by Toni L.P. Kelner
Today I got copies of DTV's German translation of Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, edited by Femme Charlaine and myself. (And including stories by Femmes Donna and Dana.) Or should I say Werwölfe zu Weihnachten. Except that "Werwölfe zu Weihnachten" doesn't actually mean "wolfsbane and mistletoe." It translates literally to something like "Werewolves at Christmas." My story in the collection is "Keeping Watch Over HIs Flock," but the German version is "Denn siehe, er hütet seine Herde," which translates literally to "for behold, he guards his flock."
Looking at this, it strikes me how difficult a job translating a piece of fiction must be. It's never going to be an exact translation because the phrases just won't mean the same thing in both languages. Take the title Wolfsbane and Mistletoe. I don't really know why they didn't literally translate it, but I can make some guesses. Maybe the idea of wolfsbane being associated with werewolves isn't common in German. Maybe mistletoe isn't associated with Christmas. Or maybe both words have other associations in German. Or maybe it's just a matter of taste--German audiences don't like titles with "and" in the middle.
Then there's the title of my story, which is based on a verse from the Book of Luke: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Except that's the King James version of the Bible, and I have to wonder if the DTV translator used the same verse as it is used in German Bibles. Or maybe it just has the same resonance.
Other titles in the anthology must have been just tricky to translate. Nancy Pickard had "You Better Not Pyout," which is a funny title if you know the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and how a Russian accent sounds to American ears. Does "Besser nicht schmjollen" have the same humor value?
And that's just the titles! How could they translate references to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Salvation Army, KY jelly, and Waffle House? My mind just boggles.
I admit I've never given a lot of thought to how much work translation would be, but I should have. After all, I remember from my days as an English major one of Goethe's claims to fame was his translation of Shakespeare's works. More recently, at Bouchercon in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, the late author Stieg Larsson won several awards for his book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally translated in Swedish as Män som hatar kvinnor, which is literally "men who hate women." At both ceremonies, the translator came up to the stage to be recognized, and rightfully so.
So let me take a moment to salute the translators of the world. And a particular shout-out to the translators who worked on Wolfsbane... I mean, Werwölfe zu Weihnachten: Barbara Ostrop, Christine Blum, Britta Mümmler, and Ute Brammertz. Danke schoen!