay on his experience of translating Tolkien, I expect to find it even richer in details and examples. And I can't wait to read it.