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Castafiore Emerald: Thom(p)sons in the army?

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Balthazar
Moderator
#11 · Posted: 22 Oct 2008 10:25 · Edited by: Balthazar
Tournesol
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.
Harrock n roll
Moderator
#12 · Posted: 22 Oct 2008 12:45
Balthazar:
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

A quick search of the net reveals that "Arriver comme les carabiniers" is a French expression meaning to arrive too late. It originates from an operetta called "Les Brigands" by Offenbach.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_brigands
http://www.expressio.fr/expressions/arriver-comme-les-carabiniers.php

I agree with Balthazar that "closing the door after the horse has bolted" makes for an understandable replacement, although it's a pity that we lose the information about the Thompsons serving as military engineers. Even so, I'm rather surprised they translated it verbatim for the Swedish edition. For me at least, a 'good' translation needs to translate ideas, whilst remaining true to the author's intentions.
Balthazar
Moderator
#13 · Posted: 22 Oct 2008 14:30 · Edited by: Balthazar
Harrock n roll
A quick search of the net reveals that "Arriver comme les carabiniers" is a French expression meaning to arrive too late.

Thanks for the clarification, Harrock. From that, I see that my presumption about the conversation's meaning in the French original was quite wrong, and that the joke is actually that the Thom[p]sons take Haddock's reference to Offenbach's Caribiniers literally, and ploddingly answer with info about their actual military service.

The Thom[p]sons' response in the translated version - "Stable door? No, we came by car." - at least preserves the general gag about them taking a metaphorical comment from the captain literally, even if we do lose the interesting snippet of information about their service record.
Tournesol
Member
#14 · Posted: 23 Oct 2008 10:09
Translating is a very difficult profession, and translating comics even more so: you have to fit the text not only to the action in the image, but also to the space in the balloon.

What I meant with my remark about reading Tintin in French is simply that so many things are untranslatable for various reasons, and interesting information and tidbits get lost. In many cases the choices of the translator can be questioned, as indeed is the case with the english translation, for example. If you are to discuss the wonderful world that Hergé created, you cannot take for granted that the Thompsons work at Scotland Yard -- or indeed that their "real" name is Thompson! They are Dupond and Dupont and they work for the Belgian Sureté service. I think it's good to have this in mind when you're discussing Tintin.

In the 60s and 70s the translating trend in childrens' literature was always to recast the stories to fit the country and culture where the books were published. Names were changed, locales transformed -- all to better suit the young audience. This trend has now more or less passed. Kids know a lot more about the world, they can pronounce foreign names, etc. In Sweden, for example, the Harry Potter books are indeed set in England with all the characters more or less keeping their original names.

The new Swedish translation of Tintin (published 2004-2005) had has its driving force to be as faithful as possible to Hergé's original French. Naturally, you can never be 100 percent faithful! But instead of omitting and changing difficult passages, the publisher opted for having explanatory footnotes at the bottom of the page. It was all done in honour of Hergé, and to let the wonderful world he created still be vibrant to today's audience.

The older Swedish translations (from 1960-62, and 1968-1978) shunned many difficult passages and opted to meet the young audience with added humour and often added simplicity. That was probably a good thing back then, because the audience responded with great joy and Tintin was a huge success in Sweden in the 70s and 80s. But now we have to reach a new young audience as well as satisfying the older fans who know have grown up. And what better way to do that than going back to Hergé's original text? Thus, many interesting facets came to light, such as the Dupondts (sorry, Thompsons) indeed having done a military service. There are hundreds more of these examples scattered throughout the albums.

As for my comment about the "feeble joke", I stand corrected. Thanks for the clarification. But it's still a far cry from Haddock's wonderful comment about the opera by Offenbach and by the detectives' intriguing revelation about their past. Of course you should read Tintin in your native language! But if you are a true fan of Hergé and Tintin, you should at least try to read the albums in French to discover new things, ideas and how Hergé himself intended the stories to be told. And it's a sad truth in the world of books that translations grow older much faster than the originals; that's why the classics have to be re-translated time and time again.

And Tintin is a true classic.
Balthazar
Moderator
#15 · Posted: 23 Oct 2008 11:30 · Edited by: Balthazar
You make good points, Tournesol. Sorry if in defending the quality of the English translators' replacement dialogue (and the quality of their work generally) I was missing your point about the danger of a translation losing too much of Hergé's original. I do actually agree with you on that.

Although we both seem agreed that the un-Belgianing of Tintin by English and Swedish translators may have been necessary for the market in earlier times, I agree with you that children today are easily sophisticated and globally-aware enought to deal with heroes who live in a different country than their own. Good though the English translations were for the purposes of their time, I'd actually love to see new English editions with the translations tweaked, restoring Tintin's Belgian location and Belgian details such as money, and restoring some of the cultural references, jokes etc in Hergé's original dialogue that the translators felt they had to change at the time. As with the new Swedish translations you describe, you'd need footnotes, but I wouldn't see that as a problem these days. With children being so used to reading web-pages, computer games and TV programmes with additional information appearing on different parts of the page, I don't think footnotes would be seen as difficult or awkward by them, as long as they were done stylishly.

I'm not sure that this will ever happen in the UK, though. The UK publisher, Egmont, doesn't even seem to be doing much in the way of marketing the Tintin books as they are. You can find them in bookshops, but I meet fewer and fewer children who read Tintin books, or even know of them, as the years go by. That's my perception anyway. I'm not sure what the sales figures show. Maybe interest in the books will pick up when or if the movie comes out. It'll be interesting to see if Spielberg and Jackson set Tintin's home specifically in mid-20th century Belgium. My guess is that they might. American movie audiences seem to like old European settings (such as in Ratatouille). If they do, maybe it would encourage Egmont to restore the specifically Belgian setting in the books.

By the way, have the new, more authentic Swedish translations restored the page with the rhino being blown up in Tintin in the Congo? I believe it was the Swedish publishers who back in the 1960s or 70s persuaded Hergé to redraw that page for their edition. (The UK edition of Congo has redrawn version, as presumeably do othe countries' editions, but the French/Belgian editions always maintained the original exploding rhino as far as I know, so that could be seen as the more authentic page.)
Mikael Uhlin
Member
#16 · Posted: 17 Jun 2017 08:52
Balthazar A very late answer, but the latest Swedish version of Tintin in the Congo has the redrawn rhino page

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