Saturday, May 23, 2015

Discussion: Literature in Translation

At a very, very young age, language has held me a captivated prisoner. I marveled at the worlds it created, the characters it made me fall in love with, the stories and dangers and lessons it wove. There isn't a person among us who hasn't been affected by language: the thing that separates humanity from beast. It is how we communicate to each other, tell stories that shape our way of thinking, teach us valuable lessons and compassion. And with a way to translate websites, documents, and stories into a million different languages - we can spread the joy of these stories, further communication, share ideas.

This actually makes me think about all of the books I've read that were originally written in a different language, and probably would not have been made available to me if it weren't for translation. Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart and Reckless, is originally from Germany and she writes her books in her native tongue before they are translated and published in English for readers like myself. Inkheart is a book that had significant impact on my life. I picked it up at a sensitive age, when I was feeling especially alone, uncertain about my future, and helpless. I buried myself so thoroughly in books and my own writing, and I desired more than anything to sink into a magical world that wasn't the one I currently lived in.

Inkheart spoke to this desire. I understood Meggie, our young protagonist, and her father Mo's love for books. I was constantly seeking the magic that they saw the world with, and Mo's ability to read fictional characters into reality was something I would have killed to do. If I could read my favorite characters into existence, maybe I wouldn't be so lonely! But then there is Dustfinger; a fictional character that Mo has accidentally read out from a book. My heart completely went out to Dustfinger, and a part of me identified with him. Dustfinger spends nine years trying to fit into our world, but he can't. It isn't his home, his family isn't there, he is completely out of place. I always felt out of place, and I wished I could somehow be read into a book, just as Dustfinger wishes to be returned to his world.

I don't know how I could have gotten through that particular part of my life without Inkheart - or any of Cornelia Funke's books. Every single one of them seemed to come to me when I needed them most: The Thief Lord, Reckless, even Ghost Knight and Igraine the Brave. Whether it was I needed a magical world to lose myself in, a quick adventure, or something that spoke deeper to my soul; something that reminded me what it was like see the world through kids' eyes. Without translation, I would never have discovered Cornelia Funke's books. I would love to learn German, but I probably never will.

And then there are just the books I read that were enjoyable that would not have been accessible without translation. Kerstin Gier, Homer, Goethe, Johan Harstad's 172 Hours on the Moon - just to name a few. And what about all the books written in English that have been translated in other languages? J. K. Rowling, James Dashner, John Flanagan, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Dickens - all authors whose books are extremely dear to me. It makes me very happy that people around the world can read these stories, too, and know that maybe they will reach someone when they most need them.

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