Письмо N 1
Dear Dr. Hooker,
I was very glad to see the story of the LoTR translation by Gruzberg at your Tolkien page which is widely known between Russian (-speaking) tolkienists as a very interesting and accurate source. Residing in U.S. you have uncovered what was hidden about A. A. Gruzberg from many Tolkien fans in my country! I was flattered the more having come across that my recent paper in "Domashnii kompyuter" seems to be one of the occasions for your beautiful essay to appear.
As any deep work, your "Istoriya odnogo perevoda" induces many thoughts and associations. But there arise some objections as well. Let me draw your attention to some disputable moments in the work.
(To avoid notorious e-mail problems with Russian text, I send the full letter as an attached .txt file), sorry for possible discomfort.
Let me first discuss a minor question. In "История одного перевода.
CD-ROM 'Tolkin'" you write that the sentence
"more skilled was their knighthood with long spears"must be understood as
"их рыцарство оказалось искуснее во владении длинными копьями".
I do recognize that in English "skilled" is strictly related to "long spears" grammatically, via the preposition "with". But in Russian there arises a nuance which you didn't take into account. Being cloned mechanically into Russian, the rigid relation between "more skilled" and "with long spears" results in a distortion of the scene described.
The point is that saying "их рыцарство оказалось искуснее во владении длинными копьями" in Russian MUST be inevitably ("однозначно", as Zhirinovsky used to express himself) followed by the comparison (explicit or implicit): "чем их враги" ("than their enemies"). This in turn strictly demands their enemies to be armed with long spears AS WELL. It seems to me that there is no basis for such a syllogism in the English original, is there it? In any case I failed to find out any direct indications for spears of the Haradrim.
Of course, I'm only an amateur in English philology (in my daily existence I'm a full professor of physics in Voronezh state pedagogical university), but please pay your attention to the fact that no one of the professional translators you cited (with the only exception of Gruzberg) describes the Rohirrim to handle long spears with greater skill THAN Southmen. All they chose to avoid such side-by-side comparison. Even В.А.М. who does give the first side of the opposition ("быстрей и точней били их длинные копья") nevertheless tries to balance general sense of the sentence with adding "и военное ремесло они знали лучше".
In fact the question discussed above, as such, is not a matter of principle. But it illustrates a problem of real importance: what does it mean for a translation "to be exact"?
As one can deduce from your article on the Gruzberg's works you tends to believe a translation to be the more «true» the harder it keeps its "englishness". The latter seems to be understood as maximal achievable isomorphism (up to literal coincidence) of an English text to its Russian image. So, you write:
I understand that a loan translation to a foreign language may look to be more acceptable for whom the language is foreign. But it is a commonplace that the loan translation is neither the best nor even the good one. Well-done translation must keep primarily the sense (to be more accurate, senses - because a great work of art is always multilayered, and everybody dives to the layer which can reach for now) and only secondly the words.
The simplest phrase "В комнате стоит стол" should not be translated as "In room stands table" nor even "A table stands in the room". The right sense is laid into English way of thinking with the construction "There stands a table in the room" - which is absolutely strange for Russian language. And this is only primitive deskbook example. The more complicated and rich is the source, the more distant from following it literally may be wording of the really exact translation which preserves the sense and the spirit.
Let me give as one more example a fun story ("анекдот") in Russian. Excuse me please if you will recognize it to be rather ambiguous, but it is very attractive from pure linguistic point of view:
Сценка в трамвае: - Мужчина, передайте, пожалуйста на билет! - Извините, у меня руки заняты... Вон грузин передаст. - Кто пэрэдаст? Я пэрэдаст? Ты сам пэрэдаст!
I am not sure that you have smiled immediately. To understand the story one should know how tram tickets are paid in Russia, who are Georgians, how they used to speak Russian, what prejudices about them are spread in Russia (Georgians are supposed to be inclined to homosexualism and hence they react very morbidly to any hint, real or imaginary, to this subject). The comic effect in the last line of the story is achieving in three steps. First of them is grammatically correct question ("кто передаст?") with the verb "передать" ("to pass over") in singular 3rd person of the future tense. The second question ("Я передаст?") seems to be grammatically incorrect since the pronoun "я" of 1st person demands "передам", not "передаст". And only in the third step ("Ты сам передаст!") it becomes clear that all the three exclamations of the Georgian were correct grammatically but mistaken in their matter: he wrongly decided that he has been called "pederast".
Obviously it's impossible to translate this story to English "closely to the text" as well as to accompany the translation with the commentary given above - it's five times as great as the story itself. But I don't doubt for a minute that there exists a way to cast the story into an adequate English form - and no any lamentations for "untranslatable play of words"! To find this form one have, first of all, to be a real master - master in English language line, not Russian! And if the found form will appear to be close in its wording to the Russian prototype, I shall owe you a liter of the best vodka :-)
The Tolkien's story is infinitely deeper than any three-lines анекдот. So all things said above are valid for LoTR and Hobbit all the more. Any translator of JRRT without fail will collide with the choice: to be exact formally or essentially. The first way is more simple but it is the second way that leads to the truth. And what you call "литературность" is in fact searching how to pass over the essence of great English books to readers with tools of Russian language which is, after known Nekrasov's words, also "great and mighty" but great and mighty in some another manner than English.
And finally as for Gruzberg's works...
I can't recognize his translation to be adequate because of its poor Russian. When I needed an example for this to insert into my paper for "домашний компьютер", I simply have opened the translation on the first page coming across - and voila! here is the discussed above piece. This took no more than a minute! I gave another case in my review of the CD-ROM: Bilbo jumping out of his skin. A.A. Gruzberg has translated this: "хоббит едва не выскочил из кожи". But it's impossible in Russian, "выскочить из кожи"! One may "вылезть из кожи вон" or "выскочить из штанов" - but these idioms mean slightly other things than "jump out of smb's skin". How to translate this passage is a problem which cannot be solved with literalism - but Gruzberg did not attempt to solve it with artistic tools of his native language.
I consulted additionally with those of TTT team who are professional English translators with great experience. They evaluated Gruzberg's translations rather low: "...not good in all relations... They beat for such quality even in translating sentimental novels".Best regards,
Vladimir V. Sviridov