Problems With Visibility: Ewa Hiero’s translation of The Dragons of Chaos 1
A good translator is, absurdly, the most undervalued artist. Unlike every other performer, “he is praised primarily for not being seen, for having successfully created a palimpsest, two works (…) difficult to tell apart” (Wechsler 1998:8). The more fluent translation results in the more invisible translator, and, presumably, the more visible writer (Venuti 1985:1-2).
The problem emerges when the presence of a translator is actually noticeable. In most cases, such an appearance is a negative symptom, originating mainly from mistakes (Wechsler 1998:8). The translation of The Dragons of Chaos could serve as a perfect example of this phenomenon.
The Dragons of Chaos is an anthology of short fantasy stories edited by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. Written by various artists, all the stories belong to a greater cycle called Dragonlance. This work refers to the first edition of the Polish translation of the book performed by Ewa Hiero.2
According to Leila Razmjou, one of the most important features of a good translator is possessing a socio-cultural awareness of the source language speakers (Razmjou 2003). In the case of The Dragons of Chaos, the “source language speakers” are replaced by the “imaginary universe dwellers.” Therefore, the authors use references, proper names and terms which belong to this reality and are perfectly known to the target audience.
Similarly, there is a corresponding set of equivalents composed and used by Polish translators of Dragonlance. The only exception is the translator of The Dragons of Chaos, who appears to be completely unaware of the canon. In Smoki Chaosu Takhisis is repeatedly presented as a male god, although, in fact, she is a goddess. “Kender” was changed into “Kenderyjczyk,” as if the name did not refer to a race but a nationality. “Karły” and “skrzaty” appear instead of “krasnoludy” and “gnomy.” Many proper names were not translated at all (e.g. the Abyss or Mount Benefice), although their officially accepted counterparts exist.
As far as non-canonical meaningful names are concerned, the translator, astonishingly, proves to lack any invention whatsoever. Several more difficult terms were simply omitted. There is no apparent justification of the choice of the translated ones – hopefully, the criteria were not connected with Ms. Hiero’s language capacity.
Obviously, possessing a “comprehensive knowledge of both source and target languages” (Razmjou 2003) is absolutely crucial for every writer and translator. Although it is difficult to judge whether one is sufficiently competent, there are certain symptoms of being totally incompetent. The most distinctive example occurs in the translation of the story Master Tall and Master Small, where the Polish version of a simple response “I cannot today, I fear!” is “Dzisiaj nie mogę, boję się!” (Smoki Chaosu 2002:315). There are, in fact, various linguistic mistakes that appear in this particular story: from the naming of chess figures (“a knight” literally translated into “rycerz,” and not into “skoczek”), to confusing plurality with singularity (“Are you gentlemen?” became “Czy jesteś dżentelmenem?” – even though the answer was “Tak, obaj nimi jesteśmy.”)
Moreover, the translator has obvious difficulties with her native language. Creating structures and collocations, which may be perceived as awkward at best, clearly displays her insufficient writing skills. “Pozwoliłeś rozproszyć swoją uwagę głupim rycerzem,”3 “young warlord” translated to “młody dygnitarz wojskowy,”4 or “a wizard in mathematics” as “czarodziej w matematyce”5 are only a few examples. There are, however, numerous mistakes that show basic problems with knowledge of the Polish language, especially: „rzuciłem spojrzenie w kierunku na który wskazał Haydn”6 and “Musiałem się przyznać że nie.”7 It is unbelievable that a text with such significant errors was approved and, finally, printed.
The overcreativity of the translator is another issue. While comparing the source and target texts, it appears that considerable fragments of the Polish translation were invented without any relevant purpose. A perfect example may be comparing the original dialogue:
“I must get back to my work. I thank you for the game, though. Perhaps tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow, anytime,” said Master Small.
(Dragons of Chaos: Master Tall and Master Small 1997:171)
to its Polish version:
- Zresztą muszę wracać do pracy. Jeszcze raz dziękuję za grę, może jutro?
- Jutro, o każdej porze, zawsze możesz spróbować jeszcze raz – zapewnił Mały Mistrz.
(Smoki Chaosu: Wielki i Mały Mistrz 2002:315)
What is even more astonishing, several parts were removed from the text with no rational reason. From the sentence:
The other gnome in this story is named Wun, or Wunderkin if you want
to be more accurate, or Wunderkintheflashofinspiration, if you want to
be more accurate still.
(Dragons of Chaos: The Star-Shard 1997:289)
the last section was deleted – presumably because of pure sluggishness of the translator.
As far as the style is concerned, it seldom matches the style of the source text, being frequently exaggerated and overloaded with poetical descriptions and sophisticated epithets. The overall impression is, therefore, changed, although it was supposed to reflect the personalities and emotions of particular writers. It proves the unreliability of the translator, because “no paragraph should be put together without revealing to some degree the personality of its author” (Xiaoshu 2003).
As indicated by Robert Wechsler, every translator should be aware that their “performance may be the only one,” and, therefore, they are “shouldering this responsibility, forcing literary works into forms they were never intended to take” (Wechsler 1998:8) Conscious unnecessary alteration of the content made by Ms. Hiero violates the fundamental ethic rules of any translation. Combined with insufficient writing skills, the result is extremely difficult – and unpleasant – to read.
The main occupation of a literal translator is similar to that of a writer – they both are expected to produce smooth and correct utterances (Razmjou 2004). A translated text is considered acceptable by most publishers when it reads fluent and “the absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities” creates an impression that it is not “a translation, but the original” (Venuti 1995:1). The fact that Smoki Chaosu – unfulfilling any of the above conditions – was accepted and printed, is extremely surprising, because the inexperienced and underinformed translator successfully managed to change this fair prose into a hardly readable adaptation.
Razmjou, Leila. 2004. “To Be a Good Translator.” http://translationjournal.net/journal/28edu.htm> DOA: 8.01.2009.
Venuti, Lawrence. 1995. The Translator's Invisibility. London: Routledge.
Wechsler, Robert. 1998. Performing Without a Stage: The Art of Literary Translation. Catbird Press.
Weis, Margaret, Tracy Hickman. ed. 1997. The Dragons of Chaos. Wizards of the Coast.
Weis, Margaret, Tracy Hickman. ed. 2002. Smoki Chaosu. Poznań: Zysk i S-ka Wydawnictwo.
Xiaoshu, Song, Cheng Dongming. 2003. “Translation of Literary Style.” <http://accurapid.com/journal/23style.htm> DOA: 8.01.2009.