Harry Potter's Translation – Has Andrzej Polkowski Managed To Put It Into Polish Successfully?



          In 1994 J. Rowling was a broke, unemployed, and single mother and was living in a damp, one-room apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a divorced mother of Jessica, she had to earn money to maintain her daughter. Her first two books were rejected repeatedly by publishers. Then, while traveling a four-hour-delayed train, she created a story of a little, smart boy attending a school of wizardry.  After that,  several other ideas came to her mind and that is how she created the rest of her characters and the whole amazing world of magic. The fact which had a great influence on the novel was a death of Rowling’s mother. As the writer said: ‘I was writing Harry Potter at the moment my mother died. I had never told her about Harry Potter‘. As a result, Harry’s loss is so detailed, because it simply was an expresspol-angion of Rowling’s feelings. The story, written under the great influence of despair appeared to be very interesting because of so many emotions included. One more time, the poor writer decided to ask for her newest novel to be published. Her publisher agreed but on condition that she used two initials for her names, in order to hide her sexuality. He simply feared that boys would not like to read the books written by the female writer. She had not got middle name, so she chose J for Joanne and K for Kathleen, which has never been her real name. Now, all her books are signed ‘J. K. Rowling’.

          Eventually, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in June 1997 and achieved almost instant success. It won the Smarties Book Prize Gold Medal for ages 9-11 and was named by the British Book Awards, Children’s Book of the Year. But Rowling’s work had yet to find its true, global audience. At the Bologna Book Fair in 1997, an editorial director for Scholastic Books bought the American rights for $105,000, an unprecedented figure for a first-time children’s author. The advance for the American edition made it possible for Rowling to quit her teaching job and become a full-time writer. With the 1998 publication of the American edition, retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling’s books continued to make publishing history. Harry Potter climbed to the top of all the bestseller lists for children’s and adult books. In the United States, those eager for the second book started ordering it from Amazon.uk, prompting Scholastic to move up the publication date from September to June of 1999 for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released in September of 1999, all three titles captured the first, second, and third slots on the New York Times Bestseller List, remaining there for months afterwards. The Harry Potter books have outsold any other book or series in publishing history. Book Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, had the single largest initial printing in history. By the end of 2001, Rowling’s books had sold an estimated 150 million copies worldwide and the only initial print of run for the lat part so far, Deathly Hallows, was about 12 million copies. About two-thirds of the children in America have read at least one Potter book. In over 200 countries, young and old readers have discovered the appeal of Harry Potter, and parents are reading the books to their children in more than 50 languages. That is the reason of the great demand for Harry Potter’s translations. Unfortunately, the translators had very little time for completing their tasks. In my essay I will discuss the translation of ‘Harry Potter’ into Polish by Andrzej Polkowski.

          After comparing the first chapter, both Polish and English versions, we may come to some conclusions. Certainly, the translation differs in many aspects from the original. The first thing that I drew my attention to is the translation of the names of protagonists and the title ‘Harry Potter’ that remained unchanged. For instance, the name Wormtail was translated as ‘Glizdogon’, ‘The Riddles’ as ‘Riddleye’ and ‘the Muggles’ as ‘Mugole’. I think that it is easier for the Polish readers to pronounce the changed names instead of the original ones. However, the title ‘Harry Potter’ was not translated and I think that if it was, it would not be accepted by the public. People are used to the English title and it is so widely used that it would be probably impossible to make them use some Polish equivalent. On the other hand, Andrzej Polkowski was not really consistent in replacing the English names by Polish ones. He left the name Frank Bryce unchanged, and he translated ‘the Riddle house’ as ‘Dom Riddleyów’ instead of ‘Dom Riddlejów’. Nevertheless, I suppose that because he did not translate the title, he also did not want to change every name into Polish in order not to lessen the text’s authenticity. Andrzej Polkowski simply did not want it to look unnatural, having that much contrasting Polish and English names. Thanks to that he made the text more fluent and easier to accept.

          Andrzej Polkowski has not included some phrases or sentences that were present in the text of J. K. Rowling. Some of the missing excerpts had the positive impact on the whole of the reading; however, there were also some fragments that, if not included, diminished the value of the whole paragraph. For example: ‘widziano go, jak przy ładnej pogodzie uwija się wśród grządek’ was the translation of much longer sentence: ‘he could be seen pottering around the flower beds in fine weather, even though the weeds were starting to creep up on him, try as he might to suppress them’. Very similar example is with the omission of the fragment of the sentence in: ‘A slight pause followed, and the Wormtail spoke, the words tumbling from him in a rush, as though he was forcing himself to say this before he lost his nerve’, which was translated as ‘nastąpiła krótka przerwa, a potem Glizdogon znowu przemówił tak, jak gdyby zmuszał się do powiedzenia tego, zanim zawiodą go nerwy’. And although I believe that those two omitted fragments are not of prior importance, they should be translated as they add some poetic value to the text, it is more interesting to read the paragraph with such descriptions as it evokes more feelings than the shortened version and, moreover, it appeals to our imagination. The sentence ‘Brow furrowed, Frank inclined his good ear still closer to the door, listening very hard’ was translated ‘Frank przyłożył swoje lepsze, prawe ucho do drzwi’. The fragment ‘brow furrowed’ was not really necessary, so it was omitted. Here, the translation only simplified the reading, not taking away anything from the original text. The third case, where A. Polkowski did not include the fragment that was present in the version of J. Rowling was the sentence ‘It would be an insult to her memory not to use the information I extracted from her, Wormtail’ which was not translated into Polish at all. I think that here, the whole sentence should not be omitted as it gives some information to the reader and allows to imagine the whole situation better. Because of the fact that there were many fragments missing in the Polish translation of the book, and nothing new was added, the Polish version is much shorter than the English one, which is in some cases better, but in many others, it just takes away many details of the book, which makes it less picturesque than it really was.

          In the chapter that I have chosen to analyze, there are a lot of phrases very nicely translated, which make the reading of the book the real pleasure. For example, the phrase ‘with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement’ was translated as ‘lekko zszokowani lecz niezwykle zaciekawieni’. I think that such translation is simple and does not contain any incomprehensible or sophisticated vocabulary and thanks to that it is clear. The other phrase ‘overlooking the village’ was skillfully changed into ‘górując nad wioską’, which also reads good in polish. ‘Barked the cook’ was slightly changed in terms of its meaning into ‘warknęła kucharka’, which word is much more common and popular in Poland, than for example ‘szczeknęła kucharka’, which would not be acceptable. The sentence ‘To everyone’s surprise and amid a cloud of suspicion’ was changed into ‘ku ogólnemu zdziwieniu’, which gives the full meaning of the original sentence, and moreover, is short, easier to read and clearer. What I also found interesting was the phrase ‘there was a nasty feeling about the place’, which was translated as ‘w tym miejscu czuje się nieswojo’. I think that it also contains the full meaning of the original and sounds very polish.

          The less fortunately translated fragments are also present in Polkowski’s text. There are both, the translations that do not convey the intended message and those, which just sound strange, because they are not used in polish, or very rarely used. ‘The wealthy man’ was translated as ‘obecny właściciel domu’ which is not very accurate. ‘It sounded timid and fearful’ was changed into ‘brzmiał w nim paniczny strach’. There is also some difference in meaning in this phrase, too, as the polish version is too strongly expressed.  The long sentence ‘he groped his way towards it, his nostrils full of the smell of decay, ears pricked for any sound of footsteps or voices from overhead’ was translated ‘wciąż nasłuchiwał jakichkolwiek kroków lub głosów z góry’, which, in my opinion is not as dramatic and as poetic as the original. Moreover, it is devoid of any feelings and only gives us pure facts.

          The other interesting aspect that drew my attention was the fact that in Andrzej Polkowski’s translation was milder in a sense that it does not include murders but only ‘magic forces’. For example ‘the report on the Riddles’ bodies was replaced by ‘raport z domu Riddleyów’, ‘if I murder’ was changed into ‘jeśli zaczaruję’ or ‘anyone else has died’ was translated as ‘jeszcze ktoś zniknął’. ‘One more death’ instead of ‘jeszcze jedna śmierć’ was translated as ‘jeszcze jedna przeszkoda’ and ‘one more murder’ as ‘jeszcze jedna klątwa’. It seems to me that Andrzej Polkowski translated those expressions in that way on purpose as it is the book for children and probably he wanted to avoid such strong words so as not to spoil children. Some parents disagreed on allowing their children to read ‘Harry Potter’ because of too many scaring and brutal scenes. Probably Andrzej Polkowski wanted to improve on the original, making the book less cruel and I agree that it is more appropriate for the younger children who read it.

          The more Harry Potter is famous, the greatest controversies it brings. Many claim that it promotes violence and witchcraft. Even Benedict XVI, when not being the pope yet, stongly criticized the book as the way to diminish the position of God in the world of children and to show the path to satanism and neopaganism. The author claims that everything contained in Harry Potter is simply politically correct and it has nothing to do with destroying religious faith. Maybe because of such problems, Andrzej Polkowski decided to soften the English version for more ‘delicate’ polish market. Otherwise, it would not achieve a success as the majority of Catholic parents in Poland would not accept reading such a brutal novel for their children. But not every aspect of the book could be censored. There are still pagan elements and after Rowling’s revelation in 2007 that Dumbledore is a homosexual, controversies surrounding the series increased a lot. However, it was too late to destroy the popularity of her books. Thanks to media such declaration was even the promotion of her series for free.

          Summing up all the facts that I have given about the translation of Harry Potter into Polish by Andrzej Polkowski, I must say that I liked it very much and taking into consideration the problem, that he had very little time to do it, the translation is quite faithful and serves its main purpose, mainly, to entertain children. It may seem surprising, but despite the fact that Polkowski omitted numerous unnecessary words from English version of series, which is totaling 4,195 pages, the polish edition is a bit longer with 4,367 pages. That is why Poles have more to read and more to entertain, even if the version is a bit different from the original. I am sure that all those small inaccuracies mentioned above could be easily corrected if Polkowski was given some more time. All in all, I am convinced that Harry Potter became a legend and will be read by people from all over the world for the next centuries.



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Paweł Rogaliński
Paweł Rogaliński jest politologiem, filologiem, rzecznikiem prasowym organizacji pozarządowej oraz twórcą Przeglądu Dziennikarskiego. Od 2015 roku należy do prestiżowej grupy Światowych Odpowiedzialnych Liderów Fundacji BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt. Za swoje osiągnięcia nagradzany na całym świecie, m.in. w Londynie, Berlinie, Rio de Janeiro, Warszawie, Brukseli i Strasburgu. Ukończył następujące kierunki studiów na Uniwersytecie Łódzkim: stosunki międzynarodowe: nauki polityczne, zarządzanie oraz filologię angielską, osiągając przy tym ogólnokrajowe sukcesy naukowe (m.in. Studencki Nobel). Obecnie przygotowuje rozprawę doktorską w Londynie poświęconą popularności politycznej w krajach anglojęzycznych. Jego ostatnia książka pt. „Jak politycy nami manipulują. Zakazane techniki” (Wydawnictwo Sorus, Poznań 2013) z powodu dużej popularności doczekała się dodruku już w kilka miesięcy po wydaniu. Więcej na stronie oficjalnej: www.rogalinski.eu.


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