Письмо N 2
Dear Mr. Sviridov,
I am very pleased to meet you. My thanks for your kind compliment about my web site. I was not aware that it was so well known in Russian Tolkienist circles. Allow me to compliment you on your map (the one included without attribution in the Gruzberg CD-ROM). That was a very nice piece of work.
"more skilled was their knighthood with long spears"
For me the strength of the grammatical government "skilled with" is so strong that it makes the other interpretation essentially inconceivable for me. Your interpretation of the inevitable comparison (explicit or implicit): "чем их враги" ("than their enemies") is equally present in English for me. To break the government of "skilled with" for me, the phrase would need to read "more skilled was their knighthood armed with long spears". Though Tolkien talks about the scimitars of the Southrons on the page before, I had always assumed that they had lances as well, based on this phrase. If Gruzberg is wrong, he has got an educated native speaker for company. Having committed a great number of words to paper myself, I never fail to be amazed that the reader did not understand the words to mean what it was that I thought I said. I, therefore, also cannot exclude the possibility that Tolkien meant to say what you read the sentence to mean. I can only say that for me, it does not say that. When I find that a reader did not understand what I wrote, I always change my words to make them more clear. We, unfortunately, cannot ask Tolkien what he meant. For me, a good translation will replicate the logical lapses of the original, if that is what they are, for you can never be sure that that is entirely the case, unless you can ask the author.
I enjoyed your "challenge" and think I did fairly well, but leave it to your judgement whether I should get that vodka you offered as a prize. I did, by the way, laugh when I got to the punch line. Мойо твойо поонимаэт. I did more than one version so as to illustrate my point about what is "pretty" and what is "correct".
The pretty version goes:
At a football game in New York: Hey, Bro! Can ya pass dis over for a dog? No, man! I got two brews and no hands. Ax de man there. He's K. Who you calling Gay! You de one what's gay!
I can tell that to any American who will put up with racial humor and get a laugh. It makes the same play on dialectical English and a misunderstanding of the word for homosexual. You would be hard pressed to recognize it as the same joke you started with. In this case, I have a guy from Brooklyn, who says "Hey, Brother (ref to a black man)! Can you pass this over to pay for a hot dog?". The black guy has got his hands full. He has two beers (two brews) and says "Ask the man there. He's OK" The third man mishears him (it's noisy at a football game) and insults him back with a dialect that marks him as uneducated for calling him "gay".
I cannot put it on a bus or subway in the States, because we don't have to buy/validate tickets the same way. I can't make it a Georgian, because we don't have any stereotypes for them. Besides, we have the state of Georgia in the South.
I can put the Georgian back in, but it becomes more verbose.
In a packed bar in Brighton Beach, NY: He, Ski! Pass me the bar nuts! Is too far. Askt dee Georgian. He's 'n gray. Who's you Gay calling being, you Gay, you rooski pig.
I can tell this to anybody from New York (You've got to know that Brighton Beach is full of Soviet and Russian emigres, otherwise Georgian does not work because of interference from the state of Georgia in the south of the USA). It also helps to know that "Ski" is a nickname for anyone whose name ends in -skij. "Rooski" is well enough recognized that I can use it. There was even a movie called "Rooskies". Using it reinforces the "Brighton Beach" & "Ski" markers that make the Georgian work. This time I am playing on immigrant English to make it work: [It] is too far [for me to reach the bar nuts]. Ask the Georgian. He is in gray." The dialectical reply makes sure the audience gets the fact that it is a Грузин and not someone from the Peach State. OK, I got the Georgian back in, but restricted my audience. Now, let's see if I can move it back to Moscow.
In a crowded Moscow bus at rush hour: Comrade, please pass my money up and buy me a ticket. Can't you see that my hands are full. Ask the Georgian. He's in gray. 'n gay! Who you calling gay!? All you Roosians think we all gay. You gay, that's who's gay.
This will work for a general audience, but, unless they've ever been on a crowded Russian, Polish, Czech etc. bus, they'll miss the reason that the money/ticket has to be passed up to buy a ticket/ be validated. It's all there, but it's wordy. This is VAM and KK&S.
Gruzberg would probably leave this out, but if he did try it, it would sound like this:
Pass this up for a ticket. My hands are full. Ask the Georgian in gray. 'n gray, who's 'n gray! You're 'n gray!
At this point my English audience (Russian audience if I am Gruzberg) is scratching their heads, because they do not know what's going on. My Russian audience (English audience if I am Gruzberg), on the other hand likes it and gets the joke. This is the point that you were making, and, yes, of course, there is some of that built in to my appreciation of Gruzberg, and anybody who reads my critiques of the translations needs to keep that in mind. At the same time, I like this approach because it makes the audience wonder why this is supposed to be funny. It is not immediately funny because it is foreign. It comes down to the question of what you are conveying in the translation. Are you conveying 1) a gay joke? 2) an accent joke? 3) a gay Georgian who speaks with an accent joke? 4) Georgian stereotypes? Only the original audience can get them all, and everything I change to make it understandable to my audience changes it a little. No big deal for a joke -- you either laugh or you don't. But it is a big deal for Tolkien. Like you said, it's a multi-layered text and you want to try to get as much of it as your skill allows.
The answer to the question of which joke you are translating depends on the intended reader. The reader who wants a good story reads Murav'ev and Kistyakovskij or Volkovskij. (That's the first two versions of the joke above.) The reader who wants to understand Tolkien at a philosophical level reads Gruzberg _and_ KK&S _and_ M&K. For that reader it should sound somewhat unconventional when it is read. That's the point of reading a foreign author. It makes you take a step outside the box that you normally live in to look at things from another point of view. If the point of view has been adapted so much that you feel right at home in the story, then you are missing a good bit of the foreignness that could make the book interesting. That's what happens when I move the joke to a football stadium. It's like your comment about jumping out of his skin. You're right. It sure is not Russian. Isn't the image, though, strangely transparent for a Russian reader. Can a monoglot Russian reader guess what it means? And be mildly surprised by a new way of being startled. A lot of "Tolkienisms" have the same effect on native English speakers.
I like to compare the two approaches to translation to photography and painting. One is "literal" the other "interprets" the image. Both have their place. Both have an audience. I like both "photography" and "painting". That is the point that I was trying to make in my closing sentence. While I like Gruzberg for his literalness, I also like M&K for their literariness. What I would really like to see, however, is a combination of the two. Tolkien is still waiting for the definitive translation of his works into Russian. If you make it feel too Russian, you destroy some of the subtle foreign message that Tolkien had. If you make it too literal, you can't see the forest for the trees. You need enough familiar literary ground to stand on while you enjoy the view of the strangely worded trees.
One good challenge deserves another. Can you do anything with this joke in Russian?
There are three guys riding in a car-pool on their way to a school for the hearing-impaired:C уважением, Mark HookerOne says: "Mighty windy today." Two says: "I thought it was Thursday." Three says: "Me, too. Let's all have a drink."