· Posted: 22 Oct 2008 10:25 · Edited by: Balthazar
In the French original version they two Dupondts (= Thompsons) reveal that the did their military service in "la Génie", the military engineers.
In the English translation, this was all lost to a rather feeble joke about the "stable door"...
It's interesting to know what the original version was, but it wouldn't have worked in the English version. Presumeably it's commonly understood by Belgian (and maybe French) readers that doing your military service in "la Génie" as military engineers implies that you weren't intelligent enough or competent enough to be in the Carabinier at Offenbach. But neither these places, nor the relative status associated with being at either of them, would mean anything at all to British readers. Maybe it does to Swedish readers, or maybe the Swedish translators just didn't want to alter the original.
The English translators' replacement dialogue about coming to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted isn't a feeble joke, as you thought, but a well-known and well-used British expression, or metaphorical idiom, that reads perfectly naturally in the context of the Thom[p]son's turning up too late to be of any help.
Maybe the English translators could have tried to find a British equivalent to the Belgian reference to "la Génie", such as having the Thom[p]sons revealing that they did their military service in a low status section of the British army, like the Catering Corp, but this still wouldn't have made much sense to British readers. Compulsorary militiary service was abolished in Britain in the early 1960s and anyway, a conversation about military service would seem odd in this scene, when the Thom[p]sons are policemen, rather than soldiers. Maybe in Belgium your militiary service record had a bearing on your reputation as a plain clothes policeman, but in Britain, there'd be no obvious connection.
So although you're no doubt right that "If one truly wants to know the world of Tintin as Hergé wrote it, one has better to read the albums in French", it's also true that if you want to truly know the work of Hergé's English translators, you have to understand English idioms and appreciate that the art of translation is sometimes abut making a smooth and natural read, rather than translating everything word for word. The English translations are linguistically rich and humorous in their own way, even if they don't always follow Hergé's originals to the letter.
I believe that Hergé had an unusually close working relationship with his English translators, who became good friends of his, and he was apparently very happy with their translations. It's true that these days, their attempts to make the Belgian locations in Tintin seem English (rather than just the dialogue), seem unnecessary and odd, but that policy made good commercial sense at the time in launching Tintin into the UK, which had already proved to be a very difficult market for comic books.
Generally, I believe Hergé was very happy to have his work made available to all the people in the world who don't speak or read French and personally I'm grateful for that. I'd sooner read a fluid English translation, than stumble through the French original where, even if my French is good enough to understand the words, I don't get the cultural references. Don't get me wrong - I'm very happy to be educated about the Belgian cultural references by learning about the French originals on forums such as this (and I'm grateful for your info and translation sthlm01 and Tournesol), but usually you want reading a Tintin book to be a pleasure and, for me, that means reading the English translations.