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Harry Potter et Moi

 

I finished reading one of the Harry Potter books in French! I started with book three, the Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s my favorite of the series. I thought I’d be struggling through each page, with a French/English dictionary at the ready, but I read it like, well, like a novel. It’s not that I understood every word, but a lot of the words that were unfamiliar could be figured out by the context, and having read the book a number of times in English didn’t hurt either. There were some oddities in the translation, though. Like, Neville Longbottom’s last name was translated as Londubat, and Severus Snape’s last name was translated to Rogue. Muggles are Moldus, and Hogwarts is Poudlard. Diagon Alley is Le Chemin De Traverse (The crossroad), and Dementors are Detraqueurs (possibly because the word dementir is in there, as a French word, meaning “to deny.”

Unforgivably, they changed the names of the OW.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, the school-wide tests, and gave them non-funny names to make the initials work in French.

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“What’s that about?”

One big discovery. I thought ennui was always translated as boredom; that’s certainly how we use the word in the United States. But it was used over and over in the book to mean “trouble,” and that was the alternate definition given on Google Translate as well. For one word to mean both “boredom” and “trouble,” suggests what the French think of feeling bored: that it’s the gateway for getting into trouble.

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“Trouble? I don’t see trouble.”

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“Look Mommy, I found trouble!”

There were some words that were fun to say, like hululement for the hooting of owls, haletante for panting, and chuchotta for whisper.

I think I’ve become addicted. I’m just not sure to what.

Coincidentally, one of the family-friendly cable channels decided to run seven of the eight Harry Potter movies this past weekend, as an ad for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie, starring Hermione (or the actress who played Hermione, Emma Watson, whatever). Oddly, they left out movie number five, the Order of the Phoenix, and therefore I felt obligated to order it On Demand to see why, because I didn’t remember what could have been so objectionable as to make them leave it out.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it bothers me, why was this the only movie left out, of the eight? Certainly other movies in the series were equally dark. The Order of the Phoenix is, basically, about the danger of pretending that everything is fine, when everything is clearly not fine and about to get much worse. There’s also an ultra-feminine aide to the minister of magic, with a penchant for alternative facts; and the minister himself, who’s afraid to see what’s right in front of him, looks suspiciously like Mitch McConnell (Majority leader in the U.S. senate). Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort, though, is a whole other level of evil from what’s currently in the white house. We have more of a Wormtail as president (including the crazy hair), with a dark lord as advisor, whispering in his ear.

wormtail2             voldemort2

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Harry Potter is in the air right now in the United States. It’s been on my mind all year, and it’s been coming up more and more in comparisons in the news, and in tweets from J.K. Rowling, wondering if people actually got the message of her books.

I need the comfort of knowing that Harry Potter was able to prevail, though he had magic on his side, and, as far as I know, we don’t. I’m going to read through all of the HP books again, in French and maybe in Hebrew, both to practice my language skills and to give myself a chance to fill up on hope, because my tank has been getting dangerously low.

One of the most powerful lines in the Order of the Phoenix movie comes from Hermione, trying to make Harry understand that his isolating behaviors are playing into Voldemort’s hands: “If it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.”

I always have to fight against my own isolationist tendencies, to remember that I’m not alone, and that it’s the people who have hurt me who have made me feel so alone, and unsafe, not my friends. The Harry Potter message, over and over, is that you can’t do it alone. The flip side of that message being, you can do almost anything, if you have help.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

102 responses »

  1. Nov 9, 2016 – “We are stronger together and will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that.” —Hillary.
    May the words of Hillary prevail.

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      • “United we stand, divided we fall” – Aesop’s story is one of the earliest , but also variations by Ben Franklin, Patrick Henry, Lincoln, used in India as the struggled for independence against the Brits, Ulster loyalist, Northern Ireland, Brexit. Guess it’s something people really can identify with.
        Reading translations is always something of a hoot. You should have seen the Spanish version of Harry – some really grins there – especially in the pirated versions.
        It is very odd which movies are suddenly on – or not on right now. Who are the puppet masters? Luckily the weather is OK enough just to go outside instead.
        Fun post!

      • There are pirated translations of Harry Potter? How awesome!

      • Not awesome to the official publishers! (the blackmarket ones have really really bad translations)

  2. That’s amazing. Bravo for you! I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read Harry Potter, I know, no one can believe it. I will have to buckle down and do this but it won’t be in French :).

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  3. hairytoegardener

    I am extremely impressed by your language skills. You go girl! And you know what, I’ve not read one Harry Potter book, but because of this post, I think I will read them all. Harry Potter has been too much a part of our culture for me not to read these books. Thank you. (Oh, and to Heartafire (the post above mine), I won’t be reading Harry Potter in French either.

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  4. Insights I had not considered. (I have never read or watched Harry Potter either.)

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  5. I’ve read all of the Harry Potter books but haven’t seen all the movies. When I saw the first one with my daughter I fell asleep half way through the movie. That was the last time I went to a late night viewing. Interesting analogy between The Order of the Phoenix and your present day administration in the White House.

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  6. I am very impressed. Your attention to the nuances of language is amazing. I would never even attempt to read it French, just for fun. I am too anxious to get the content. Harry Potter is addictive! I literally lose sleep whenever I read the series.

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  7. After ignoring the HP series, I figured I should get on the stick and find out what the fuss was all about. Thanks to Kindle Unlimited I read them all in my private literary marathon. I found them entertaining but not really my cup of tea. Actually, I think I enjoyed your post more. 🙂

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  8. In French? You rock, girl! 👍

    Your last paragraph touched me. I think I like you very much, Rachel – and not just because you have adorable dogs!

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  9. Oooh well done you!! I have been trying to find the courage to start reading them in Hebrew! My oldest son is reading the first one now, so I am waiting for him to finish! 🙂

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  10. I bow my head, to read a whole book in french is fabulous!!! BRAVO. I’m not even able to read my complete tax paper stuff…but I have to, before the tax guys turn into detraqueurs :o)

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  11. Well done reading Harry Potter in French. Still laughing over the pic of ‘Look Mommy, I found trouble!’ Was that your lipstick?

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  12. This was a great post (I also tend to isolate myself, and have had to remind myself that we are stronger as a group) and a fantastic reminder that I’ve always been meaning to read the series in French!! 🙂

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  13. Monsieur Potteur a la francais. Tres bon.
    My french is lousy but well done you! The girls are adorable as always.

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  14. Your French abilities are enviable indeed ! Nice message in HP, guess we all need that. My favourite book of this genre is El Señor de los Anillos, Lord of the Rings. I’ve read it in English, Spanish and German so far. I’ve no idea why 🤔 but for some reason I enjoy reading about Hobbits and Elves…

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  15. I love it. I may be a linguist at heart(please don’t tell the knitting needles)….However, I’ve heard things such as reading Donald Duck comics in Spanish are a great way to learn the language….and Harry Potter en Francais(I bet over half of you get that), is also a great way to learn it….man, I should have gone into linguistics….Zut Alors!, what command you must have of French…. perhaps I should try this, or Spanish or Russian….que challenge….though my instructor insists on the oxford language dictionary…it’s truly fascinating to see cultural definitions of things like ennui(and the darned pronunciation) and how certain phrases come about…idle hands sayings come to mind. What a post!

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  16. I have always loved Margaret Mead’s observation: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” We need to speak truth to power, repeatedly, consistently–until power is forced to listen.
    Great post.

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  17. I was too old when Harry Potter came out, and my kids were too. So maybe if my grandchildren get interested, I may finally catch up. We are in a Lenten series at church and Wednesday’s discussion was about the importance of community in what we call the Old Testament. When the Israelites stopped caring for the widows and orphans, they had turned their back on God, and were in essence blaspheming God’s name. I feel the same way about “Christians” turning their back on refugees, children, the poor and the outcast. Jesus is pretty nonnegotiable about our responsibility to the least of these as Christians(and by extension Jews, which Jesus was of course.)

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  18. That’s quite an undertaking. Good for you!

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  19. Lovely, thought-provoking read as usual, Rachel.

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  20. Tres magnifique Rachel. By coincidence I clicked on a recommendation in my Pinterest account this morning and it contained the most lovely collection of pins on Hebrew letters. I instantly thought of you. My nephew turned me on to Harry Potter way back when the first book came out and I always did like that there were deeper levels of meaning and good messages. I have been speaking French since childhood and I have a meaning i my head for ennui that was probably influenced by all the 19th century literature I read. Ennui lead to trouble when people started drinking absinthe to ward it off. Your girls are smarter using beet juice and paper. I always thought it was what dogs were experiencing when they lay on the floor curled up and let out those sighs only a dog can let out because the human was too busy to take them out..

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    • I remember having a conversation with my aunt once about how, in French, you’re supposed to say Je m’ennui, I bore myself. Cricket would NEVER agree to that usage. No. If she’s bored it is clearly my fault.

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  21. Wow…read the series IN FRENCH??! Well congratulations! And I had never considered the parallel between Harry Potter and the mess we are facing in America politically at this time. Thanks for the heads up! How did Ms. Cricket get into beet juice anyway?? Inquiring minds…

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  22. Well done for slogging through Harry Potter in French! Quite an achievement.
    Boredom has always been a gateway to trouble for me!

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  23. Thanks for the post Rachel. And I thought I was the only one obsessed with Harry Potter’s translation. I did my master thesis on that and after reading your post Poudlard and Serpentard came right back to me. Funny that quidditch is the same, though. I only read and re-read English and Polish version but your post inspired me to try to watch a French version of one of the movies. You proved “things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end …” so true for me today. Cheers

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  24. Hi Rachel, this is the first post that I have read in ages (I do have all your back posts in a file on my computer awaiting the glorious day when I have time and ‘envie’ as I have had quite a few distractions lately)
    But I am SO glad that I read this one – Firstly well done you, my French has gone out of the window, as I have been in the Uk for the last 12 months due to various reasons and I have not had the concentration to read, but ironically my step-daughter bought me the play by JK Rowling in French, so when I am in the right place, I will tackle it and swop notes……
    I have never heard of envie being translated as ‘trouble’ will ask Monsieur le Frog when I speak to him on the phone this evening……but I did now about all the changes, as I have sat confused watching the films with my step children wondering what ‘poo laa’ was…….
    The owl sound makes sense though as they don’t pronounce their ‘h’s’ so it is ooo ooo
    Much love LIndy

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  25. I may have to start reading them again. We have them all in Hardcover. Like George Orwell’s 1984’s renewed popularity for it’s resonate themes to our current events, so is the Potter series. There is a common threat to us all and only unity and love will vanquish it.

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  26. The dual meaning of ennui really is intriguing..and so appropriate.

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  27. Firstly, I love how you sneak photos of Cricket and Butterfly in every post. They just make me smile!

    Secondly, I don’t like conspiracy theories either, but it seems that leaving out the Order of the Phoenix was intentional as you observe here. It is a difficult time here in the US and not a time to put your head in the sand. Imo, Harry, Ron and Hermione called out the Darkness as a team, which is a good model for us now 🙂

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  28. Order of the Phoenix was always my least favorite of the Harry Potter Books, mainly because if the adults in Harry’s life would have just been honest with him and let him know what was going on none of the worst stuff would have happened. Of course there wouldn’t have been a book that way. Also Harry was so un-Harry-like throughout that book with his moods and tantrums that I always wondered if somebody was pressuring J.K, Rowling to meet a deadline while she wrote it and she was expressing her feelings about that through Harry.

    I have to agree with you on number 3 as the best, and the comparisons to #5 and the current administration. I was just wondering the other day if we were living in the book 1984. It’s been decades since I read it, but I remember them living with alternative facts and rewriting history every time their alliances changed.

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  29. I’m way impressed. I can barely read Les Miserables in English and you’re knocking out Harry Potter in French. Keep going!

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  30. Wow how clever are you. I am very impressed.

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  31. I’m very impressed at your language skills. I love the Harry Potter books. Such uplifting messages in their pages. The films were shown over a week in the UK at Christmas, so we watched all of them. I have a mind now to get the books out again after reading your blog, though sadly I’ll be sticking just to English ……… 🙂

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  32. I have a French copy of Noah’s Arc. The dog says “ouah, ouah”, the cat “ronron”, the zebra “heinn”, the horse “hmmpf” and the sheep “mee-ee”.

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  33. Thanks for inspiring us with this post, I would love to test my German skills and read it in German. I had an Italian copy but never had time to go through it and left it in Germany. I think the themes are timeless and for everyone, regardless whether you dis/like fantasy, fiction, YA books, because it is about friendship and doing what’s right and being brave and growing up.

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  34. Ennui – not so strange. The British upper classes traditionally used “a spot of bother” for anything up to a major war. Boredom is bothersome, annoying.

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  35. How cool is that Suzanne! I took French in school but haven’t practiced it in years…perhaps I should give reading a book in French a try! You are an inspiration 🙂 🙂

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  36. It’s really interesting to read books in a different language, isn’t it? Subtle differences always change the story’s atmosphere a touch–which also makes it revealing to read a work in its original language, because some things don’t translate well, like all the word plays in HP.

    Interesting theory about leaving out only one HP movie. I’m now picturing Trump tweeting about Voldemort.

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  37. I like your ennui dog illustrations – that’s pretty classic.

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  38. Great read, Rachel. Really enjoyed it!

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  39. I love the dog pictures in all your posts. It also goes without saying, except that I am, that it is good to be a writer and a reader.

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  40. Good literature is there to save us. I love Harry Potter, and before that, Lord of the Rings. Things get about as dark and disastrous as they can, then hope breaks through. We need these stories to remind us that in the end, we, not Sauron or Voldemort, will prevail.

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  41. Vous parlez Français, n’est-ce pas?

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  42. The tale, told so well, is nothing new. A tribe is stronger than a single member. Especially when it comes to evil leaders and despots. Sometimes I wish I was just one of my animals living in a very safe and loving home where I did not have to witness evils that I thought, at least in the USA, we had overcome.

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  43. Such an awesome Harry Potter post. When I read the first in the series in Spanish, muggles were still muggles. Except I pronounced them automatically in my head as “mooglays”. I continued calling them that in my head for the next book in English but then got used to the American pronunciation of muggles. I love this post.

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  44. Waou, bravo pour la lecture en francais ! I think my kids would totally agree that boredom leads to trouble. L’ennui est source d’ennuis 😉

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  45. I liked your discovery of the boredom/trouble interface in French. When you think about it the link is very clear.:-)

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  46. Harry Potter is a favourite of mine ^^ I love the story even though Harry as a character annoys me so much 😀 I do think all the messages in the story are positive, and kids should still read the series even if they didn’t grow up with it.

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  47. I’ve also read a few chapters of Prisoner of Azkaban in French and it was quite fun. I enjoyed your insights on the translation! Thanks for sharing.

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    • I’m working harder on the Sorcerer’s Stone in french, but I’m still loving it. I don’t know what it is about reading it in another language that works for me, but it seems to make it all even more magical.

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  48. I’ve already read all of them in French! I love the Prisoner of Azkaban in French.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  49. I remember trying to read HP in French and coming across “Poudlard.” As that’s also a nonsense word, I still can’t understand why they changed it. *shrug*

    I agree that Order of the Phoenix is such an appropriate book for our current times. It’s also my absolute favorite. I love watching the students coming together and fighting against a system that’s unjust. It’s so bizarre it was skipped in a marathon on TV!

    Okay, my most burning question, though, is what in the hell happened to your dog??? What is all the red??!!!

    Reply

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