Lost in the translation

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – book cover


I’ve been a big fan of the Steig Larsson books, the Millennium trilogy (Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo….that series). The author died but a couple of years ago, another Swedish writer took up the mantle. David Lagercrantz released The Girl in the Spider’s Web. I read it. I thought it was not *quite* as good or gripping but… not bad either. A Worthy successor and it was popular enough to become a legitimate best seller. Why did they even bother, some might ask? Leave well enough alone. Maybe yes. But why not? There are a lot of books and series that take up the characters in Star Wars, Star Trek etc. Not quite the same thing since they weren’t books to start with but authors are still creating new works about well known characters.

There was a sequel written many decades after Gone With the Wind, approved by the estate of Margaret Mitchell called Scarlett. It wasn’t bad but it was more of a bodice ripper type historical romance than the original which was very, very good and while did centre on Scarlett O’Hara’s loves, was also set in the Civil War and the lives of people in the South during and after. The sequel was more about Scarlett’s campaign to get Rhett Butler back. The mini series they made from it was appalling. Even though the author of the sequel wrote the mini series, she still changed the ending which made no sense to me. Why have a different ending from the book you wrote if you figured you’d be selling the filming rights to it anyway? (without looking it up. perhaps she even got the contract to write the book with the knowledge that she’d be writing a filmed version, for all i know).

Never mind that. The Spider’s Web book was quite good even if not quite the same treatment of the characters that Larsson created. There’s a new sequel coming out this fall called The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. Oh dear. Not too keen on that title. I don’t really like the cover either. The series has mostly not had the same English titles as the Swedish books. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled differently and was a translation from the Swedish to English title “Men Who Hated Women”. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is a direct translation. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” should have been “The Air Castle That Exploded” when translated from the Swedish which sounds very awkward and Spider’s Web translates to “That Which Does Not Kill Us”.

Sure enough, the new book is titled in Swedish as Mannen som jagade sin skugga and translates to ”The Man who Chased his Shadow”. Again, why couldn’t they have gone with that? Probably because the publishers for the English Speaking World originally wanted to use something that ties them all together and make it a recognizable series. I would think they might not have wanted to alienate people with The Man Who Hated Women and since the plot centers on Lisbeth Salander, they went with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a series was born.

What baffles me is why the Lagerkrantz books, at least, didn’t stay with “The Girl Who…” titles since that’s what they would inevitably be in English anyway. Larsson’s books weren’t published until after his death so he didn’t know what they’d be titled in English. I expect the publisher took the title of the second book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and ran with that as the theme.

The plot of the new book, according to this Swedish site (though it’s in English), says that Lisbeth is in a harsh women’s prison and gets new information about her past. It’s about Lisbeth taking revenge. Nothing new about that. That’s been a common thread in all of these books. I think the more I look at it, the more I intensely dislike the English title they’ve chosen for it.

Entertainment Weekly has a short interview with Lagercrantz. He says that the plot will revolve around the history behind the massive dragon tattoo on Lisbeth’s back. The author is also contracted for another book after this one.

One thing I have to mention, however, is the overall translation of the book to English. It is quite an accomplishment to translate a book from one language to another and have the essence of what the original author wanted to convey captured really well. Authors have a style, they have their own ways of using language and grammar, and it brings the book and the characters to life. That must be very difficult for a translator to do well. I don’t read any other language so perhaps the English translations would be a let down, I don’t know. But translations I’ve read from various languages all seem to be excellent and these are no different. I read these books and have never felt like the story suffered for the translation, that it didn’t flow or that it felt awkward at all. I’ve read books translated from Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Japanese, Russian and French, just to name a few. Translators are unsung heros, I think, and I wonder how many of them must be writers in their own right?

The next news on this same subject is the films. I saw the original three Swedish films with Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. They were excellent. Sony made an American version of the first book in 2011 starring Rooney Mara and it did ok I think. I liked it well enough but the Swedish version had a bit more atmosphere, I think. The second and third books were supposed to be filmed with the same cast but have had scheduling problems and I haven’t heard anything about it. I don’t think they’re going to be made at all because there isn’t even a placeholder for either film on IMDB. It seems that Sony is jumping into Spider’s Web instead but not using the same cast as the first American version. It will be interesting to see who they end up casting. The IMDB placeholder is here but they only have credits for the director and writers so far.

The trivia on the IMDB page speaks about the possibility of casting either Natalie Portman or Scarlett Johansson but I wouldn’t like either of them in the role. Far too “Hollywood”. The first Hollywood version used an actor who was less known and I think it worked better. Another name that’s been mentioned is Alicia Vikander who is Swedish and was the robot in Ex Machina. Might have possibilities there. She appears to be filming a new version of Tomb Raider so she will likely have the chops to do action.

I’ll be following this with interest and I am pretty sure I’ll be buying the book when it comes out in the fall.

Ooh, and in doing some research, I discovered a Wiki for the Millenium books, here. Excellent. I shall have a good rummage around there.

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