University of Calgary

Harry Potter

February 23, 2010
To watch a video interview with Nick Zekulin, click on the picture or click the play button, lower left.

It's all in the translation

When author J.K. Rowling introduced readers to Harry Potter in 1997, a publishing phenomenon was born. The seven books in the Harry Potter series have sold more than 350 copies worldwide (11 million in Canada) and have been translated into 67 languages.

Nick Žekulin, professor of Russian in the University of Calgary’s Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian Studies, has collected all 67 translated volumes of the first Harry Potter book. The “Harry Potter in Translation” collection will be on display during office hours in the lobby of the Language Research Centre, CHD 4th floor, from Feb. 24 to March 10.

Žekulin began collecting the translated volumes while on sabbatical in Prague in 2003, after his daughter brought him the first four Harry Potter books in case he needed “an escape” into English. He enjoyed reading the books and, as he travelled around Europe that year, he picked up copies of the first volume in the other languages he could read: Russian, Czech, German and Slovenian.

Gradually, friends and family members began to bring to him copies from their travels. “At a certain point,” says Žekulin, “it became inevitable to go for the set.”

The collection includes translations in Faroese, Icelandic, Latin, Nepalese, Occitan, Urdu and Ancient Greek. Some volumes were harder to track down than others.

“The Khmer (Cambodian) translation is considered the most ‘elusive’, since it seems available in only one place in the world—the University Bookstore in Phnom-Penh,” says Žekulin.

While the exhibit provides a rare opportunity to view all the translated volumes of the first Harry Potter book, it also highlights the challenges of translation. How does the translator portray a cultural experience, like the very British boarding school experience of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or translate invented words like “quidditch” and the names of people and places?

“What struck me as fascinating about Nick Žekulin’s Harry Potter collection was that these translations offer a window into the intricate connections between language, culture and identity,” says Florentine Strzelczyk, director of the Language Research Centre (LRC) and associate professor of German. “It’s a great fit to have the collection exhibited at the LRC, which is a hub for researchers investigating language from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.”

The LRC hosts an opening reception and preview of the “Harry Potter in Translation” collection today at 5 p.m. in CHD 420. Diana Patterson from Mount Royal University will discuss the challenges of translating Harry Potter and the U of C Faculty of Education’s Jackie Seidel will give a pedagogical perspective to the Harry Potter series.

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