Category Archives: Translation

Europe

posted by Catriona Seth

In 1813, Germaine de Staël published a seminal work called De l’Allemagne, which offered a wide-ranging introduction to German romantic literature and philosophy. She had long been an advocate of learning from one’s neighbours and had a particular admiration for the British political system. She had also written Corinne ou l’Italie, a novel which suggested that Italy, at the time a fragmented series of little duchies, principalities and papal States, could unite around its common cultural heritage. She was very interested in what languages and reading foreign texts or those written in the past can teach us:

Comment pourrait-on, sans la connaissance des langues, sans l’habitude de la lecture, communiquer avec ces hommes qui ne sont plus, et que nous sentons si bien nos amis, nos concitoyens, nos alliés ? Il faut être médiocre de cœur pour se refuser à de si nobles plaisirs. Ceux-là seulement qui remplissent leur vie de bonnes œuvres peuvent se passer de toute étude : l’ignorance, dans les hommes oisifs, prouve autant la sécheresse de l’âme que la légèreté de l’esprit.

Enfin, il reste encore une chose vraiment belle et morale, dont l’ignorance et la frivolité ne peuvent jouir : c’est l’association de tous les hommes qui pensent, d’un bout de l’Europe à l’autre.

This is one of the extracts included in the anthology of texts mainly from the long eighteenth century, freely available to download here. All of them deal with the subject of Europe which seemed to us to be particularly topical. There are pieces taken from works by major figures like Rousseau or Voltaire – and others who did not write in French, like Gibbon or Kant. There are also some by forgotten authors. Most are short, some of them are almost aphoristic, a few of them are in verse. They all show that during the Enlightenment (and indeed before), thinkers were wondering about political integration, ties with neighbouring lands like Turkey or the Maghreb, common cultural practises and social rituals, but also about the role individuals might play in shaping the future of international relations.

Putting together the anthology was a collective effort. Like Tolérance. Le combat des Lumières, published in the aftermath of the January 2015 killings in Paris, it was carried out under the aegis of the Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle. Like its predecessor, it was a collaborative effort, piloted by my the Professor of French and Italian from the university of Augsburg, Rotraud von Kulessa, and by myself, with the help of colleagues from different countries. This, however, is only part of the story. We want people, wherever they are, to be able to use the book, to read it freely, to download it, to dip into it or to read it from cover to cover… That is already possible now. We also want it to be available to people who do not speak French or who would benefit from having the texts in two languages. Tolérance was translated into English in an amazing manner by Caroline Warman and 102 students and academics from Oxford—if you have not seen it yet, this is where you can find it:

http://www.openbookpublishers.com/product/418/r

Our plan is to translate L’idée d’Europe in the same way. Language students from all over Oxford and their tutors are getting involved and once the work is finished and the book online, we will make sure you get the inside story on this blog so… enjoy reading L’idée de l’Europe in its initial French version and watch this space for The Idea of Europe.

 

Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone

 

posted by Oxford’s Creative Multilingualism project

When Creative Multilingualism hosted LinguaMania at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, the Greek and Roman sculpture gallery was taken over by a crowd-sourced version of Harry Potter. During the evening event, visitors to the gallery were asked to help translate Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone sentence-by-sentence into whichever languages they happened to know. The translations were written on a giant scroll rolled out along the length of the gallery, allowing visitors to see Oxford’s linguistic diversity unfold.

The activity was entitled “Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone”, with a nod in the direction of the British Museum, home to the Rosetta Stone itself. It proved to be one of the most popular at LinguaMania and people queued up to be able to contribute and engage with this celebration of Oxford’s linguistic talents. During the course of the evening, the team collected over 88 translated sentences in 51 different languages, ranging from Chinese and Esperanto to Welsh. Towards the end of the event, the scroll moved to the Atrium in the centre of the Ashmolean Museum and was unfurled over the balcony, allowing LinguaMania participants to see the many translations which had been collected. This was followed by a recitation of a section of Harry Potter in various languages, so that visitors to LinguaMania could hear as well as see the hidden multilingualism in Oxford’s community.

The activity was conceived and organised by doctoral students Henriette Arndt, Annina Hessel and Anna-Maria Ramezanzadeh from the Oxford University Department of Education. In the below video they describe why they chose Harry Potter to help highlight Oxford’s linguistic diversity and explain how the activity gives participants the opportunity to showcase their creativity through translation. You can see photos of Harry Potter and the Rosetta Stone below.

 

Les Derniers Jedi

posted by Simon Kemp

When the title of Star Wars Episode VIII was released a few weeks ago, speculation was feverish. Who was The Last Jedi?

Was it him?

…in which case, is Rey not going to be a Jedi after all?

Or was it her?

…in which case, was Luke Skywalker heading for a sticky end, leaving Rey as the sole remaining Jedi?

Or was it someone else entirely?

Certain regions of the internet were abuzz with many arguments but few answers.

And then, a month or so later the official French translation of the title appeared (along with various other languages too, of course):

…and suddenly, everything was much clearer. The Last Jedi is plural!

Rather like sheep, Jedi, it turns out, do not change in the plural form. So, just as you wouldn’t be able to tell if The Last Sheep was a film about a lone ewe or a whole woolly flock, The Last Jedi is ambiguous about how many Jedi are involved.

In French, though, the English definite article the has to be translated as either le, la or les, to agree with the gender and number of the noun that follows it. In the same way, last must become dernier, dernière, derniers or dernières, forcing the translator to specify whether we’re talking about one or several, male or female Jedis.

So, while The Last Jedi could be about pretty much anyone, Les Derniers Jedi is most definitely a film about two or more Jedi, at least one of whom is male.

It was the gift of the French language to sci-fi nerds everywhere. The French newspaper Le Figaro covered the happy moment in detail here. Here’s a short extract:

Fin janvier, le titre anglais The Last Jedi du huitième épisode de la saga avait engendré de nombreuses théories chez les fans. Ce vendredi matin, la franchise a révélé la traduction française.

Les fans ont eu raison de se méfier, la saga Star Wars a encore une fois habilement brouillé les pistes. Ce vendredi matin, la franchise rachetée par Disney a dévoilé sur son compte Facebook la traduction française du titre du huitième épisode: Les derniers Jedi. Un détail pour certains, un bouleversement pour d’autres.

(If you follow the link to the article, it’s worth also scrolling down to the comments, in which French Star Wars fans excitably debate with each other how English plurals work, and proudly declare the whole episode as evidence that ‘le français est une langue bien plus riche que l’anglais’.)

The ‘last Jedi’/’derniers Jedi’ issue actually illustrates a common problem for translators. In one language, the word or phrase you’re translating has a different scope from what it has in the other language, where it’s either more general or more specific.

Say, for example, you’re translating a French text containing the word ‘étudiante’.

The obvious choice would be ‘student’, but the English word includes male students (‘étudiant in French) as well as female ones, and also includes school students (more usually ‘élève’ in French) as well as university ones. The English word is more general than the French one.

Now let’s say that, later in the same text, you have to translate the word ‘belle-mère’.

You now have the opposite problem. The French word ‘belle-mère’ can mean both ‘step-mother’ and ‘mother-in-law’. The two English words are each more specific than the broader French one.

The solution you decide on will depend on several factors, including:

  • the context of the source text (can you work out which of the two English options the belle-mère actually is?)

 

  • the relevance of the information (does the reader need to know the gender of the student or not? If so, do they need to know right now that she’s female, or can the translator slip in a subtle ‘she’ or ‘her’ later on in the text instead?)

 

  • and the style and purpose of the translation (‘the mother-in-law, or, as the case may be, stepmother’ might be an appropriate rendering if you’re translating a legal contract. If you’re translating a poem, not so much).

It’s a nice example of what makes translation a tricky and fascinating business. Languages never quite map onto each other exactly, and translating between them is never a straightforward matter of replacing words in one language with their equivalents in another. Rather, you have to negotiate your way between two different systems, balancing the need for accuracy with a desire to be stylish or sound natural. Sometimes you may decide to leave out information that you can’t find a practical way to include in your translation (‘the female university student’), and sometimes you may even have to take a best guess about something the source text doesn’t make clear (‘her stepmother, or, you know, possibly her mother-in-law, I can’t really be sure).

Often, language differences can cause real problems for the struggling translator. Sometimes, though, as with the title of Star Wars Episode VIII, a simple difference can make a big change, and the translator can make everyone happy. Apart, perhaps, from the film-makers at Disney who were hoping to keep everyone guessing for a while longer…

Asterix, from Waterloo to Waterzooi (Part Two)

asterix2

posted by Catriona Seth

(Continued from last week’s post.)

The best known poem in English about Waterloo is certainly Lord Byron’s ‘Eve of Waterloo’ from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Three allusions that I have noticed in the translation of Astérix chez les Belges refer to this poem (there may be others I have missed.) Let me point just one of them out[1]. It is the caption the English translators give to a full page illustration of festivities which is a visual pun on a painting by Breughel: ‘There was a sound of revelry by night’. This is the first line of ‘The Eve of Waterloo’ so they are bringing in a famous poetic allusion to the battle which English-speaking readers might recognise, in the same way as the francophones will hopefully have picked up the reference to Victor Hugo.

The Asterix version of the Belgian feast, complete with boar meat and Dogmatix/Idéfix licking a plate under Obelix’s seat
The Asterix version of the Belgian feast, complete with boar meat and Dogmatix/Idéfix licking a plate under Obelix’s seat

 

The original painting of a village wedding feast by Breughel the Elder
The original painting of a village wedding feast by Breughel the Elder

 

One of the great strengths of the Asterix series is that there is something for everyone, from the highbrow Waterloo poetry puns to the franglais names of the self-explanatory Zebigbos or of a village maiden called Iélosubmarine in honour of the Beatles song. You do not need to get them all to enjoy a good read, but everything you pick up draws you a little further in. The more you read them, in a sense, the funnier they are. So… if you want something instructive and fun to read, go for the French version of any one of the 36 albums which recount ‘les aventures d’Astérix le Gaulois’ or compare the original and the English translation: you will be in for a fun, stimulating and thought-provoking treat.

[1] The others, for curious minds, are ‘Nearer, clearer, deadlier than before…’ and ‘On with the dance. Let joy be unconfined.’

Asterix, from Waterloo to Waterzooi (Part One)

asterix

posted by Catriona Seth

If we were playing a word association game and I said ‘Eiffel Tower’, chances are you would answer ‘Paris’. If I mentioned a village in Gaul which is heroically resisting Roman rule, I surely would need to go no further: menhirs and magic potion would instantly come to your mind and you would answer ‘Asterix’. You would be right. The diminutive Gaul’s adventures have been enchanting French children  since 1959. He was the brainchild of René Goscinny (1926-77) and Albert Uderzo (born in 1927). There have been 36 albums up to and including Le Papyrus de César in 2015, and every time a new one comes out, there is great rejoicing amongst readers of French, young and old.
The Asterix books have been translated into more than a hundred languages. You may well have read them in English. If you have, I am sure you will join me in celebrating the great art of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge who translated them. As bilingual children, my sister and I read Asterix both in English and in French with the same pleasure, and thinking about what made the books funny was one of the ways I got interested in languages. Take the names of the main characters which play on words. It is easy to go from ‘un astérisque’ (the typographical star sign: *) to ‘an asterisk’ and the name of Astérix/Asterix, or to see that ‘un obélisque’ or ‘an obelisk’ gives us Obélix/Obelix, but such obvious translations do not always work. ‘Dogmatix’ is a brilliant name for the little dog, but if you look at the French version, you will find he is called ‘Idéfix’. His English name is, if anything, better than the original, since it keeps the idea that because of his instinct he is rather single-minded which someone who has an ‘idée fixe’ would be (someone ‘dogmatique’ or ‘dogmatic’—the word is the same in French and in English—is unwavering in the conviction that he or she is right or is very set on following a dogma). There is also the added play on words with ‘dog’.
If you read the names of the characters or the places out loud in the original, you will see they are often typical French phrases. The poor old bard who always gets tied up is ‘Assurancetourix’ (an ‘assurance tous risques’ is a comprehensive insurance) and the village elder is ‘Agecanonix’ (to attain ‘un âge canonique’ is to reach a great age). One of the Roman camps is called ‘Babaorum’ (‘un baba au rhum’ is a rhum baba). There are dozens of other fun examples.
Because the Asterix books rely so much on wordplay, it is often difficult to get the same joke in two different languages. Sometimes the translators slip in a pun which is not in the original. I seem to remember an exchange at a banquet in which one character says to the other ‘Pass me the celt’ (for ‘the salt’) and another observes ‘It must be his gall bladder’ with the gall/Gaul homophone providing the joke. This is to make up for the fact that some French puns quite simply cannot be translated.
Beyond the linguistic transfer, there is cultural transfer at work in the English versions of the albums. Preparing a paper for a conference to mark the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo last year, I remembered that in Astérix chez les Belges, before the battle, a warrior, who lives in hope, asks his wife whether he will get potatoes in oil (i.e. chips, the famous Belgian ‘frites’) for his meal. She serves up another justly famous Belgian speciality, a sort of enriched chicken and vegetable stew, called waterzooi (there is usually no final ‘e’). The feisty Belgian looks at the dish and sighs ‘Waterzooie! Waterzooie! Waterzooie! morne plat !’

asterix2

For the record, it is absolutely delicious and anything but dreary as the photograph shows.

Homemade waterzooi (© Spx)
Homemade waterzooi (© Spx)

The Belgian warrior’s crestfallen rejoinder is a cue for many a cultured Francophone reader to burst out laughing. Why? Because amongst the most celebrated literary evocations of Waterloo—probably the most famous battle ever fought on Belgian soil—is Victor Hugo’s poem ‘L’Expiation’ which contains the line ‘Waterloo! Waterloo! Waterloo! morne plaine !’ The dish set in front of the hungry Belgian and which was not what he hoped for is described in such a way as to echo the dreary plain on which the armies clashed. The reference works at several levels and means you need to recognise the poem on the one hand, Belgium’s national dish on the other. Where does this leave the translators? High and dry, you might think. Clearly there is no way of producing a similar effect here.

Their solution, which I shall tell you next week, is as elegant as it is clever.

Tolerance: Beacon of the Enlightenment

posted by Caroline Warman

You might have seen that in the vigils and marches that followed the Charlie Hebdo assassinations on 7 January 2015, posters of Voltaire like this one appeared everywhere, along with some of his polemical slogans about the importance of religious tolerance.

voltaire

Dozens of university lecturers in France who teach Voltaire and other eighteenth-century writers, and who were all as distressed by the events and by the increasingly polarised politics that followed as anyone else, decided to put together an anthology of texts from the Enlightenment. This anthology would make available to everyone what writers of the time said about liberty, equality, and fraternity, about the importance of religious tolerance, about the rights of women, about the abomination of slavery, about the exploitation created by a system of global capitalism, and so on. It would contain the original text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, enshrined in the French Constitution since 1789, and it would also contain the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen drawn up by Olympe de Gouges, which was roundly rejected in an atmosphere of general hilarity. Some of the extracts would be witty, some would be serious or even tragic, some might even seem objectionable to us now, but all would be arguing their point with great passion, and the collection as a whole would shine a light onto a world and a century which have many more connections with us than we would ever have thought. This anthology, entitled Tolérance: le combat des Lumières, was published in April 2015 by the Société française d’étude du dix-huitième siècle.

 

We in the UK wanted to support and applaud this initiative, and we wanted to extend its readership. So we decided to translate it. And we thought, who better to translate this texts than our students? They are the citizens, female and male, of today and tomorrow, they are deeply engaged in our world, and they are brilliant at languages.

 

At Oxford we do a lot of translation anyway – we translate about half a page of French into English, and the other way round, every week.  We do that because it develops our language skills immensely – it challenges us to be linguistically inventive while never letting us off the hook in terms of grammatical accuracy and syntactical fluency. It is quite hard, but we love it, not least because we all do it together in college classes. You’d never believe how many different ways of translating a single sentence there are. Translation is also a particularly intense way of reading, because to translate something you really have to get inside the text. It’s incredibly stimulating, because you’re both reading and writing at the same time.

 

So, one hundred and two of us – tutors and their second-year students (who don’t have any exams) from lots of different colleges – translated the anthology this past summer term. And we published it on 7 January 2016, the first anniversary of the shootings. We launched it at the annual conference of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which supported the project, and it has received some nice coverage in the press and online. On the first day it was downloaded more than 4000 times. We were amazed!

 

So here it is, free to download. Every single text has a link to the original French, sometimes in the original eighteenth-century edition. Have a look! Because if there’s one audience we really want to reach, it’s you! You are our future, and our future needs open-minded thinkers, and it needs linguists. Go for it!

TOLERANCE: BEACON OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Translating Oksa Pollock

Oksa

posted by Simon Kemp

I’ve written a couple of posts in the past on the particular challenges faced by the poor French translator of the Harry Potter saga, dealing with J. K. Rowling’s wordplay, funny names and made-up magical terms. So I was interested to come across this article by the British translator, Sue Rose, who’s had almost precisely the opposite challenge: translating the French fantasy novels in the Oksa Pollock series into English.

Here’s an extract from the article, in which she talks about finding equivalents in English for the made-up French words in Oksa’s world:

It was a hugely enjoyable challenge to introduce English teenagers to Oksa Pollock, the loveable French heroine with incredible magic powers. Being a translator is like putting on Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility or wearing a layer of Oksa Pollock’s Invisibuls — you don’t want anyone to see you’re there. You need to stay out of sight so that the reader has no idea how much blood, sweat and tears have gone into the mix.

While trying to stay invisible, you also have to navigate what feels like a lengthy obstacle course! The first set of walls I had to clamber over was the names of the many adorable, quirky creatures that inhabit Oksa’s world. These were plays on words in French, which meant they couldn’t be left as they were because an English speaker wouldn’t get the joke. I’d take a long run up and launch myself at one of these walls, get half way up, then fall flat on my back. It was totally exhausting! Some of the names were really tough to beat! Here are a few examples to show how I finally overcame the obstacles they presented:

Lunatrix and Lunatrixa: the French—Foldingot and Foldingote—is a combination of “foldingue” (crazy) and “dingo” (nutcase). There are girl and boy Lunatrixes, which in the French is shown by the “e” ending for the girl, so whatever I came up with had to be able to be varied for male and female. We often add “ess” in English to a name to show they are female, as in Prince and Princess, but that didn’t work here. What I came up with was Lunatrix, which is a combination of loony (since they’re crazy little characters) and tricks (for their weird abilities and the tricks they always have up their sleeves). They also have very large, moon-like, eyes so the first part of the name sounds like “lunar”, which relates to the moon. It was then easy to add an “a” on the end to make the female form.

Croakette: the French—Grenette—combines “grenouille” (frog) and the suffix “ette” which refers to a small version of something in both French and English. I was very happy with “Croakette”, which combines “croak” (the sound a frog makes) with “ette”. I also liked the way it sounded like “croquette”, as in potato croquette.

Gargantuhen: the French—Gelinotte—refers to a type of hen of normal size, although the Gelinottes in the book are massive — six feet tall. I was delighted when I came up with Gargantuhen, which plays on the word Gargantuan (which means immense or gigantic and refers to the French author, Rabelais) and is combined here with hen.

That was only the first obstacle though. There were also the names of the amazing magical powers that Oksa and the other Runaways (who had been exiled from an incredible, invisible world somewhere within this world) could use as weapons or useful tools:

Volumiplus: the French—Chuchalotte—is based on the verb “chuchoter” which means to whisper. This power allows someone to hear the tiniest sounds clearly. What I came up with was a name that combined “volume” (which is the amount of sound) and “plus” (the idea of getting louder). Volumiplus also sounded like some of the other powers like Magnetus (which I left the same in French, as it was clear what it meant) and Alpinismus (“Varapus” in the French came from “la varappe”, which means rock-climbing. I used a combination of Alpinism, which means mountaineering in many European languages and refers to the mountain range of the Alps, with the same “us” ending).

You can read the rest here.

Young Translators

Juvenes translatores

posted by Toby Garfitt

Why bother to expend any effort on translating from one language to another, when Google will do it for you? These days you can simply point your smartphone’s camera at any word or phrase in a sign or menu, and an app will give you its meaning. But translating literature is not quite so easy. If literary translation has always been at the heart of university language study, it is because it takes you below the surface of both language and culture. To translate even the shortest passage you have to have a developed sensitivity to nuance and register in both the languages you are dealing with, and also to the cultural connotations of the words. Is bourgeois the same as middle-class? What is ‘pride’ referring to in this particular context?

As well as the compulsory translation exercises, students of French and German at Oxford can opt to do a special “advanced translation” course in which they reflect on their own practice and on the insights of translation theory. Some of them then go on to do a master’s course in translation and/or interpreting, for instance at Bath or Edinburgh or London Metropolitan University.

Many of the Oxford tutors have published translations as well as their academic research, and some of them have won translation prizes. It is exciting to see that our undergraduates are already winning prizes before they join us. This year’s UK winner of the European Juvenes Translatores competition for 17-year-olds is Jonah Cowen, who will be coming to Magdalen College in 2016 (after a gap year) to study German and Linguistics. Here’s his video interview:

Last year’s winner, Walker Thompson, is currently at Magdalen studying German and Russian, although his winning translation was from French.

If you’re interested in entering a future competition through your school, the Juvenes Translatores website is here, and they also have a Facebook page here.

 

Lord Voldemort’s Middle Name

lordvoldemort

posted by Simon Kemp

I know from my students that for many people wanting to have a first go at reading a book in a foreign language, translations of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels are the gateway to reading books in French. They’re a good place to start: if you’re familiar with the stories already from the books or films in English, then you’ll always have a rough idea what’s going on if the language gets tricky, plus it’s always entertaining to find out how a Crumple-Horned Snorkack or a Dirigible Plum comes out in a foreign language. (It would be good if Harry Potter were your first step towards trying a book by an actual French person, rather than your final destination, though, as I sometimes feel when I see it as the sole text cited on a personal statement as evidence of someone’s burning desire to study French culture…) Anyway, because you know the story already, and because it’s one of the trickiest and most interesting pieces of English-to-French translation of recent years, let’s head back to the École des sorciers in Jean-François Ménard’s translation for a second look.

Voldemort’s real name, as revealed in the climax of The Chamber of Secrets, is Tom Riddle, which, with the aid of his middle name, Marvolo, can be dramatically anagrammatized from

TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE

into the sentence

I AM LORD VOLDEMORT.

I remember thinking at the time that this was a lucky break for him. Only a couple of letters short and he’d have had to make do with

ORVILLE DOORMAT

as his evil alter-ego, which would have made the task of assembling a power-hungry army of ruthless dark wizards that bit more difficult.

If only, though, J. K. Rowling had invented an anagram that smoothly converted one name into the other. That ‘I AM’ at the beginning makes the big reveal into an English sentence, and an English sentence that can’t be translated into a foreign language without the whole puzzle falling apart. What is the poor translator to do?

One option is to do nothing. The Croatian, Portuguese and Polish translations of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets give Voldemort’s name as Tom Marvolo Riddle, and then do the anagram sentence in English, as ‘I am Lord Voldemort’, with an explanation for their readers. The  Korean and Japanese versions  transliterate ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ into their own alphabets (톰 마볼로 리들 and トム・マーボロ・リドル), making it impossible to perform a new anagram in their own language or demonstrate the original one in English. Even if you’ve never seen the Korean alphabet before in your life, you can tell that 나는 볼드모트 경이다 (‘I am Lord Voldemort’, as it appears at the end of the Korean translation) is not an anagram of 톰 마볼로 리들.

Many translations, though, go for the more challenging option of changing the name to create an anagram that works in their language. So, in Italian, Tom Riddle is Tom Orvoloson Riddle (an anagram ofSon Io Lord Voldemort), in Spanish he is Tom Sorvolo Ryddle (anagram of Soy Lord Voldemort), and in Icelandic, he is Trevor Delgome (anagram of “Eg er Voldemort”). (Incidentally, if you’re wondering where I got all these from, they’re all here, along with translations into thirty-seven languages of the names of all the major characters.)

So what does Ménard do in his Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets? Well, he takes the more ambitious option and goes for an anagram that will work in French. The sentence he wants to reveal at the climax of the story is

JE SUIS VOLDEMORT

and so the name that replaces Tom Marvolo Riddle in the story is, wait for it…

TOM ELVIS JEDUSOR.

That’s right, Voldemort’s middle name, if you’re a French reader, is Elvis.

It’s actually cleverer than it may look. Ménard has managed to give Tom a real name for his middle name, unlike Rowling’s ‘Marvolo’, which looks suspiciously cobbled-together from the left-over letters she had after she’d come up with ‘Tom’ and ‘Riddle’. And ‘Jedusor’ is a phonetic spelling of ‘jeu du sort’, a phrase that means somewhere between ‘twist of fate’ and ‘game of chance’, and which perhaps also has undertones of the phrase ‘jeter un sort’, to cast a spell. Ménard weaves the meaning of the name into his story, making the Riddle House into La Maison des Jeux du Sort, and also has Voldemort himself tell Harry: ‘Tu crois donc que j’allais accepter le “jeu du sort” qui m’avait donné ce nom immonde de “Jedusor”, légué par mon Moldu de père?’.[‘Did you think I would accept the twist of fate that gave me the foul name Jedusor, bequeathed to me by my Muggle father?’] – a slight variation of Rowling’s original that helps to anchor Ménard’s new wordplay into the story.

And yet… and yet… Elvis? It has to be said that the name injects a rather incongruous element of rhinestone jumpsuits and Las Vegas glamour into Voldemort’s character. It also rather hilariously illustrates the perils of translating a story before the author has finished writing it. As you may remember, in Rowling’s English-language original, the name Marvolo turns up again in the sixth volume. Voldemort has in fact been named after his grandfather, the vile, abusive, squalid and half-insane dark wizard, obsessed with his aristocratic descent from Salazar Slytherin, who goes by the name of Marvolo Gaunt. And yes, in Harry Potter et le Prince de sang mêlé, penultimate volume of the French saga, we meet a vile, abusive, squalid and half-insane dark wizard, obsessed with his aristocratic descent from Salazar Serpentard, who does indeed go by the name of Elvis.