As promised in my mid-year resolution that I made in September, I have been reading Harry Potter in French for the first time lately. This afternoon, as I picked up Le Prisonnier d’Azkaban, I was excited, not just because it has been a pleasure to return to the wizarding world, but because some of the translations for names and places have been half of the entertainment. So far I’ve found it spooky how even though I’m reading these books for the first time in years and in a different language, seeing the chapter titles is enough to fill me with the same excited glee as ever. Gilderoy Lockhart, is still just as arrogantly and ironically maddening as he is in English.
Apologies to anyone who doesn’t like Harry Potter but honestly, what is wrong with you? For those who don’t speak French I’ll do my best to explain why I’m tickled. Without further ado, here are my favourite French translations from Harry Potter 1 and 2 – L’école des Sorciers and La Chambre des Secrets.
Le Choixpeau Magique
Now of course any new student at Hogwarts (or Poudlard, I should say) must be sorted into the correct house. I’ll touch upon the title of the houses in a moment, but let’s talk about the sorting process first, shall we? The infamous Sorting Hat is translated to le Choixpeau Magique, which honestly brings me an absurd amount of joy. “Choix” meaning choice, and “chapeau” meaning hat, it is an excellent squashing together of words that I fully support. It makes “Sorting Hat” suddenly seeming extraordinarily dull, for a talking hat, that is.
Now what’s better than Hagrid having named his giant three-headed dog Fluffy? The fact that in the French version, he names it Touffu. While it pretty much just a literal translation (it sort of means “dense-y”), I think it’s extra amusing for English readers of the French version (confused yet?) because it becomes a sickly sweet name, as well as just being totally mad.
Deauclaire, Dubois, Chouvrage & Quasi-Sans-Téte
A couple of names I randomly enjoyed the very literal translations of were Penelope Clearwater to Penelope Deauclaire, Oliver Wood to Olivier Dubois and Professor Sprout to Proffesseur Chouvrage. Simple, exact translations that just sound even better in French. The other really great example is Nick Quasi-Sans-Tête. Any guesses? Nearly Headless Nick, of course!
Now Hogwarts isn’t Hogwarts in French, which does bother me slightly, but what is more fascinating is how some of the house names have been changed. Gryffindor becomes Gryffondor, Slytherin becomes Serpentard (both fair translations) but then Ravenclaw becomes Serdaigle and Hufflepuff becomes Poufsouffle. While they do literally translate to “claw of eagle” and “puffy puff”, I do however get a little mad that the translator (Jean-François Ménard) doesn’t change their first names to keep the alliteration. It’s maddening to me to have Helga Poufsouffle and Rowena Serdaigle.
At first I didn’t think anything of the added “e” in Malfoy, but then I’m became suspicious that it might be a philosophy thing. I assume that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone couldn’t be translated directly because France has such a long and complicated relationship with philosophy (Beauvoir, Satre etc.). Now I’m wondering if the same tradition has anything to do with Malfoy’s name too. “Mauvais foi” (bad faith) is an existential idea conceptualised by Beauvoir and Satre, and I’m sure I’ve read it as “mal foi” somewhere too. I may be wrong, and it could just be a pronunciation aid but I like to think it’s a little cooler than that. Malfoy’s character certainly has a little mauvais foi about him, I’m not sure the “e” is necessary…
Let me know if you’ve enjoyed this blog and I’ll highlight a few more of my favourites as I continue to read the series in French.