February 20, 2004

Harry Potter in Russia

Russian fans of the Harry Potter series now have reason to rejoice: the fifth of J.K. Rowling's best-selling books, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, has now been translated into Russian. The reaction in Moscow has resembled the response in America and Britain: conservative members of the Orthodox church have denounced the series for promoting witchcraft and occultism, normally staid and serious reviewers have happily sung the praises of a children's book, and bookstores have been swamped with Potter fans.

Until recently, Harry Potter books (and other Western bestsellers) have been translated sloppily and haphazardly into Russian. (My copies of the first two books seem rather poorly translated, and the article I've linked to above claims that the translators have been known to add random passages of their own into the text.) This upset fans of J.K. Rowling, who looked to the web for superior, unofficial translations; as a result, Rowling's Russian publishers have now turned to a new translator, a friend of Joseph Brodsky named Viktor Golyshev. Golyshev, not surprisingly, doesn't seem very happy that he's fast becoming better known for his Harry Potter translation than for his work with texts by William Faulkner, George Orwell, Robert Penn Warren, and Sherwood Anderson. When a reporter asked him if he'd read J.K. Rowling before he was hired to translate her latest book, he responded "Hell no, what am I, 8 years old?" (Click here for an interview in which Golyshev discusses his work with translation and says that modern American literature "isn't quite worthy of consideration. It has almost nothing to say about life.")

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the fifth Harry Potter book will be as controversial in Russia as the second film in the series. A year ago, a Russian law firm announced plans to sue Warner Brothers over the film, claiming that its version of Dobby the house elf looked too much like President Vladimir Putin. The lawsuit never went anywhere, I believe, but it serves as a nice reminder that when Western pop culture comes to Russia, it enters another world.

Posted by Ed at February 20, 2004 12:50 PM

Poor Victor Golyshev.

Posted by: Ray at February 20, 2004 05:24 PM
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