Saturday, January 02, 2010

Kreacher: A Study in Translation of Names

(this post in Russian is here)

I struggle to keep up with my children's reading. I have long tried if not to read in full, but at least to leaf through their books. It's been two years since I last read to them at bed-time. They now read a lot themselves, already progressing from children's books to 'serious' literature. My son has just finished 1984 and my daughter's bookshelf is heaving.  So I am falling behind miserably.

But we all have kept affection for J.K. Rowling whose books kick-started my children's reading as they did for many others. I am an old embarrassing parent. I don't dig quick enough. That's why I got so excited when, on the last book of Harry Potter, I realised that the house-elf Kreacher's name is a phonetic transcription of Creature.

So excited, in fact, that I decided to try and find a good translation of his name into Russian since the  edition of Harry Potter we have renders him just as it is - Кричер, which sounds like a German name. No link to 'creature' there.

The first word that comes to mind in Russian is существо. But it doesn't sound as a name. And the phonetic play on words is also lost.

Креатура? No, this is from bureaucratic lingo. It means someone is under patronage of someone else higher up.

There is a synonym: творение (creature, creation). Again, it's too long and doesn't sound either like a name, or like a nickname. But the stress in the word falls on E which makes the O in the root sound like A. So, the root part phonetically is TVAR-. That's something interesting.

We have the word тварь (thing, creature). Close, may be, but it's too direct. And the usage of that word doesn't fit. It's either used as an imprecation, or in a Biblical or Dostoyevskyan context. And Rowling's phonetic joke is lost.

Russian is strong in affixes. What can we do with тварь? Here is one: тварюга (shaggy dirty thing, shaggy creature). It does sound like a nickname and the length of the word is close to Kreacher. Make it Тварюг? No, it feels awkward to a Russian tongue.  Тварюго? No, that's silly, we don't want to make Kreacher into someone sounding like doctor Zhivago.

Then, is it possible to capture the play on words Kreacher-Creature? There is another word ending with -юга: ворюга (burly intimidating thief).

Put together тварюга and ворюга to get ТВОРЮГА (Tvoryuga).  This sounds right. Can spit it out like a nickname. The sense is there and the thieving grumpy character of Kreacher is reflected. The word is as solid in your mouth as Kreacher's pride in his master's house. And, best of all, Rowling's trick is there. You read the word and see the ВОР  (thief) bit, you say it - and you hear just the 'creature' bit. I hope I got there.

Here is the thread from Kreecher to Творюга once again:

Kreecher - creature - существо - творение - тварь - тварюга - Творюга

Wikipedia article on magical creatures in JK Rowling's books is here.
Kreacher's  page on Harry Potter wiki is here.

Photo of JK Rowling by JSHILL

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