Of course, (1) is painfully wrong: the UK has so far never wanted any of my French books, which are too everything and not enough anything, but I suspect are also by default unattractive because they don't come with world rights. And (2) highlights the eternal plight of professional translators, whom no one believes when they say that their skills set goes beyond just 'being fluent' in two languages.
I'm fascinated with translation and have been for a long time: in my young days as a Harry Potter fan, I would work hard to understand the translation choices of Jean-François Ménard, who changed in the French version a great quantity of names invented by Rowling. Hogwarts became Poudlard ('hog lice'), a funny and meaningful find that is also cleverly English-sounding to a French ear.
'Tom Marvolo Riddle', who needed to work as an anagram, became 'Tom Elvis Jedusor'. Though it is a little bit hilarious, in retrospect, that Voldemort is called 'Elvis', the name's connotations weren't that strong for me as a child, and I very much admire the lovely 'Jedusor', which evokes a 'jeu du sort', a twist of fate. And 'sort' is also a magic spell... Can we say 'Jedusor' is actually better than 'Riddle'? I think so.
|but the Hallows turned 'Relics'. Good choice?|
It's been quite a funny and interesting process. The Royal Babysitters series, illustrated by Becka Moor, are set in a magical and nonsensical world, but which in many ways corresponds closely to the 'real' world. Many of the place names - Francia, Daneland, Britland, etc - are relatively easy to translate into French (Francie, Danelandie, Brittonie). But what of the Independent Republic of Slough? Having a French city name there would make no sense, since it all happens in Britland. The translator decided to invent an imaginary city name.
|We didn't have to change it to 'Les babysitters républicaines'|
|Alaspooryorick or Oroméoroméo?|
'King Alaspooryorick', the villain, is a tricky one to translate. On the one hand, recognising the reference doesn't matter very much (if at all), but we might as well keep it; and it has to sound funny, which 'Alaspooryorick' or its French equivalent 'Hélaspauvreyorick' doesn't (at all). He could have been King 'Tobeornottobe' (roi Etrounepazettre), but again, it's not very funny. The translator came up with 'Oroméoroméo', which sounds very funny and is also a Shakespeare reference, arguably more famous to a French ear.
Of course, the reference is no longer to Hamlet, so the King being from 'Daneland' and having a special mermaid called Ophelia is no longer relevant. Does it matter? Frankly, not at all. 'Le roi Oroméoroméo' is just perfect for the role.
And what of the title? 'Les babysitters royales' would have sounded flat. We're going for an inversion of adjective and noun, 'Les royales babysitters', a rarer construction in French but which by the very fact of the inversion calls to mind the English language.
The Royal Babysitters is not by any stretch of the imagination a difficult book, but it's full of those little details that can make translation tricky - as many children's books are. Translators can't get away with footnotes in translations of children's books. And they have to be clever and good at languages, but they also have to be 'good at' children's literature.
Most often we don't notice the translation work, because it's well done, and because we might not speak the two languages in question, or simply because we don't stop to wonder what something or someone was called in the original language...
|Toby Alone in the original French|
Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.