ome time ago, I discovered an unauthorized Dutch translation of The Lord of the Rings. It was done in the late 1970s by Mrs. E.J. Mensink-van Warmelo, because she did not like the published translation done by Max Schuchart. This is a very Russian reaction, and, therefore, I called the first article that I wrote about her translation: "Dutch Samizdat: The Mensink-van Warmelo Translation of The Lord of the Rings," using the Russian word samizdat (illegal, underground publishing) to highlight that fact.1
Up until then, if you had seen one Dutch translation of The Lord of the Rings, you had seen them all, and that was the Schuchart. Since, as Einstein said, 'everything is relative,' having a second translation to compare to the Schuchart and to the original gives you a tool to help you better understand the text. My initial article ("Nederlandse Samizdat") looked at the Schuchart translation through the lens of the Mensink-van Warmelo translation, and came to the conclusion that the comparison was worth continuing, as Mrs. Mensink-van Warmelo had some interesting and elegant solutions to tough translation problems that were better than those found in the Schuchart.
I then wrote a follow-up article that appeared in the Lembas-extra
"Schuchart vs. Mensink-van Warmelo: Round Two." The word Two in the
title refers both to the fact that this is the second article by this
author on this topic, and to the fact that the article focuses on Chapter
2 of Book I ("The Shadow of the Past"), evaluating the entire text of that
chapter. This chapter was chosen because it introduces a lot of
significant background material, both historical and philosophical. Since
the first article sampled text segments of interest throughout the tale,
it seemed that an evaluation of an entire chapter would offer an idea of
the relative number of divergences between the two translations.
Having completed the second article, I contacted Mrs. Mensink-van Warmelo's heirs, and wrote an eMail to Uitgeverij Mthe current Dutch-language rights holderssuggesting that the Mensink-van Warmelo translation could be used as a basis for removing some of the unfortunate blemishes in Schuchart's otherwise excellent translation.3 Mrs. Mensink-van Warmelo's heirs were pleased that an American researcher had taken an interest in their mother's work, and were not adverse to the idea.
Mr. Martijn Adelmund from Uitgeverij M, who was extremely courteous and helpful, provided a detailed explanation of why, in the near-term, a new revision of the Dutch translation of The Lord of the Rings would not be possible. Excerpts of his reply4 are quoted below with permission from Uitgeverij M.
The publisher is acquainted with the discussions of, as you call them, 'blemishes' of the Dutch translation of Tolkien. That was the reason that, in the summer of 2003, it was decided to completely review the translation. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings were thoroughly revised by a team of two professional editors. We gave Mr. Schuchart an opportunity to rectify a number of translation questions with which he, in hindsight, was not comfortable, and, at the same time, worked in all the corrections that we had received from enthusiastic readers by mail or by eMail in the ten years prior to that date.
This was an expensive and labor-intensive process, especially since there were a number of different formats on the market at that time that all had to be republished. I am very sorry that I was not familiar with the translation of Mrs. Mensink-van Warmelo at that time, otherwise I would certainly have approached her for a 'second opinion.' (I consciously said 'second opinion,' because a combination of the two translations is not within the realm of possibility because of copyright technicalities.) [My translationMTH]
Mr. Adelmund was not surprised that I had not heard of this revision, because Uitgeverij M had decided not to publicize it, in the light of the negative experience that Uitgeverij Klett-Kotta had with the new German translation5 of The Lord of the Rings and in light of the reaction to the new Dutch translation of the Asterix comic books. This, continued Mr. Adelmund, "resulted (from a business point of view) in the fact that we incurred expenses, which did not generate extra sales. This is not a bad thing. Uitgeverij M is the holder of the Dutch rights and also hasin my personal opiniona moral obligation to take care of the text and to maintain it. But we can only do something like that once in a long while." [My translationMTH]
I applaud Mr. Adelmund's personal view of a publisher's moral obligation with regard to the quality of a translation, and only wish that other publishers were as ethically inclined. If that were the case, then, for example, The Hunt for Red October would have long-ago been retranslated into Dutch,6 and my study of the nine Russian translations of The Lord of the Rings would not have been so interesting.7
Mr. Adelmund concluded that a detailed analysis of the Schuchart translation would certainly be appreciated by the publisher, and graciously presented me with a copy of the newly revised8 edition (seventy-fourth printing, April 2004 [film edition]). The identifying characteristic of this edition is that in the incantation of the Ring on page 2, the words elfenkoningen, dwergvorsten and mensen are written with an initial lower-case letter, whereas, in the older edition, they are Capitalized.
A comparison of the newly revised edition of the Dutch translation of
The Lord of the Rings with the two articles that I had already
written analyzing the differences in the Mensink-van Warmelo and the
Schuchart translations showed that none of the points discussed in the
articles had been changed in the newly revised edition. This meant that no
revisions to my articles were necessary. It is clear that my second
article will not be my last on this topic, but maybe it will be the start
of a 'second opinion' on some of the solutions of the Schuchart
A trio of 'second opinions' follows below so that the reader of this
article will be afforded an impression of the potential of Mrs.
Mensink-van Warmelo's translation to improve upon Mr. Schuchart's
prize-winning text, without having to look for a copy of either of my
previous articles: "Nederlandse Samizdat" and "Schuchart vs.
Mensink-van Warmelo: Round Two."
In Chapter 4 of Book III ("Treebeard"), Tolkien describes Treebeard's eyes as Pippin asks him who he is. "A queer look came into the old eyes, a kind of wariness ..." (T.84) Schuchart translated this as: "Er kwam een vreemde uitdrukking in de oude ogen, een soort vermoeidheid ..." (S1.600, S2.560, S3.72) Mensink-van Warmelo, on the other hand, said: "Een zonderlinge blik kwam in de oude ogen, een soort behoedzaamheid ..." (M T.62) It is not so much a question of whether a 'vreemde uitdrukking' or a 'zonderlinge blik' is the best translation of 'a queer look,' but rather a question of the translation of the last word in the segment (wariness). Schuchart translated the word wariness as if it had been written weariness. There is only one little letter's difference between the two, but the difference in meaning is enormous. Mensink-van Warmelo got it right: wariness means behoedzaamheid.
In the same chapter, Treebeard says that he does not know exactly what events are taking place, but "maybe I shall learn in good time, or in bad time." (T.94) In this segment, Tolkien shows his predilection for playing with words and phrases. He takes an existing expression (in good time) and adds something new to it that attracts the reader's attention. I immediately thought of the immortal opening line of Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Tolkien is playing with the opposition of Good and Bad, which is really a key component of the thesis of his epic. This 'addition' to an existing expression helps build the tension, pointing out that even Treebeard realizes that the good-guys may not necessarily win in the end, and that there may be 'bad' times to come.
Schuchart only translated the first half of Tolkien's word-playthe existing expression in good time and simply omits the 'addition': "... misschien te zijner tijd wel te weten komen." (S1.610, S2.570, S3.82) Mensink-van Warmelo, however, tried to find a comparable, existing Dutch expression that contained the word good so that she could replicate Tolkien's 'addition' for the Dutch reader. In my opinion, she was rather successful. Her Treebeard says: "... zal ik op een goede, of een kwade, dag misschien wel te weten komen." (M T.69, emphasis addedMTH) Her word play is on the expression some fine day (literally: one good day in Dutch).
In Chapter 3 of Book III ("The Uruk-Hai"), Tolkien describes the sunrise on the morning that the Rohirrim attack the Orcs who had taken Merry and Pippin captive.
Merry and Pippin heard, clear in the cold air, the neighing of war-horses, and the sudden singing of many men. The Sun's limb was lifted, an arc of fire, above the margin of the world. Then with a great cry the Riders charged from the East; the red light gleamed on mail and spear. (T.78)
The description is in a dynamic and elevated style. The second sentence borders on the poetic. While there are minor points of discussion to be found in the translations of the first and third sentences, it is the second sentence that is most in need of attention. Schuchart translated it as: "De zon ging op, een boog van vuur, boven de rand van de wereld." (BT: The sun rose, an arch of fire, above the edge of the World. S1.594, S2.555, S3.67) While the meaning of the first segment of this sentence is preserved with the formulation 'the sun rose,' that formulation is much too prosaic. These are not the words of a song to be sung in remembrance of brave deeds on the field of battle. Mensink-van Warmelo captures that feeling much better with her version: "De zonneschijf verhief zich als een boog van vuur boven de rand van de wereld." (BT: The disk of the sun lifted itself above the edge of the World like an arch of fire. M T.58) Even though the second and third segments of this sentence are the same in both translations, the formulation of the first segment and the change in punctuation makes all the difference. Mensink-van Warmelo's is a sentence written to be remembered. Schuchart's formulation is only written to be understood.
S1J.R.R. Tolkien, In de ban van de Ring (in 3 volumes), Utrecht/Antwerpen: Prisma-Boeken, copyright 1967, fifth printing.
S2J.R.R. Tolkien, In de ban van de Ring (revised translation in one volume), Utrecht: Het Spectrum, copyright 1997, fifth printing
S3J.R.R. Tolkien, In de ban van de Ring (in 3 volumes), Amsterdam: Uitgeverij M, copyright 2003, seventy-fourth printing, April 2004 (film edition).
TJ.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, New York: Ballantine Books, 1965.
MMensink-van Warmelo's unpublished translation of ...
1 Published in English as
"Dutch Samizdat: The Mensink-van Warmelo Translation of The Lord of the
Tolkien: Text and Film, Switzerland: Walking Tree
Publishers, 2004, pp. 83-92. First published in Dutch as "Nederlandse
Samizdat: De Mensink-van Warmelo vertaling van The Lord of the
Rings" in Lembas number 113. Lembas is the journal of
the Dutch Tolkien Society.
2 Lembas-extra 2004,
Leiden: De Tolkienwinkel, 2004,
3 Schuchart was awarded
the Nijhoff Prize for his translation, in 1958.
4 eMail Date: Tue, 29 Jun
2004 10:10:20 +0200.
5 The First German
translation by Margaret Carroux was published 1969-1970. Many still
consider it to be the best of the two. A new translation by Wolfgang Krege
came out in 2000. For a discussion of the two see: Rainer Nagel, "The New
One Wants to Assimilate the Alien," Translating
Tolkien: Text and Film, Switzerland: Walking Tree
6 For a detailed analysis of the Dutch Translation of The Hunt for Red October, see: Mark T. Hooker, De jacht op de Red October [an abridged translation by Thomas Mass and Rein van Essen of Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October] Utrecht: A.W. Bruna Uitgevers, 1988, 316 pages, ISBN 90-229-5468-4 , in the July 2003 issue of Translation Journal.
7 For a detailed analysis of the Russian Translations of The Lord of the Rings, see: Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes, Switzerland: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003.
8 The Dutch translation by Max Schuchart (published 1956-1957) was the first translation of The Lord of the Rings (published 1954-1955) into any language. This translation was previously revised by Mr. Schuchart in 1996.