When Hali Bote met Hermiona Grangerova

Jeremy Munday Taken from a lecture by the University of Surrey's head of Spanish, which was delivered at the City University, London
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The Independent Online

Pottermania has not only gripped this country. Since the publication of Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Harry Potter books have been translated into over 45 languages and have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Apart from being a wizard wizard, Harry is clearly also a phenomenon in the translation world.

Apart from the translations into foreign languages, there is also a "translation" into American English. Arthur Levine, editor of Scholastic Inc, which publish Harry Potter in the US, worked with Rowling on making minor alterations for the American audience. These included typical lexical changes (dustbin becomes trashcan, packet of crisps is turned into bag of chips, etc.), but also idioms (Dumbledore is barking in Britain but off his rocker across the Atlantic). Culturally specific items also shift: Quidditch is described as a kind of baseball in the US, rather than rounders in this country. Most importantly, the title of the first book was altered, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, to reflect the "exciting" story, according to Levine.

It is the names, however, that present the biggest challenge to the translator. Where these have a strong connotation or link to the character's role, the translator needs to convey that sense. Filch the caretaker, for example, becomes Rusard in French, while Fang, Fluffy and Ripper, all names of dogs, really require translation.

Typical British food items are also an issue. Yorkshire pudding remains the same in German and Italian but is rendered as pudin in Spanish and sauce avec la viande (sauce with meat) in French. Cornflakes earn a footnote in the Chinese translation, indicating that these are consumed immersed in milk for breakfast. The Chinese version, produced by a team of four translators, is partial to scholarly notes, even telling the readers that Yorkshire is in the north of England and that Dundee is an "English" port.

It is Rowling's invented words which best provide the translators with the opportunity to display their creativity. Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans are Smekkies in Alle Smaken in Dutch and the delightful Gelatine Tuttigusti + 1 in Italian.

The real test, however, is when sound and sense combine. The alliteration of Moaning Myrtle, the ghost, often involves a change of name: Gemma Gemec in Catalan, Hulkende Hulda in Danish, Jammerende Jennie in Dutch, and so on. The play on Tom Marvolo Riddle (an anagram for I am Lord Voldemort) necessitated the tweaking of the original name to allow a similar rearrangement of letters. Thus, in Spanish he is Tom Sorvolo Ryddle (Soy lord Voldemort).

Some translations have even waved a magic wand over some of the main character names. Hermione Granger is Hermiona Grangerova (in Czech and Slovak), Hermine Granger (in German), Hermelien Griffel (in Dutch) and Hermine Grang (Norwegian). Harry Potter's name remains unchanged, although the transliteration from Chinese gives Hali Bote.

While the series is a fascinating challenge for translators, it also lays them open to criticism, sometimes poorly informed. The Polish translator, for instance, was criticised by a Potter fan for changing the name of Moaning Myrtle to Jeczaca Marta. The fan was adamant that Myrtle was a boy's name!

Translators have to decide how far to "domesticate" the text for their readers. If they take too long, pirate translations appear. In China, up to four counterfeit versions appeared on the streets, and the official publishers, the People's Literature Publishing House, resorted to using specially tinted paper to distinguish their edition.

This all serves to heighten the pressure on the translator. Jean-François Mènard, the French translator, worked long into the night for an exhausting 63 consecutive days to produce the translation of the 700-page Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire.