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Письмо N 5

Дата: 03 февраля 2001 г.
От: Владимир Свиридов <selim@freemail.ru>
Кому: Mark Hooker <mthooker@indiana.edu>
Тема: Южцы и северянники

Dear Dr. Hooker,

MH> What I would find perfectly acceptable is a more literal literary
MH> text. The current literary texts are too free to suit my
MH> tastes, and they could be closer to the original without
MH> giving up literary readability.

Let us fix here the difference between our positions. On my mind "literal literary text" is оксюморон (sorry, I failed to find spelling of this word in English), an unthinkable thing of incompatible components. Any attempt to give some artistic value to a translated text leads it well far away from literal coincidence with the original. And vice versa, a literally exact translation in no way might be made literary literate. There's nothing to do here; I'd like to consider this as a kind of nature's law, a special appearance of Bohr's complementarity principle.

If so, then spectrum of different translations will be forever wide and could not be reduced to a "definitive" point. Then there arises the next question: which end of the spectrum is preferable? I tend towards literariness (soft end of the spectrum) while you do towards literalness (hard end).

Such a choice surely is a matter of one's taste. But perhaps your perception of Gruzberg translation, as keeping more "englishness", would be far less positive had you possibility to get into skin of Russian born reader who loves his language and feels its music (Alas! There are too many Russians now who cannot be considered as fluent in Russian). What you've called "subtle foreign message" indeed isn't subtle and sounds like scratching glass with steel. And inversely, where in a translation you see only freeing from the logic of English text, a native Russian speaker sees also the rigid government by Russian language rules, both written and unwritten.

MH> In the example that we were working on, my подстрочник is really
MH> too literal. I would swap the end of my подстрочник for
MH> Volkovskij's. I think that the rest could stand up pretty
MH> well. I also dislike using common existing words for "The
MH> North-men" and "The Southrons", and would like something a bit
MH> more exotic. How does Севернники and Южец > Южцы sound?
MH> Would my version below fly as "literary Russian"?

MH> Велик был лязг оружий при их встрече. Но белая ярость
MH> Севернников пылала жарче, и их рыцарство было искуснее во
MH> владении длинными копьями и более лютым. Их было меньше, но
MH> Южцы не устояли перед их яростным, как лесной пожар,
MH> натиском.

Dear Mark, I hope I'll not wound your feelings too deeply with saying: "it wouldn't"? Let me comment only those points which are most obvious and can be explained in a few words (but there are also such points that can hardly be expressed in words at all!).

1) "Велик" is poorly combined with "лязг" since the adjective expresses size or scale while describing sound demands more specific characteristic.

2) "При их встрече". "Встреча" in Russian is coloured positively or at least neutral. The right word here should bring some negative charge (e.g. "столкновение")

3) "Оружие" is practically never used in plural, and there are no apparent reasons to do so.

4) "Белая ярость" is not a set expression in Russian and due to this fact too readily induces undesirable associations with widely known "белая горячка" (Delirium tremens).

5) "Севернники" is unpronounceable for a Russian. By the way, now they on TV speak much about depleted uranium ("обедненный уран") in Kosovo. Well, even for professional announcers it appeared too hard ("в лом", in a modern Russian slang) to pronounce "ДНЕНН"; in fact this word, in their performance, sounds very like to "объеДИНЕННый". Coming back to Севернники, I can definitely say that a vowel has to stand before "нн", for example: "Северянники".

But here arises one of hardly explainable points. The word "Северянники" appears to be too strange; it has no obvious linguistic connections to other Russian words. It is hanging in the air. My friend and co-author Boris Garshin noted that by him this word calls to some botanical associations. At this moment I have had remembered a verse by Sergei Esenin:

    Кого жалеть? Ведь каждый в мире странник -
    Пройдет, зайдет и вновь оставит дом.
    О всех ушедших грезит КОНОПЛЯНИК
    С широким месяцем над голубым прудом.

           (С. Есенин. "Отговорила роща золотая...")

("Конопляник" means "заросли конопли". Well, well, I've criticized you for the word which invented myself :-).

7) As for "Южцы", this word sounds more naturally for Russian ear, though it is a neologism in the same degree as "Северянники". But "Южцы" brings a shade of some humoristic or diminutive meaning (this is not due to any rule, but simply my feeling). Whether this is acceptable for description of Haradrim, only delicate linguistic intuition can prompt.

8) "рыцарство" in modern Russian means firstly a way of behavior (cf "благородство"), and only after that is understood as a military troops.

9) The word "лютый" is very negatively coloured in Russian. It is used in combinations: "лютый зверь", "лютый враг", "лютый мороз". For "лютовать" Ozhegov's dictionary gives "зверствовать". So, applying this word to those who stand for Good is erroneous.

10) "перед их яростным, как лесной пожар, натиском". "Натиск" means an action by force, pressure. But forest fire does not press - it frightens and stings.

MH> If not, how would you translate this segment?

Well, please:

С громовым лязгом сошлись они. Но светлая ярость северян пылала ярче, и воинство их со своими длинными копьями было опытнее и беспощаднее. Их было меньше, но они прошли сквозь югиптян как раскаленный нож сквозь масло.

Of course this is only first iteration which has to be made spotless and coordinated with related fragments and all the style of the book. For example, if I stay "светлая ярость" here, I must stand for "red wrath" (in a paragraph above) something of the type of "темная злоба"; but if I decide to translate "red wrath" as "багровая пелена" (что застилает глаза от гнева), I should return to the problem how it would be "white fury" in Russian.

MH> Tolkien says that this may be their last meal together. M&K say
MH> that it may be the last meal of their lives. That is a big
MH> philosophical jump that impacts on they perception of the story.

Yes, I agree, this is an apparent mistake, and not the only mistake in M&K. But again I stand for exactly the same point: one has firstly to understand a sense of sentence and then try to translate the sense exactly - even, may be, in perfectly different wording. This is true (including "perfectly different wording") even for technical translations which I mostly deal with. M&K try to express the essence but make some errors; others try to make no errors but lose the substance.

MH> what can happen to the story when it is turned into a literary
MH> translation. I kept the envelope but the contents are different.

It seems more naturally to me to associate the envelope (an external form) rather with literalness and its content (the gist of the matter) - with literariness.

MH> Dmitryj already has two chapters of my book and I was planning
MH> to send others. If you have not seen them, ask him.

Yes, Dmitry has passed them to all members of TTT team, many thanks for your gift. I now read them, but I need some time to assimilate your rich text and may be make my comments.

VS>> We could verify this judgement if you would allow me to publish the
VS>> bet for my colleagues in TTT team.

MH> Do you mean to post it on the Web? or just e-mail it around.

I kept in mind the second way but now the first one is discussed as well. If our letters will be posted on the TTT site I shall notify you (with URL attached) immediately.

Best wishes,


Dear Dr. Hooker,

rereading once more your description of Alexandrova's contribution in Gruzberg's translation I've been visited by one fun passage: camel is a well edited horse. In contrast to your opinion I believe that the text has become even worse after her editing.

Indeed, let us consider the original Gruzberg's text

Громкий лязг сопровождал их столкновение. Но ярость северянина была горячей, а рыцари короля оказались искусней во владении длинными копьями. Их было меньше, но они разбили южан, как молния жжет лес.

with edited

Громко зазвенела сталь, когда они сшиблись. Но, хотя раскаленная добела ярость северянина пылала жарче, рыцари короля оказались искуснее во владении длинными копьями и беспощаднее. Их было меньше, но они врезались в орду южан, как молния прожигает просеку в лесу.

Самая грубая ошибка - противопоставление "северянина" "рыцарям короля" - у самого Грузберга отсутствует. Александрова, по-видимому, спутала соединительное значение союза "а" ("а рыцари короля оказались") с разделительным. Фраза "ярость северянина была горячей" звучит совершенно естественно, фраза "раскаленная добела ярость северянина пылала жарче" - неестественно и нарочито. Конечно, фраза Грузберга "они разбили южан, как молния жжет лес" стилистически неприемлема, но и отредактированный вариант "они врезались в орду южан, как молния прожигает просеку в лесу" также отнюдь не образец высокого вкуса и искусства владеть русским языком.

С уважением,

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