Found in Translation - Part One:
An Illustrated Menu
An original editorial by Robbie Fischer
It started with the very title of the first book in the series. What
British publisher Bloomsbury was willing to print as Harry Potter and
the Philosophers Stone became for all time, but only in America, Harry
Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. It was the process of translating the
Harry Potter books from their original British English into a language
that American readers were expected to understand.
At first blush, this seems a bizarre thing to do. Both the Brits and the
Yanks read English, dont they? But as an American reader, I have found
plenty of words and concepts in the Harry Potter books, even in their
Americanized version, that called for a stretch of the imagination.
Same language, different worlds.
It isnt only because the British have different words for things that
we all talk about in our own way. They have words for things Americans
dont talk about at all. At times, it is a challenge for us to come up with a
mental picture of something mentioned in the books, such as a dish
served in the Great Hall. Plus, the books are full of things we fail to
visualize because our education has been sadly neglected. Maybe
British readers have the same problem.
The defect isnt in J. K. Rowlings writing. It is in our minds and the
poverty of our experience. The same thing happens, more or less,
whenever we read a book written far from where we live. The farther away
it lies culturally and/or geographically, the more new things we find
ourselves discovering things on the margins of the story that we had
never conceived of before. By reading such things, we make our field of
experience wider, our vocabulary bigger. The world shrinks around us as
our knowledge grows.
The magic of the Harry Potter stories, for people of many cultures and
languages, goes beyond spells and broomsticks. It has motivated millions
of American readers to explore the world in which British people live,
think, speak, eat, dress, and move around. More than perhaps any
previous incentive, Harry Potter has captivated American minds with the
different world that speaks our language more or less.
To help you visualize some of the amazing images J. K. Rowling throws at
you, I have found the following illustrations on the internet. My thanks
and apologies to those from whom I stole them.
One of the biggest categories of things mentioned in Harry Potter that
the American reader may have trouble picturing in his mind is: FOOD.
Ive watched enough programs on the Food Channel to have an idea that
the British have a diet quite different from that of Americans. This
means descriptions of Harrys daily meals will often major in things
that are simply not on the American menu. You could do as I do, and
simply insert a shapeless, colorless blob into your mental movie as you
read these passages...or you could picture the following dishes.
Bacon, in the U.K., looks rather different from in the U.S. Heres what
a rasher of U.K. bacon might look like:
I think the Brits get the better deal, when it comes to bacon. Hmmm.
If you wondered what on earth a bacon rind was supposed to look like,
when you read about Harry feeding one to his owl, you might try
picturing a pork rind...or you might picture this:
Harrys favorite pudding (a word which, itself, doesnt create the
right picture in the American mind) is treacle tart. What on earth is
treacle, you ask? And when did tart become a noun? OK, lets be fair. We
have heard of tarts. Were not that uneducated. We probably even did a
craft project that involved decorating tart tins at some time in our
ill-spent youth, so we gather that a tart is some kind of miniature pie.
And it turns out that a treacle tart is something like a the American
pecan pie without the pecans. Heres some food for thought:
As to steak and kidney pie, its not that Americans cant imagine what
it is, so much as that they would rather not do so. Nevertheless, heres
a picture for you:
When Harry had Mars Bars on his mind, we Americans may not have had
anything on ours or we may have had the wrong thing. Us older kids,
this side of the Pond, may remember something called a Mars Bar, which
is not the same thing that the British call a Mars Bar. The American
version of Mars Bar was similar to what is now called Snickers With
Almonds. The British version is similar to what we Yanks call Milky Way.
Heres a gooey image for you to savor:
Young witches and wizards enjoy a good pumpkin pasty now and then,
particularly when riding the Hogwarts Express. Americans may not even
know how to pronounce pasty, let alone what it is. To judge by the
following picture, a pasty (which, I think, is supposed to rhyme with
nasty rather than tasty) is rather like what we call a turnover or,
in Italian-American restaurants, a calzone.
Christmastime at Hogwarts exposes the American reader to loads of
British yuletide customs that are amazingly unfamiliar to us. This may
explain why all the English Christmas carols we were forced to learn as
children such as We wish you a merry Christmas sound like nonsense
to our ears. We have never done Christmas the British way. A key example
is the Christmas pudding, which (as I understand it) is nothing like the
American idea of pudding, but more like a brandy-soused fruitcake boiled
in a cloth bag. Heres a picture of one, but Ive seen other pictures
too and no two of them look alike.
Another dish we first heard of at a Hogwarts Christmas dinner was
chipolatas. Without any further ado, here they are:
When the Beauxbatons crowd came a-calling, the house-elves whipped up
some special dishes for them, including a French seafood-based dish that
contains everything but the kitchen sink, including some stuff you would
rather not know about. If only you knew how to pronounce bouillabaisse
(roughly, boo-ya-base) and what it was, you might enjoy throwing the
word around (meaning: a hodge-podge of many different things) and
impressing others with your excellent vocabulary. Or, you might know
what youre looking at when you see this:
Until Harry Potter came along, I had never heard of a blancmange.
Frankly, when I did hear of it, I didnt like the image that sprang up
in my mind. What a relief it was to find out that blancmange means
white food and that it is used to describe something wobbly and sweet,
Or, if you prefer a chocolate blancmange, try this:
One of the first differences one encounters between the British and the
American versions is the type of sweet Dumbledore mentions in book 1,
chapter 1. The Americans have it as lemon drop, but the British (and
the films) say sherbet lemon. The reason for the change is that
Americans and Brits mean different things by the word sherbet. To
Americans, it is a fruit-flavored, frozen dessert. To the Brits, it may
be either a candy powder that causes a fizzy sensation in the mouth,
like the American Pixie Sticks or LickmAde:
...or, a cool, refreshing drink that may contain the sherbet powder:
...or, finally, a sticky sweet that may also contain the sherbet powder:
Ill conclude this part of Found in Translation with a candy that I
had never heard of, not once, until it was mentioned in passing.
Remember when Harry was cramming for the first Triwizard Task,
desperately searching for a spell he could use on dragons? Someone
mentioned a jinx that could turn a dragons teeth into wine gums. At
the time I was completely perplexed. I didnt even know that this was a
candy. Then I moved into a city where wine gums are actually available
(in the foreign foods section where British delicacies are sold) and I
found out that they are delightful, fruity, gummy treats with the names
of different types of wine embossed on them without any reference to the
flavor of the candy. They have actually become a special favorite of
mine. Perhaps youll have a chance to try them too. Heres a picture so
you know what to look for:
Tune in later for Part 2, where we will see pictures of clothes,
animals, and other things you may have read about in Harry Potter,
without knowing what to picture in your mind. Now, perhaps, you will be
able to remove the boring placeholder image you stuck where those
things belong, and your mental picture of Harry Potters world will be
so much more detailed and vibrant. Or, at least, you wont go cross-eyed
every time the books remind you that Americans and Brits speak the same
language, but live in different worlds.
Posted by: Amy