Whodunnit? (oh_meow) wrote in linguaphiles,

The Phantom Tollbooth

The other day I was watching a documentary about the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. For anyone who isn't aware of it, it's a classic children's book, where the majority of the characters and the events are created from taking common English idioms very literally. The wikipedia page tells me it's been translated into multiple languages (I found it on the spanish and french amazons for a start), which was surprising, seeing as the original relied so heavily on English puns for the very basics of the story. Has anyone read it in translation? What did the translators do- change as much as possible to fit idioms in the target language, or play it straight and lose the fun?
Tags: books
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Interesting. There is Polish translation, I'll have to check it out.
I don't know, but that is a great question!
For an entertaining account of how numerous translaters have faced a comparable problem, see _Alice in Many Tongues_ by Warren Weaver (http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Many-Tongues-Translations-Wonderland/dp/1578981573).
Oh I'd like to read that. I read Alice in french when I was a kid, and that is a pretty decent translation.
Not exactly related, but this reminds me of the Muppet Show in Germany - my German partner has a load of Muppet Show DVDs and we watched some of them in English with German subtitles. There are a LOT of puns on the Muppet Show, and i noticed that the subtitles just translated straight into German, losing the humour. But the Muppet Show was apparently very popular in Germany, which I found odd seeing as many of the guest stars would have been unknown there and the puns weren't translated well?! My partner says he thinks they did put German puns in when it was dubbed, they just didn't bother for the subtitles.
I remember being told by students who I was teaching English to that the Russian version of Harry Potter was translated by someone who seemingly had no sense of humour.

I've met the Hebrew translator of Harry Potter and a lot of other famous children's books at a conference, and she said in her talk that she felt extra responsibility translating for children, because if she didn't preserve the magic of the source material then she could put children off reading for life, or take away something that could be a life-long favourite or big influence on them.
And yet it was popular in Russia too, it was still the middle of the Harry Potter heyday when I lived in Moscow and it was doing well there too.
Well, Harry Potter hasn't many puns, if i remember rightly. And Harry Potter isn't really about humour, to my taste (I remember some funny details, of course, but it can't be compared to Douglas Adams or Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett where humour and irony are on every page).
The story of Russian translation of Harry Potter is a long and convoluted one. Halfway through the series the publishers got tired of all the critic (and also saw that the fans were doing their own translations), so they hired decent translators (people famous for translating Orwell, Faulkner etc.).
What did the translators do- change as much as possible to fit idioms in the target language?
Yes, they do, absolutely. Playing it straight makes no sense when dealing with a book like this.