This is the first book I’ve read in French since late summer 2001. It’s been a really long time since I did anything with my French at all, and I knew it was just about time to try to see what I’ve lost from the last decade and what I could regain through literature. I chose the Harry Potter series because I’m very familiar with it in English, which I thought would help me to understand the French more easily.
It did, though the process has still been fairly difficult. I’ve been reading about 85 pages per week, a schedule which will get me through the entire series by the end of the year. I’m hoping it will start to go faster through time. In the beginning, it took me an hour to read five pages. Now, I can read about fifteen pages in an hour, so I’m definitely improving! It’s amazing just how much of my French is coming back to me! Vocabulary and grammar and structure and all that. I rarely even need to carry my dictionary around with my anymore. If there’s a word I’m unfamiliar with, I can generally gather its meaning through context clues and my knowledge of the original text.
It’s interesting reading in reverse translation like this. I get to see all the things that changed from the original British, from the book’s title (Harry Potter at the School for Wizards) to the names of characters and places (Snape = Rogue, Sprout = Chourave, Fang = Crockdur, Ravenclaw = Serdaigle, Hogwarts = Poudlard, etc). Most interesting was all the wordplay that Rowling uses particularly in these younger books. A lot of that word play was missing from the French version. Some of the word-play names (like Professor Sprout) were changed specifically to incorporate that same word play, but in other places, it just didn’t exist. Some of the jokes didn’t carry across, like the whole “Mars is bright tonight. Unusually bright” from the centaurs. It makes me realize just how much I must be missing in the to-English translations of books I read.
There were a couple issues I had with my copy of this book. It’s a mass market paperback and I think it was cheaply copyedited and printed because there were errors all over the place. A couple times Voldemort was spelled “Voldermort.” In the chess scene at the end it kept changing which color pieces the characters were playing with. There were also a couple places where entire paragraphs were missing, which changed the flow of the narrative. For instance, after Hermione saves Ron and Harry from the Devil’s Snare and Harry says it’s lucky she paid attention in class, the whole paragraph where Ron teases her for losing her head and forgetting she was a witch is just gone. I’m not sure why it would have been taken out, if that’s a change in the translation text or an error, but either way, it was jarring. There were several places like that, and I’m sure some were errors because the next paragraph would respond to something that had been removed. I’m hoping the copyediting will get better on the next book, but I worry because other than book 5, I have the entire series in mass market paperback.
I’m excited to move on to Chambre des Secrets! My brother has been reading these in French too (only his French is more advanced than mine, as he lived in Paris for six months last year) and he said the books keep getting just a bit more difficult as the kids age, which is what I’d expect. I’m hoping I can gradually get better through time so that none of them are too dense or difficult for me to read!