Voldemort Makes Much More Sense As A Frenchman

Voldemort Makes Much More Sense As A Frenchman

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Translating books is hard. As much as publishers would love to hand the job to some piece of software or the cheapest freelancer they can find, you need special skill in both languages to capture the meaning and the feel of the author's original words. We'd now quote a few remarkable examples of expert translation, but you need deep familiarity with both languages to even appreciate a good translation, and we sure don't have that.

But there is one special situation when we can appreciate a creative translation. That's when the original novel had some kind of nutty word puzzle, and the translator had to make up their own in the second language.

The Harry Potter series starts out with an evil guy named Voldemort, and then the second book introduces a kid named Tom Riddle. The two are the same person: Tom Marvolo Riddle rearranged the letters in his name to spell "I Am Lord Voldemort" and so created the alias he'd use as an adult. That's how the books played out in English, anyway. Translators had to change the name of the kid to make the anagram work in other languages.

In Danish, they made the kid Jomeo G. Detlev Jr. Rearrange the letters, and you get  "Jeg Er Voldemort," or "I am Voldemort" in Danish. In Swedish, they made the kid Tom Gus Mervolo Dolder, and the anagram "Ego sum Lord Voldemort," which means "I am Lord Voldemort"—not in Swedish, but in Latin. In Mandarin, they said to hell with it, chose names that weren't anagrams, and just added a footnote to explain that it all made sense in the original English. 

For the French translation, they named the kid Tom Elvis Jedusor, and the anagram is "Je suis Voldemort." This works out well because Elvis is a real name. In that sense, it works a lot better than in English, where J.K. Rowling very obviously created the made-up name Marvolo by starting with the anagram and working backwards. Of course, Jedusor isn't a real name (the translator made it up by starting with the anagram and working backwards), but the trick feels less obvious with the surname because the book introduces the kid's surname hundreds of pages of before revealing the anagram and repeats it so many times. 

Even otherwise, the name Voldemort works very well in French. The name is French for "flight of death," so it's a fitting title for a guy to assume when he has gang of minions called Death Eaters. Also, if you speak French, you know the name rhymes with Dumbledore, which is appropriate. Some French speakers, after reading the French version, were curious to learn what the name was in the original English text ... and were baffled to learn that it's simply "Voldemort," which means nothing in English. 

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For Volde-more, check out:

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Top image: Warner Bros.

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