The tail end of 2022 saw the latest official translation of Harry Potter—and according to how many collectors count, it’s the 100th! It was a second translation of Croatian (and the first book to be printed with the Studio La Plage cover art). The first Croatian translation has been out of publication for several years.

After being one of the first people in North America to get my hands on a copy (thanks to Sean McA.), I took a quick look through both translations and made a few observations about the differences in translation. My first impression is that both translations are enjoyable, reader-oriented adaptations, but that Petrović lends more character to the translation.

Switching Translators

The first Croatian translator of the Harry Potter series was Zlatko Crnković. Crnković was a prolific translator of novels into Croatian. He translated Lord of the Rings, capturing all those neologisms of Middle Earth, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, creatively adapting Yiddish terms that were much easier for English speakers to grasp than Croatians. The Harry Potter series was merely the latest best-seller in his decades of publication. But as the series continued to expand—and take a demanding toll on translators—he decided to devote his attention to other projects. After all, he had been officially retired since 1994.

He worked with Dubravka Petrović, the woman who carried out the translation of the rest of the series from Goblet of Fire to Deathly Hallows. He lent her advice and feedback, continuing to leave his mark on the series even while Petrović molded it in her own image. The last of the books, Harry Potter i Darovi smrti, was published in 2007.

A few years ago, Mozaik knjiga bought the publishing rights for Harry Potter in Croatian. But before running new prints of the books, Mozaik knjiga sought to strengthen the consistency of the translation throughout the series. Some 25 years after Petrović finished with Harry Potter, the publisher commissioned her to retranslate the first three books and revise the last four.

Although Crnković had a knack for eloquence and Croatian frill in his translation, Petrović prefers to shed the classical constraints on the storytelling.

Zlatko Crnković was a master of the archaic tone, but I believe that the book must have a more modern language, because the language of the [English] original was modern.

Interview with Petrović at Književne Kritičarije

In translating the last four books of the series, Petrović wanted to respect the foundation laid by Crnković and follow his lead. That made the transition between translators smooth, even if there was a gentle shift in style.

Now she has the chance to make the series her own, not only by lending her style to the early installments, but also by revising the last four in a way she prefers.

The Changes

Petrović was clearly cognizant of the mark Crnković made on Harry Potter fans in Croatia.

Crnković’s word for Quidditch, “Metloboj” (lit. “Broom Combat”), was kept, as was his word for Muggles, “bezjaci” (lit. “twits”). But while she retained some of these more iconic terms, she changed others. Remembrall, for example, was changed from the flowery Nezaboravak (“Forget-Me-Not”) to the more literal Svespomenak (“Remember-All”).

The differences between the translations that I found most illustrative were in the first chapter. One reason that may be is because the tone of Crnković’s translation of the first chapter strays from that of the English original. Petrović’s translation attempts to restore the tone, even though that required her to stray from the literal meaning a bit more than Crnković.

Take a look at the opening sentence:

CrnkovićGospodin i gospođa Dursley, iz Kalinina prilaza broj četiri, bili su ponosni što su normalni ljudi da ne mogu biti normalniji i još bi vam zahvalili na komplimentu ako biste im to rekli.
(Translation)Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Number Four Kalina Drive, were proud of being normal people who couldn’t be more normal and would thank you for the compliment if you told them so.
PetrovićGospodin i gospođa Dursley iz Kalinina prilaza broj četiri doslovce su pucali od ponosa zbog činjenice da su u svakom pogledu bili savršeno normalni ljudi i veći kompliment od toga nisu mogli ni zamisliti.
(Translation)Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four Kalina Drive were literally bursting with pride at the fact that they were perfectly normal people in every way and they couldn’t imagine a higher compliment than that.

Here, I personally prefer Petrović’s translation choices because of its more intimate imagery on how the Dursleys feel. That more accurately (and creatively) captures the English original, where Chapter 1 is told through the perspective of Mr. Dursley.

Compare also with this selection:

Crnković…jer su njezina sestra i niškoristi muž bili sasvim oprečni Drusleyjevima.
(Translation)…for her sister and worthless husband were quite the opposite of the Dursleys.
Petrović…prvenstveno zato što su spomenuta sestra i njezin beskorisni muž u svakom pogledu bili potpuna suprotnost Dursleyjevima.
(Translation)…primarily because said sister and her useless husband were the complete opposite of the Dursleys in every way.

Again, the over-the-top approach by Petrović more effectively reproduces the Dursley-centric perspective here. The cherry on the top is the repetition of the phrase “svakom pogledu” (“in every way”), which was also used in the opening sentence. That signals to the reader that the views expressed in both sentences belong to the Dursleys. The repetition of “svakom pogledu” lends the Dursleys voice.

Let’s take a look at another example:

CrnkovićZa večerom mu je ispričala sve o tome kakve probleme ima njihova prva susjeda sa svojom kćeri, i kako je Dudley naučio još jednu riječ (‘Neću!’)
(Translation)At dinner, she told him all about the problems their next-door neighbor had with her daughter, and how Dudley had learned another word (“I won’t!”)
PetrovićZa večerom mu je ispričala sve o problemima gospođe Prve Susjede s njezinom kćeri i izvijestila ga da je Dudley naučio novu riječ (“Neću!”)
(Translation)At dinner, she told him all about Mrs. Next-Door Neighbor’s problems with her daughter and informed him that Dudley had learned a new word (“I won’t!”)

This again illustrates the difference between the formal writing of Cnkrović and the more flexible writing used by Petrović, who uses the more literal translation of “Mrs. Next Door” (“gospođe Prve Susjede”) instead of the more standard Croatian rendering used by Cnkrović.

There are times, of course, that Crnković actually does a better rendering of the English original. But in at least some of these cases, Petrović comes up with pretty clever alternatives:

CrnkovićLimunov šerbet. To su vam bezjački slatkiši koje ja jako volim.
(Translation)Lemon sherbet. They’re Muggle sweets that I really like.
PetrovićŠumeći bombon od limuna. Bezjački slatkiš koji mi je prilično prirastao srcu.
(Translation)Fizzy lemon candy. Muggle sweets that are close to my heart.

Petrović’s translation does two things in this example that I especially appreciate. This is the only translation of “sherbet lemon” I’ve come across that’s descriptive: she finds a way to communicate to the reader that the candy fizzes in your mouth. Secondly, the translation of “Sweets that are close to my heart” brings out Dumbledore’s character in a unique and inventive way.

Of course, what matters most in the end is whether Harry Potter fans in Croatia take to the new adaptation. So far, in the few months that have passed, chatter on the internet has been a bit quiet. Here’s a little bit of discussion that went on in anticipation of the new translation, but also a few comments about it after it was released.