Things you may not have known about the translation of the Harry Potter books


Logo_Harry_PotterEverything began on 1st November 1981 when Albus Dumbledore left a 1-year-old child in front of the Dursleys’ house door. In ‘our timeline’, that event was described in an incredible publishing success in 1997: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The best-selling novel, and all its sequels, have sold over 450 million copies and been translated in at least 67 languages. A global phenomenon made possible by an army of translators that had to face many varied problems such as anagrams, rhymes, cultural references and even fake translations.

For instance, the name ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’, first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is rearranged to spell “I am Lord Voldemort”.  This means translators have had to alter Riddle’s name to make the anagram work. In Brazilian Portuguese it became Servolo, Vandrolo in Hebrew, Marvoloso in Slovak and Orvoloson in Italian. In some languages the name has even been replaced; in French, Riddle’s name is Tom Elvis Jedusor (an anagram of “Je suis Voldemort”).

Things get more complicated when it comes to invented words or acronyms which recall homophonous words in English; like ‘O.W.Ls’ (Ordinary Wizarding Levels). These had to be translated to reflect the fact that their abbreviations spelled out the names of animals associated with the wizarding world, a play on words that did not always work in other languages.

Moreover, the impatience of the international Harry Potter fan community for translations of the books led to the proliferation of unauthorised or pirate translations. For example, in 2007 a French 16-year-old published several translations of one of the Harry Potter’s books and was arrested. Fake translations have even published, like, in China, Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll.

It seems that the world of Harry Potter translation is as rich and varied as Harry’s own wizarding world.