The Hobbit in Latin

I just got back from the Conventīculum Lexingtōniēnse, where there was a bit of buzz about a new translation of The Hobbit in Latin. Vix Crēdibile, but lo, it’s true:

Hobbitus Ille

As an avid collector of modern works translated into Latin, I’m giddy. I’ve gone ahead and pre-ordered, and if they had a collector’s edition with a soundtrack, concept art book, soundtrack CD and Making-of DVD I’d buy it.

According to the description, Walker has translated the songs into ‘Latin Meters’ which I assume means quantitative meters. We’ll see how that worked out, but I would have gone for stress-based meters that would probably get the feel of Tolkein’s verses across better. But I’ll assume the translator knew what he was doing.

You may notice that it says (French Edition) in the title. There are a number of Latin books in Amazon which have (French Edition) inserted into the title. There is some guy at Amazon whose entire job seems to be finding Latin books in the database to declare French.

I’m sure that Professor Tolkien would be thrilled with this news, given how much effort he put into making his work rigorously Anglo-Saxon.

The Lord of the Rings does have this weird thing about some languages just being outright Evil. I doubt Tolkien meant Latin. Possibly French. But I suspect The Hobbit has already been translated into every single one of the other Romance languages, including the dreaded French, so a version in Latin isn’t breaking any new taboo.

You could contact Jeff Albertson, aka Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, and ask for a copy of his doctoral thesis:

All three Lord of the Rings novels translated into Klingon!

I’m super jealous of you. I wish my Latin was good enough to get through proper texts in it. 8 months of hovering over Wheelock’s only scratched the surface of it. :frowning:

My organ teacher told me about reading “Harry Potter” in Latin. Apparently Hogwart’s Express translates as “Hamaxostichus rapidus Hogwartiensis,” which is all sorts of cool.

Could you elaborate on this?

Tolkien was a philologist and considered language fundamental to the concept of The Lord of the Rings. (There’s a quote somewhere where he said something like “The name comes first, and the story follows.”)

His conceit was that it was intended to come across as a recovered myth from the dark ages - and correspondingly he assiduously avoided words derived from those which entered the language after 1066. So you see words with good anglo-saxon roots more than is natural in modern speech, and this gives it a distinctive style - linguisticly isolating the region from the influence of the French and Italians (or Franks and Romans or whatever) and when there are exotic influences they are (cryptically) from farther North, with Elvish being influenced by Welsh and Finnish.

(I apologize to any advanced Tolkien nerds for any correction this requires.)

Every time you deal with the act of translation, you have questions to wrestle with about the nature of language, the possibilities of interplay between languages, etc. But Tolkein’s project was self-consciously meta-linguistic to begin with. What does that add to the linguistic and philosophical challenges that were already an inherent part of any attempt at translation?

I can imagine someone building a case that a given work is so devoid of fresh language, so full of cliche and convention, that it couldn’t possibly be seen as any kind of linguistic play. But generally I think that attempts at literature are all experiments in language, though to varying degrees of self-consciousness. There’s always going to be a use of language that is particular to the language of the original.

In the case of Tolkein, he was attempting to minimize the influence of Latinaity, as it were, in his prose. So, you can’t bring that across to Latin. But some word choices, some phrasing that he found himself resorting to could inspire choices a Latinist would otherwise not have turned to if they were going with text that was already larded with locutions of Latin origin.

And, come on. The Tolkein fans tell me… do you honestly sit around and contemplate the purity of the Germanity of Tolkein’s language, or do you talk about the charming little yarns he spins? The lore. The bottles and tables. Despite what the author may have felt, I think that his eccentric linguistic game is not the end-all or be-all of his storytelling for anybody. There’s plenty there that will translate just fine.

I saw some squawking elsewhere about the use of ‘ille’ in the title. As I understand it, this is a medieval convention, or at least one that was used much more in medieval Latin. Latin doesn’t use articles, but it can use the demonstrative pronoun for emphasis, as if to say, “That Famous Hobbit” or “That Hobbit over there in Particular”. It covers somewhat of the same difference between “Hobbit” and “The Hobbit” in the title of a work.