During my recent trip to Brussels, the latest Asterix book was published, so I was able to buy the thirty-third adventure in both French (Le ciel lui tombe sur la tête) and English (Asterix and the Falling Sky). For those of you not familiar with Asterix, it is packed with puns, play on words, jokes and cultural references, all of which mean that adapting it for an English-speaking audience is no mean feat. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, the people in charge of the English translation, always do an amazing job, and reading Asterix in English, for a French translator, is a real treat (I believe the term "translation porn" was heard over the weekend as I giggled and nodded enthusiastically at particularly creative phrases.)
The British Council website on literary translation has a really interesting article written by Anthea Bell in which she explains how she solves all the difficulties associated with Asterix translations. She says: "translation of the text, if it is to be faithful to the spirit of the original, has to be very free, indeed unusually free, where the letter is concerned. ( ) Often the task is one of adaptation rather than ordinary translation."
One might say that this is true of any type of translation; I certainly try and "forget" the wording of the original text to produce a "real-sounding" French document, and within the context of subtitling, adaptation is crucial. Here is one example of the kind of freedoms she and her collaborator take, one which shows what kind of symbiosis exists between them and their material.
Looking at the superclone (a superman-type character) fly, Obelix says:
Obelix: Moi, un peu de potion magique et j’en fais autant. (I could do that too if I had a drop of magic potion)
Obelix: Qu’est-ce qu’il dit? (What’s he saying?)
ET: Il dit que vous ressemblez à un gros clone. (He says you look like a fat clone)
Obelix: QUOI ? (What?)
Check out the translation:
Obelix: I could do that too if I had a drop of magic potion.
Obelix: What’s he saying?
ET: He only said "FAT chance!".
Obelix: WHAT WAS THAT?
They actually add a play on words where there wasn’t one in the original, and it works fantastically, underlining Obelix’s well-known insecurities about his size in a much more subtle and revealing manner.
Anthea Bell has translated lots of other books, and won three Schlegel-Tieck Prizes (for translation from German into English), plus Germany’s Wolff Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Asterix and the falling sky
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