Saturday, March 19, 2016

Archive Post: Reading fantasy in other languages

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti
Veronica sez: Here's a fun post from the Archives!

Hi all, Angela back again, this time to chat with you all about reading fantasy in languages that aren't your own!

If you follow my blog or my social network accounts, you'll have seen two things about me. One, I'm a huge Tolkien nerd--I had quite a lot to say about The Desolation of Smaug, not to mention the character of Tauriel. And two, I'm also working on learning two languages at once, French and German!

Put these together, and what do you get? My slow-going Trilingual Hobbit Reread!

When I first learned that the movies were coming out, that seemed like an excellent excuse to re-read The Hobbit. But since I'm also interested in languages, it also seemed like a great chance to try to improve both my French and German vocabulary. I'd already previously purchased a German translation that I happened across in a Barnes and Noble, and once I also acquired a French translation, I was ready to go.

I've been re-reading each chapter of the book in English, and then reading both of the translations. It's been great fun, not only refreshing my memory of the events in Tolkien's original prose, but also seeing what the translators do with his work. In particular, I've been intrigued by the differences in how the two translations handle songs. The French translator does a straight translation of the various songs and riddles, without worrying too much about whether the same rhythm of syllables is kept, or whether things still rhyme. The German translator, on the other hand, makes a distinct effort to rearrange the scansion and rhyming schemes to get something that still adheres to the overall concept of the song or riddle--but which makes more sense to a German reader.

Doing this with a book I've known all my life--I first read The Hobbit in sixth grade AP English--has been huge fun, and I'm looking forward to proceeding into The Lord of the Rings in French as well. But what I'm really looking forward to is getting enough familiarity with French to be able to read original works in that language!

I've discovered several authors in Quebec in particular whose works I'd like to read, notably √Člodie Tirel, author of the Luna Elfe de Lune series--YA-level fantasy, where the language is somewhat simpler for me and my beginner's level of French. And also, when I'm better at French, Esther Rochon. I've had the pleasure of reading one of her stories translated into English, and I'm very much looking forward to reading her in her actual language.

Likewise, I've found several other interesting names to explore courtesy of reviewing the award winners for Canada's Prix Aurora awards, in recent years.

Why read books in other languages, you might ask? Partly because I'm a language nerd in general. But also because I feel it'll broaden my horizons as both a writer and a reader, to take the time to explore science fiction and fantasy works from a non-Anglophone perspective.

Even reading The Hobbit in other languages is getting me a little of that, given that every so often, in both of the translations I own, I run into things that make sense only to speakers of those languages. I've been telling people I'm fantasizing about owning a copy of The Hobbit in all the languages I eventually would like to study. And I'm only half-kidding!

So how about the rest of you? If language barriers were no object, what other languages would you like to read urban fantasy, fantasy, or paranormal romance in?

Alternately, if you're a language nerd who's read genre works in other languages--or better yet, a native speaker familiar with works in your language--what titles would you recommend to readers who'd like to broaden their linguistic horizons?

Talk to me in the comments!

Angela Korra'ti, a.k.a. Angela Highland, is the author of the Rebels of Adalonia series from Carina Press. Book 2, Vengeance of the Hunter, is forthcoming in April 2014! Come say hi at, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Hi Angela!

    Amazing that you can have such a gift for languages. I think French sounds sexy, though I've always done horribly learning language.

    1. Thank you!

      I figure that all writers are going to have some level of knack for language--I mean, we gotta, to write books. I'm just expanding my love of how words fit together out into other languages besides the one I grew up speaking!

      And French is _totally_ sexy. Particularly in Quebecois traditional music, which is a big motivator for me improving my French right now. :D

  2. Despite taking high school French, my French language reading skills are rusty. My youngest is in grade one French Immersion and the picture books she brings home can be challenging--I can't imagine attempting a novel myself. However, my oldest son, who's also in French Immersion, went through the Amos Daragon books (a YA fantasy series by Bryan Perro) a few years ago and quite enjoyed them.

    1. My very beginner level skills are exactly why I wanted to try reading the translation of The Hobbit first--so I'd have the English to compare against and try to learn vocab and grammar that way!

      Exciting that your kid's doing language study Immersion style. :D I tried to take a Russian class in college, and the professor was teaching it that way. I had to drop the class due to an overloaded schedule, but for the couple of days I was in it, I figured out FAST that I would have loved that class.

  3. My oldest is reading Harry Potter in Spanish right now for a lot of the same reasons you mention. She can quote large passages by heart so she rarely gets stumped. She also loves duolingo...right now I think she's doing german and french.

    1. Awesome! I've actually scarfed the first four Harry Potter books in French, too--got 'em last time I went to Canada, for much the same reason for doing The Hobbit. I.e., simpler language, probably easier for me to follow. And an excuse to re-read the series in general. ;)

      Good for your oldest! I'm doing double duty on French and German in an app called SuperMemo, on my phone. Daily vocab study, every morning, on my bus commute. Nice way to get to work.


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