On translating series of novels

I think that it is always better to watch a movie in the original version -with subtitles if needed. But when it comes to literature this is not always true. In a movie it is important to listen to the accent of the characters, you are seeing their mouths pronouncing certain words and sometimes it seems weird to listen to the dubbed text while seeing their mouths uttering different words. But when it comes to literature we can find very good translations thanks to the great professionals that translate books. I have read many translated novels in Spanish which were originally written in English where the translator adapted the language perfectly and you couldn’t find anything that showed that the text was not the original. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I have also found mistakes or idioms translated literally which made no sense at all and made me think “I’m sure that in the original it was written _______ and a good translation would have been _______, but not this!”. Some things get inevitably lost in translation.

 The point of this entry is to comment on something I found some weeks ago reading a translated novel that belongs to a long series. When I read a translated novel I always tend to check who was the translator -call it an odd habit- and I noticed that in this particular series the translators have been changing, different books had different translators. When reading the novels I didn’t find many differences in the language used, so it wasn’t very obvious that the translators had been changing until I got to the fifth novel. In some of the previous novels of the series there was a character called Iseult in the original English version who kept her name in the Spanish translated novels. In two or three books she was called Iseult in the Spanish version. But when I was reading the fifth book I came across the name Isolda -which is a translation of “Iseult”. Since I had not seen that name in the previous books I was a bit confused and wasn’t sure about whether Isolda was a new character of if she was the Iseult I used to read about, until I realized that the translator of this book had translated her name, and thus changed the way previous translators had been calling this character. It’s true that “Iseult” is usually translated as “Isolda” in the legend of Tristan and Iseult -known as “Tristan e Isolda” in Spanish- but in my opinion if you are translating a book that belongs to a series you can’t just translate the names of places or characters without checking first how did the translators of the previous novels translate them, or if they translated them at all! If in the first book the characters were named in a particular way they should keep the same names in the next novels because they are all part of a whole.

Tristan and Iseult (or Isolde) as A. Spiess imagined them.

Tristan and Iseult as A. Spiess imagined them.

Publishers should also bear this in mind, if they hire different translators to translate book of a series they should give them a list of the names used in the previous novels in order to make sure they won’t change the names. If the publisher does not take care of this, the translator should at least check the previous books to see whether the previous translators changed the names of characters or not. When the reader finds a different name for the same character in the same series, someone has made a mistake and we should try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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