Found in Translation?


Raymond M. Coulombe

I realized I was a true literature geek when I actually got excited about different translations of Beowulf. Bored yet? How’s this: J. R. R. Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame, did a translation. It was also a huge influence on his Fantasy writing. Fun fact, Beowulf was translated from English to English. Okay, it was Old English, which looks more like Icelandic to me than anything else.

While on the topic of translations, I’m told that Russian literature is actually better in English translations. That seems just plain wrong to me, but a number of people who are fluent in Russian assure me that’s the case. I really would not know.

If you are a Science Fiction fan, a good introduction to non-English writers is Sanislaw Lew. He was a Polish author who did some amazing work. Do yourself a favor and hunt some of them down. Here’s a warning: this isn’t light space opera, but thought provoking stuff. A lot of his ideas on S/F and the technological future are out of favor. In my opinion that’s another reason to read him.

Too much or today’s S/F looks like the authors are all reading each other’s notes. It’s worth hunting down translations by authors who did not grow up in the Anglo bubble. There’s some fine writing out there that most English readers have little contact with. Fortunately, there are some good translations for many of them.

Careful, it could expand your mind.

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