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A brief look at the revisions to Harry Potter in Italian

Lately I’ve been taking a look through the Italian translation of Philosopher’s Stone, first published in 1998 but extensively revised and edited in 2011. The translation by Marina Astrologo is a classic pre-movie translation and quite well done. But the translation was done as a stand-alone before Chamber of Secrets was even published. Astrologo could not foresee how the rest of the Harry Potter saga would play out before deciding how to set the proper tone with words like goblin and Neville Longbottom.

So after the series had been fully published, the Italian publisher commissioned a revision (by Stefano Bartezzaghi) of the books to sort of standardize the language throughout the series. This was met with backlash and annoyance among those Italian readers who had to relearn the names of their favorite characters, but it also earned a good amount of defenders. You can read a bit more about the rationale behind the revision over at Potterglot.

For now, I just want to give you a little illustration of the sorts of changes that were made. From all I’ve looked at so far, there’s probably no more representative sample than the Oliver Wood pun.

In the original Italian translation from 1998, we have:

“Mi scusi, professor Vitious, mi presta Baston per un attimo?” Baston? pensò Harry allibito; forse la McGranitt aveva intenzione di picchiarlo?

“Excuse me, Professor Vitious, would you lend me Baston [Baton] for a moment?” Baston [Baton]? thought Harry shocked; maybe McGranitt was intending to beat him?

The revised Italian translation makes quite a few changes:

“Mi scusi, professor Flitwick, mi presta il suo Wood per un attimo?” ‘Il suo Wood?’ pensò Harry confuso; sperò che la situazione non stesse prendendo una brutta piega.

“Excuse me, Professor Flitwick, would you lend me your Wood for a moment?” ‘Your Wood?’ thought Harry confused; he hoped that the situation was not taking a turn for the worst.

Here are a few observations:

  1. The names have been changed in favor of Warner Bros. trademarks. Vitious, Baston, and McGranitt have all reverted to Flitwick, Wood, and McGonagall (and McGonagall was also removed from this excerpt altogether).
  2. The pun was sacrificed in favor of restoring ‘Wood.’ Baston, which is a genuine surname just like Wood, means “baton” in Italian and lent itself well to the pun.
  3. The adjustment is broad and thorough. It’s clear that the backbone of Astrologo’s translation is intact—even though only 10 of the words remained the same. The entire excerpt is recast in order to accommodate the change from ‘Baston’ to ‘Wood.’
  4. The language remains engaging. Although the original pun is no longer there, the new presentation is hardly stilted. An engaging workaround was conceived. This follows a trend throughout the revision: not only were proper nouns and magical concepts standardized for a better flow, but the language was also made more smooth.

So what judgments can be gleaned from this example? I think that’s largely open to your preferences. On the one hand, the revised translation of Philosopher’s Stone in loses some of the pizzazz and originality of the older translation. But it jives better in the broader context of Harry Potter, both in terms of the Italian translation of the series and in terms of the global franchise, without losing the creativity and flow of the Italian text.

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