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Translations of The Lord of the Rings

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The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien appeared 1954–55 in the original English. It has since been translated, with various degrees of success, into dozens of other languages.[1][dead link] Tolkien, an expert in Germanic philology, scrutinized those that were under preparation during his lifetime, and had comments that reflect both the translation process and his work. To aid translators, and because he was unhappy with some choices made by early translators such as Åke Ohlmarks,[2] Tolkien wrote his Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings (1967).

Because The Lord of the Rings purports to be a translation of the Red Book of Westmarch, with the English language in the original purporting to represent the Westron of the original, translators need to imitate the complex interplay between English and non-English (Elvish) nomenclature in the book. An additional difficulty is the presence of proper names in Old English (names of the Rohirrim) and Old Norse ("external" names of Dwarves). Their relation to English (within the history of English, and of the Germanic languages more generally, respectively) is intended to reflect the relation of the purported "original" names to Westron.


Early translations

The first translations of The Lord of the Rings to be prepared were those in Dutch (1956-7, Max Schuchart) and Swedish (1959-60, Åke Ohlmarks). Both took considerable liberties with their material, apparent already from the rendition of the title, In de Ban van de Ring "Under the Spell of the Ring" and Sagan om ringen "The Tale of the Ring", respectively. Later translations, beginning with the Polish Władca Pierścieni in 1961, universally render the title in literal translations, with the exception of Japanese 指輪物語 "Legend of the Ring" and Finnish Taru Sormusten Herrasta "Legend of the Lord of the Rings".

Tolkien in both the Dutch and the Swedish case objected strongly while the translations were in progress, in particular regarding the adaptation of proper names. Despite lengthy correspondence, Tolkien did not succeed in convincing the Dutch translator of his objections, and was similarly frustrated in the Swedish case.

Dutch translation (Schuchart)

Regarding the Dutch version, he wrote

In principle I object as strongly as is possible to the 'translation' of the nomenclature at all (even by a competent person). I wonder why a translator should think himself called on or entitled to do any such thing. That this is an 'imaginary' world does not give him any right to remodel it according to his fancy, even if he could in a few months create a new coherent structure which it took me years to work out. [...] May I say at once that I will not tolerate any similar tinkering with the personal nomenclature. Nor with the name/word Hobbit. (3 July 1956, to Rayner Unwin, Letters, pp. 249-51).

Schuchart's translation as of 2008 remains the only authorized translation in Dutch. However, there is an unauthorized translation by E.J. Mensink-van Warmelo, dating to the late 1970s.[3]A revision of Schuchert's translation was initiated in 2003, but the publisher Uitgeverij M decided against publication of the revised version.

Swedish translation (Ohlmarks)

Åke Ohlmarks (1911–1984) was a prolific translator, who during his career besides Tolkien published Swedish versions of Shakespeare, Dante and the Qur'an. His translation of The Lord of the Rings, however, was intensely disliked by Tolkien, more so even than Shuchart's Dutch translation.

Ohlmarks' translation remained the only one available in Swedish for forty years, and until his death in 1984, Ohlmarks remained impervious to the numerous complaints and calls for revision from readers.After The Silmarillion was published in 1977, Christopher Tolkien consented to a Swedish translation only on the condition that Ohlmarks have nothing to do with it. After a fire in his home in 1982, Ohlmarks incoherently charged Tolkien fans with arson, and subsequently he published a book connecting Tolkien with "black magic" and Nazism.[4]

Ohlmarks' translation has only been superseded in 2005 by a new translation by Erik Andersson with poems interpreted by Lotta Olsson.

Tolkien's "commentary"

The Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings is a guideline on the nomenclature in The Lord of the Rings compiled by J. R. R. Tolkien in 1966 to 1967, intended for the benefit of translators, especially for translations into Germanic languages. The first translations to profit from the guideline were those into Danish (Ida Nyrop Ludvigsen) and German (Margaret Carroux), both appearing 1972.

Frustrated by his experience with the Dutch and Swedish translations, Tolkien asked that

when any further translations are negotiated, [...] I should be consulted at an early stage. [...] After all, I charge nothing, and can save a translator a good deal of time and puzzling; and if consulted at an early stage my remarks will appear far less in the light of peevish criticisms (7 December 1957 to Rayner Unwin, Letters, p. 263).

With a view to the planned Danish translation, Tolkien decided to take action in order to avoid similar disappointments in the future. On 2 January 1967 he wrote to Otto B. Lindhardt, of the Danish publisher Gyldendals Bibliotek:

I have therefore recently been engaged in making, and have nearly completed, a commentary on the names in this story, with explanations and suggestions for the use of a translator, having especially in mind Danish and German (Tolkien-George Allen & Unwin archive, HarperCollins, cited after Hammond and Scull 2005).

Photocopies of this "commentary" were sent to translators of The Lord of the Rings by Allen & Unwin from 1967. After Tolkien's death, it was published as Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings, edited by Christopher Tolkien in A Tolkien Compass (1975).Hammond and Scull (2005) have newly transcribed and slightly edited Tolkien's typescript, and re-published it under the title of Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien uses the abbreviations CS for "Common Speech, in original text represented by English", and LT for the target language of the translation. His approach is the prescription that if in doubt, a proper name should not be altered but left as it appears in the English original:

"All names not in the following list should be left entirely unchanged in any language used in translation (LT), except that inflexional s, es should be rendered according to the grammar of the LT."

The names in English form, such as Dead Marshes, should be translated straightforwardly, while the names in Elvish should be left unchanged. The difficult cases are those names where

"the author, acting as translator of Elvish names already devised and used in this book or elsewhere, has taken pains to produce a CS name that is both a translation and also (to English ears) a euphonious name of familiar English style, even if it does not actually occur in England."

An example of such a case is Rivendell, the translation of Sindarin Imladris "Glen of the Cleft", or Westernesse, the translation of Númenor. The list gives suggestions for "old, obsolescent, or dialectal words in the Scandinavian and German languages".

German translation (Carroux)

For Shire, Tolkien endorses the Gouw of the Dutch version and remarks that German Gau "seems to me suitable in Ger., unless its recent use in regional reorganization under Hitler has spoilt this very old word."

The German translator, Margaret Carroux, decided that this was indeed the case, and opted for the more artificial Auenland "meadow-land" instead.Rivendell Tolkien considered as a particularly difficult case, and recommends to "translate by sense, or retain as seems best." Carroux (1972) opted for literal translation, Bruchtal.Another difficult case is the name of Shelob, formed from the pronoun she plus lob, a dialectal word for "spider" (according to Tolkien; the OED is only aware of its occurrence in Middle English). Tolkien doesn't give any prescription; he merely notes that "The Dutch version retains Shelob, but the Swed. has the rather feeble Honmonstret ["she-monster"]." Carroux chose Kankra, an artificial feminine formation from dialectal German Kanker "Opiliones" (cognate to cancer).

The name "Baggins" was rendered as Beutlin (containing the word Beutel meaning "bag"), and "Elf" was rendered as Elb, the plural Elves as Elben. The choice reflects Tolkien's suggestion:

"With regard to German: I would suggest with diffidence that Elf, elfen, are perhaps to be avoided as equivalents of Elf, elven. Elf is, I believe, borrowed from English, and may retain some of the associations of a kind that I should particularly desire not to be present (if possible): e.g. those of Drayton or of A Midsummer Night's Dream [...] I wonder whether the word Alp (or better still the form Alb, still given in modern dictionaries as a variant, which is historically the more normal form) could not be used. It is the true cognate of English elf [...] The Elves of the 'mythology' of The L.R. are not actually equatable with the folklore traditions about 'fairies', and as I have said (Appendix F[...]) I should prefer the oldest available form of the name to be used, and leave it to acquire its own associations for readers of my tale.

The Elb chosen by Carroux instead of the suggested Alb is a construction by Jacob Grimm in his 1835 Teutonic Mythology. Grimm, like Tolkien, notes that German Elf is a loan from the English, and argues for the revival of the original German cognate, which survived in the adjective elbisch and in composed names like Elbegast. Grimm also notes that the correct plural of Elb would be Elbe, but Carroux does not follow in this and uses the plural Elben, denounced by Grimm as incorrect in his German Dictionary (s.v. Alb).

Russian translations

Interest in Russia awoke soon after the publication of The Lord of the Rings in 1955, long before the first Russian translation.A first effort at publication was made in the 1960s, but in order to comply with literary censorship in Soviet Russia, the work was considerably abridged and transformed. The ideological danger of the book was seen in the "hidden allegory 'of the conflict between the individualist West and the totalitarian, Communist East.'" (Markova 2006), while, ironically, Marxist readings in the west conversely identified Tolkien's anti-industrial ideas as presented in the Shire with primitive communism, in a struggle with the evil forces of technocratic capitalism.

Russian translations of The Lord of the Rings circulated as samizdat and were published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but then in great numbers, no less than ten official Russian translations appeared between 1990 and 2005 (Markova 2006). Tolkien fandom in Russia grew especially rapidly during the early 1990s at Moscow State University. Many unofficial and incomplete translations are in circulation. The first translation appearing in print was that by Kistyakovski and Muravyov (volume 1, published 1982).

After Tolkien's death

The Danish (Ludvigsen) and German (Carroux) translations were the only ones profiting from Tolkien's "commentary" which were published before Tolkien's death in 1973.Since then, throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, new translations into numerous languages have continued to appear.


The first translation of The Lord of the Rings into Hebrew (שר הטבעות) was done by Canaanite movement member Ruth Livnit, aided by Uriel Ofek as the translator of the verse. The 1977 version was considered a unique book for the sort of Hebrew that was used therein, until it was revised by Dr. Emanuel Lottem according to the second English edition, although still under the name of the previous translators, with Lottem as merely "The editor".[5]

The difference between the two versions is clear in the translation of names with the book. Elves, for an example, were first translated as "בני לילית" (Bneyi Lilith, i.e. the "Children of Lilith") but in the new edition was transcribed in the form of "Elefs" maintained through Yiddish as "עלף". The change was made because "Bneyi Lilith" essentially relates with Babylonian-derived Jewish folklore character of Lilith, mother of all demons, an inappropriate name for Tolkien's Elves.[6] Since the whole seven appendices and part of the foreword were dropped in the first edition, the rules of transcript therein were not kept. In the New edition Dr. Lottem translated the appendices by himself, and transcribed names according to the instructions therein. Furthermore, the old translation was made without any connection to the rest of Tolkien's mythological context, not The Silmarillion nor even The Hobbit. Parts of the story relating to events mentioned in the above books were not understood and therefore either translated inaccurately, or even dropped completely.There are also major inconsistencies in transcript or in repetitions of similar text within the story, especially in the verse.[7]

Still, the majority of veteran Tolkien fans in Israel prefer the older translation for its allegedly better Hebrew and falsely claimed "greater accuracy".[8]

List of translations

The number of languages into which Tolkien's works has been translated is subject to some debate. HarperCollins explicitly lists 38 (or 39) languages for which translations of "The Hobbit and/or The Lord of the Rings" exist:

Basque, Breton, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Marathi, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (European, Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish.[9]

For some of these languages, there is a translation of The Hobbit, but not of The Lord of the Rings. For some languages, there is more than one translation of The Lord of the Rings. These notably include Russian, besides Swedish, Norwegian, German, Polish and Slovenian.

In addition to languages mentioned above, there are published translations of the Hobbit into Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Belarusian, Esperanto, Faroese, Georgian, Luxembourgish, Macedonian, Moldavian, Persian and Ukrainian[10]. The Marathi translation, however, seems not to exist or at least not to be published.

Comparatively few translations appeared during Tolkien's lifetime: when Tolkien died on 2 September 1973, the Dutch, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Danish, German and French translations had been published completely, and the Japanese and Finnish ones in part. The Russian translations are a special case because many unpublished and unauthorized translations circulated in the 1970s and 1980s Soviet Union, which were gradually published from the 1990s.

DutchIn de Ban van de Ring1957Max SchuchartHet Spectrum, Utrecht
SwedishHärskarringen1959 to 1961Åke OhlmarksAlmqvist & Wiksell, StockholmISBN 9789113009988
PolishWładca Pierścieni1961 to 1963Maria Skibniewska (poems by Włodzimierz Lewik and Andrzej Nowicki))
ItalianIl Signore degli Anelli1967 to 1970Vittoria Alliata di VillafrancaBompiani
DanishRingenes Herre1968 to 1972Ida Nyrop Ludvigsen[11]Gyldendal, CopenhagenISBN 9788702043204
GermanDer Herr der Ringe1969 to 1970Margaret Carroux and Ebba-Margareta von Freymann (poems)Klett-Cotta, StuttgartISBN 9783608936667
Norwegian (Bokmål)Krigen om ringen1973 to 1975Nils WerenskioldTiden Norsk ForlagISBN 8210008161, ISBN 8210009303, ISBN 8210010964
FrenchLe Seigneur des anneaux1972 to 1973Francis LedouxChristian Bourgois
Japanese『指輪物語』 Yubiwa Monogatari1972 to 1975Teiji Seta (瀬田貞二) and Akiko Tanaka (田中明子)Hyouronsya(評論社),Tokyo
FinnishTaru sormusten herrasta1973 to 1975Kersti Juva, Eila Pennanen, Panu Pekkanen
Portuguese-PortugalO Senhor dos Anéis1975 to 1979António Rocha and Alberto MonjardimPublicações Europa-América
RussianВластелин колец Vlastelin kolec1976 (publ. 2002)A. A. Gruzberg
GreekΟ Άρχοντας των Δαχτυλιδιών O Archontas ton Dachtylidion1978Eugenia Chatzithanasi-KolliaKedros, AthensISBN 9600403082
Hebrewשר הטבעות Sar ha-Tabbaot1979 to 1980Ruth Livnit
Norwegian (Bokmål)Ringenes herre1980 to 1981Torstein Bugge HøverstadTiden Norsk ForlagISBN 9788210044496
SpanishEl Señor de los Anillos1980Matilde Horne, Luis Domènech and Rubén MaseraCírculo de lectores, BarcelonaISBN 8445070320 (Minotauro)
SerbianГосподар Прстенова Gospodar Prstenova1981[12]Zoran StanojevićNolit, Belgradeno ISBN
RussianВластелин колец Vlastelin kolec1982 to 1992V. S. Muravev (2nd to 6th books, poems), A. A. Kistyakovskij (first book)
RussianВластелин колец Vlastelin kolec1984 (publ. 1991)H. V. Grigoreva and V. I. Grushetskij and I. B. Grinshpun (poems)Severo-ZapadISBN 5718300038, ISBN 5352003124 (Azbuka)
HungarianA Gyűrűk Ura1985Réz Ádám and Göncz Árpád and Tandori Dezső (poems)Európa Könyvkiadó, Budapest
CatalanEl Senyor dels Anells1986 to 1988Francesc ParcerisasVicens Vives, BarcelonaISBN 84-316-6868-7
ArmenianՊահապաննէրը1989Emma MakarianArevnik, ErevanOnly The Fellowship of the Ring, no ISBN
CzechPán Prstenů1990 to 1992Stanislava PošustováMladá fronta, PrahaISBN 8020401059, ISBN 8020401945, ISBN 8020402594
IcelandicHringadróttinssaga1993 to 1995Þorsteinn Thorarensen and Geir Kristjánsson (poems)Fjölvi, Reykjavík
LithuanianŽiedų valdovas1994Andrius Tapinas and Jonas StrielkūnasAlma Littera, VilniusISBN 9986020387, ISBN 9986024870, ISBN 9986029597
Portuguese (BRA)O Senhor dos Anéis1994Lenita M. R. Esteves and Almiro PisettaMartins FontesISBN 8533602928
CroatianGospodar prstenova1995Zlatko Crnković
SlovenianGospodar prstanov1995Polona Mertelj, Primož Pečovnik, Zoran Obradovič
TurkishYüzüklerin Efendisi1996-1998Çiğdem Erkal İpek, Bülent Somay (poems)Metis, İstanbulISBN 975-342-347-0
EsperantoLa Mastro de l' Ringoj1995 to 1997William Auld
EstonianSõrmuste Isand1996 to 1998Ene Aru and Votele ViidemannTiritamm, TallinnISBN 9985550390, ISBN 9985550463, ISBN 9985550498
PolishWładca Pierścieni1996 to 1997Jerzy Łozinski and Mark Obarski (poems)
BulgarianВластелинът на пръстените Vlastelinăt na prăstenite1990-1991Lyubomir NikolovNarodna Kultura Sofia
GermanDer Herr der Ringe2000Wolfgang KregeKlett-Cotta, StuttgartISBN 9783608936391
RussianВластелин колец Vlastelin kolec2002V. Volkovskij, V. Vosedov, D. AfinogenovaAST, MoscowISBN 5170162650
PolishWładca Pierścieni2001Books I,II,II,IV : Maria and Cezary Frąc ; Book V : Aleksandra Januszewska ; Book VI : Aleksandra Jagiełowicz ; Poems : Tadeusz A. Olszański ; Appendices: Ryszard DerdzińskiAmber, Warszawa
SlovenianGospodar prstanov2001Branko Gradišnik
SlovakPán prsteňov2001 to 2002Otakar Kořínek and Braňo Varsik
GalicianO Señor dos Aneis2001 to 2002Moisés R. BarciaXerais, VigoISBN 84-8302-682-1
Thaiลอร์ดออฟเดอะริงส์2001 to 2002Wanlee ShuenyongAmarin, BangkokISBN 974-7597-54-3
Chinese魔戒之王 mó jiè zhī wáng2001 to 2002Lucifer Chu (朱學恆)[13]
MacedonianГосподарот на прстените Gospodarot na prstenite2002Romeo Širilov, Ofelija KaviloskaAEA, Misla, SkopjeISBN 9989-39-170-X, ISBN 9989-39-173-4, ISBN 9989-39-176-9
BasqueEraztunen Jauna2002 to 2003Agustin Otsoa EribekoTxalaparta, TafallaISBN 8481362581
IndonesianRaja Segala Cincin2002 to 2003Anton Adiwiyoto, Gita K. YulianiGramedia, Jakarta
LatvianGredzenu Pavēlnieks2002 to 2004Ieva KolmaneJumava, RigaISBN 9984055795
Persianارباب حلقه‌ها Arbāb-e Halqehā2002 to 2004Riza AlizadihRawzanih, TehranISBN 964334116X, ISBN 9643341399, ISBN 9643341739
UkrainianВолодар Перснів Volodar persniv2003A. V. NemirovaФолио (Folio)ISBN 966-03-1915-0 ISBN 966-03-1916-9 ISBN 966-03-1917-7
AlbanianLordi i unazave2004 to 2006Ilir I. Baçi (part 1), Artan Miraka (2 and 3)Dudaj, TiranaISBN 99927-50-96-0 ISBN 99943-33-11-9 ISBN 99943-33-58-5
FaroeseRinganna Harri2003 to 2005Axel TórgarðStiðin, HoyvíkISBN 999184239X
UkrainianВолодар перстенів Volodar persteniv2004 to 2005Olena Feshovets and Nazar Fedorak (poems)Astrolabia, LvivISBN 9668657187
SwedishRingarnas herre2004 to 2005Erik Andersson[14] and Lotta Olsson (poems)NorstedtsISBN 9113011537
Norwegian (Nynorsk)Ringdrotten2006Eilev Groven MyhrenTiden Norsk Forlag, OsloISBN 8205365598
BelarusianУладар пярсьцёнкаў: Зьвяз пярсьцёнка, Дзье вежы, Вяартаньне караля Uladar pyars'tsyonkaŭ: Z'vyaz Pyars'tsyonka, Dz've vezhy, Vyartan'ne karalya2008-2009Дзьмітрый Магілеўцаў and Крысьціна Курчанкова (Dźmitry Mahileŭcaŭ and Kryścina Kurčankova)Menskno ISBN
Arabicسيد الخواتم، رفيقة الخاتم، خروج الخاتم Sayyid al-Khawātim, Rafīqat al-Khātim, Khurūj al-Khātim2008Amr KhairyMalamih, CairoISBN 978-977-6262-03-4, only The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I
Arabicسيد الخواتم، Sayyid al-Khawātim2009فرج اللّه سيد محمدNahdet Misr, CairoISBN 977-114-4114-0
Georgianბეჭდების მბრძანებელი: ბეჭდის საძმო Bechdebis Mbrdzanebel'i: Bechdis Sadzmo2009Nika Samushia and Tsitso Khotsuashvili (poems)Gia Karchkhadze Publishing, TbilisiISBN 978-99940-34-04-8, only The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I


  1. ^ ""How many languages have The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings been translated into?"". http://www.tolkien.co.uk/faq3.aspx. Retrieved 3 June 2006. 
  2. ^ Letters, 305f.; c.f. Martin Andersson "Lord of the Errors or, Who Really Killed the Witch-King?"
  3. ^ Mark T. Hooker, "Dutch Samizdat: The Mensink-van Warmelo Translation of The Lord of the Rings," in Translating Tolkien: Text and Film, Walking Tree Publishers, 2004, pp. 83-92.[1]
  4. ^ Tolkien och den svarta magin (1982), ISBN 9789175740539.
  5. ^ The second edition was therefore soon replaced the older one on the shelves, and it was published under the name: "שר הטבעות, תרגמה מאנגלית: רות לבנית. ערך מחדש: עמנואל לוטם ("The Lord of the Rings". Translated by Ruth Livnit, revised by Emanuel Lottem. Zmora Beitan [זמורה ביתן] publication: Tel Aviv, 1991)
  6. ^ The new version, Editor's endnote.
  7. ^ Yuvl Kfir, who assisted Dr. Lottem in the revision, wrote an article in favour of the new edition, translated by Mark Shulson: "Alas! The Aged and Good Translation!" [2]
  8. ^ [3][unreliable source?]
  9. ^ FAQ at tolkien.co.uk
  10. ^ Translations of The Hobbit
  11. ^ a special edition of 1977 included illustrations by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, working under the pseudonym of Ingahild Grathmer.
  12. ^ http://www.vbs.rs/scripts/cobiss?ukaz=DISP&id=1441023317153078&rec=4&sid=7
  13. ^ Turning fantasy into a reality that helps others Gavin Phipps, Taipei Times, 6 March 2005, page 18.
  14. ^ published Översättarens anmärkningar "translator's notes" in 2007 (ISBN 9789113016092)
  • Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (2005), ISBN 0-618-64267-6, 750-782.
  • Allan Turner, Translating Tolkien: Philological Elements in "The Lord of the Rings," Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2005. ISBN 3631535171. Duisburger Arbeiten zur Sprach– und Kulturwissenschaft no. 59.
  • Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes, Walking Tree Publishers, 2003. ISBN 3-9521424-7-6.

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