Iceland Celebrates 20 Years of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

Earlier this month, Potter fans in Iceland celebrated the 20-year anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Icelandic. To commemorate the occasion, the translator of the series, Helga Auðardóttir, has spoken about her experience of translating the story of the world-famous boy wizard.



Auðardóttir was a 26-year-old student when she was offered the opportunity to translate the first Potter book, which at the time she believed to be “just a six-page hardcover book for little kids.” Juggling a degree in psychology and a job as a flight attendant with Icelandair, she translated Sorcerer’s Stone, or Harry Potter og viskusteinninn (English: Harry Potter and the Wisdom Stone), in half a year. She went on to translate all seven books in the series, with her favorite being Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Icelandic: Harry Potter og fanginn frá Azkaban).

Like other translators of the Potter series, Auðardóttir faced a number of challenges. She had to make decisions on what to keep in the original English and what to translate into Icelandic. Names such as Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts remained in English, whereas names that had wordplay or symbolism were translated. MuggleNet reader Icelander has provided an example of this, telling us that “Mad-Eye Moody” (which describes character traits) was translated to Skröggur Illauga, meaning “Scrooge Evil-Eye.”

Another challenge of translating Sorcerer’s Stone and other books in the series was the lack of any extra information given to translators. As the popularity of the books grew, so did the secrecy around the contents of each installment. According to Auðardóttir, Rowling gave “no more information for the translators than other readers,” which presented challenges when translating into other languages. However, by the fourth installment of the series, she was working in partnership with Jón Hallur Stefánsson.

This is something the interview credits as helping Auðardóttir through the second half of series, making reference to an unfortunate incident for the translator for the French editions, who suffered a nervous breakdown after “having worked tirelessly for ten hours a day for sixty-three consecutive days.”

Although Auðardóttir enjoyed translating Potter, she has not translated any other books since or returned to the world of witchcraft and wizardry, admitting that usually, she is not a fan of fantasy books.

I do not associate with clinging to that world or diving any deeper into it. To a certain extent, this was my job, and I’m actually not much of a fan of fantasy. This is not something I would choose to read, but fortunately, I got the opportunity.

Icelandic is just one of over 70 languages in which Harry Potter’s story has been retold. To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the publication of the first book, Icelandic publisher Bjartur released the illustrated edition of Harry Potter og viskusteinninn. The second book in the series, Harry Potter og leyniklefinn, will celebrate its 20-year anniversary next year.

Thanks to MuggleNet reader “Icelander” for providing a translation of this interview! Check out the full translation below.

Translated Interview

Translated by Icelander

"I'm not a big fan of fantasy movies. This is not something I would choose to read," says Helga Auðardóttir, a psychologist who was a 26-year-old college student and flight attendant when she got the unexpected assignment in her hands after chatting with an old acquaintance at a gathering. To translate one of the most popular book series in history.

Harry Potter's first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, has been translated into over 75 languages ​​and even dead languages ​​such as Latin and ancient Greek. It is now 20 years since the first book was published in Icelandic, and Helga is a psychologist who never translated anything before or since, but these seven books about the wizard boy she did.



When she was 26, she was at a gathering where she met her acquaintance Snæbjörn Arngrímsson. They had been discussing literature at length when he tipped her off about having this children's book for which he needed a translator. "Would you like to have a look at it?" the publisher asked the psychologist, who answered with a little hesitation in the affirmative. "In a moment's stroke of megalomania, I said I could do it and naturally thought it was just a six-page hardcover book for little kids," recalls Helga, who was utterly astonished when Snæbjörn then came to her the next day and handed her the complete Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone novel, the first book about the wizard boy and his fight against the dark forces.

Today, Harry, as most people know, has become one of the best-known characters in the world, but at that point 20 years ago. Helga Auðardóttir had never heard of him. "I looked for information and sweated a little when I saw that it would be seven books," recalls Helga. She was studying for a BA in psychology and working as a flight attendant for Icelandair at the time, so it is almost unfathomable that she found any spare time to deal with the dark forces at Hogwarts school. "You were just young and energetic. I sometimes translated while staying in hotels,” she says.



The first book she translated completely in about half a year. "So naturally, the time you had for each book became shorter, but I benefitted from the help of my mother, Ingunn Snædal, and Jón Hall Stefánsson," she says, whereas Helga herself had to establish all the wordplays and names of persons, creatures, and animals. The names of most of the characters, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione, for example, remained unchanged. Likewise was the school named Hogwarts and the Quidditch ballgame. Some names, however, Helga felt compelled to translate, those that had a direct meaning in English. Thus, "Mad-Eye Moody" became Skröggur Illauga, while names like "Voldemort," "Dumbledore," and "Hufflepuff" got to stay. Since the book was not intended for the very youngest age groups, readers were expected to read English names without any significant problems.



One of the biggest problems the translator faced was trying to figure out where the books would go next. Translators knew as little as the general readers about the sequel. "She gave us no more information for the translators than other readers," says Helga. An example of Rowling's long-held secrets is the gender of Professor Sinistra, which was unclear until the fourth book, who turned out to be a woman. Her vocabulary was also sometimes of real significance, but despite all the pitfalls the author presented to her translators, Helga was always eagerly awaiting the next book, even when she received the fourth book, which is almost 800 pages long.

"It was never a consideration for me to resign from the task, but I was also not alone working on it by the time it became an 800-page monster," Helga laughs. However, not all translators faired as well as Helga did. The French translator, for example, suffered a nervous breakdown while translating that fourth volume, having worked tirelessly for ten hours a day for sixty-three consecutive days. That book Helga translated in partnership with Jón Hallur Stefánsson and thus escaped a nervous breakdown.



The third book is my favorite book. I found it to be a book that contained many amazing moments. And I enjoyed translating. Despite all the stress, it was a lot of fun.

Helga has, nonetheless, not read the books herself since she translated them, and she has never translated anything else since. While many of the book's fans still cling to the world of wizardry, Helga has mostly departed it without regrets. "I do not associate with clinging to that world or diving any deeper into it. To a certain extent, this was my job, and I'm actually not much of a fan of fantasy. This is not something I would choose to read, but fortunately, I got the opportunity."

Lucy O'Shea

I was given a copy of Philosopher's Stone in 2001, and instantly, I was hooked. Since then, my passion for Potter has been equaled only by my passion for fair access to education (and watching motorsport). A spell I wish could exist in the Muggle world is the summoning charm because this Hufflepuff is not a "particularly good finder"!