Thursday, October 5, 2017

Harry Potter "En Español“: The First Book

Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)
(Harry Potter, Book 1)
J.K. Rowling
(Alicia Dellepiane, Translator)
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
Salamandra, June 1, 2015
Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Source: Barnes & Noble bookstore

Sinopsis: Harry vive con sus horribles tíos y el insorportable primo Dudley, hasta que su ingreso en el Colegio Hogwarts de Magia y Hechicería cambia su vida para siempre. Allí aprenderá trucos y encantamientos fabulosos, y hará un puñado de buenos amigos... aunque también algunos temibles enemigos. Y, sobre todo, conocerá los secretos que lo ayudarán a cumplir con su destino.

Synopsis: Harry lives with his horrible aunt and uncle, as well as his unbearable cousin Dudley, until his entry to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry forever changes his life. There he will learn fabulous tricks and enchantments, as well as make a handful of good friends, although he will also make some fearsome enemies. And, above all, he will learn the secrets that will help him to fulfill his destiny. (Translation by Maria Behar of A Night's Dream of Books)

I have reviewed the American edition of the original English-language version of this novel. For my views on the characters and plot, please see my review of this book, which you can find HERE.

I have already read this novel twice in English, and recently decided to try reading it in Spanish. It just sort of hit me one day, when I was trying to think of how I could possibly get MORE of the Harry Potter series, which I ADORE, even if I still haven't quite finished the books. (I have a bone to pick with Rowling, but that's another story....)

So it seemed to me that reading these books in Spanish, a language I'm fluent in (except that I do occasionally have to look up words), would be the perfect way to get yet another "HP fix"! Lol.

On one of my recent visits to my local "Paradise" -- aka Barnes & Noble -- I went straight to the Spanish-language book section. I found several YA bestsellers there, and, among them, there were several of the HP novels. I was happy to find the first book, which must have been translated into Spanish from the British edition, as the title is Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, which means Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Since the plot is the very same wonderful, magical one found in the original novel, I will concentrate on the translation, which I found to be excellent. Dellepiane did a truly remarkable job rendering the original English into its Spanish equivalent, and I enjoyed this book just as much in Spanish as I had originally done in English! The quirky characters, the highly imaginative plot, in short, EVERYTHING that I had enjoyed in the original was there, in this beautiful translation!

Anyone who is fluent in more than one language is aware of the difficulties involved in translating a work of fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter) from one language to another. Literal translation is not always possible, as the results can be unintentionally comical. A case in point: the English expression, "He's pulling your leg", sounds HILARIOUS when rendered literally in Spanish. Just ask anyone who's bilingual in these two languages. Therefore, a good translator will give the equivalent, which sounds just as HILARIOUS when translated into English: " El te está tomando el pelo." The literal translation in English would be: "He's drinking (or taking) your hair." Lol! So, translators must be well-versed on the correct usage in the language they're translating text into. If they aren't, they must then look up words and idiomatic expressions, in order to give the correct sense of the meaning conveyed by the original text.

As I dove, once again, into this wonderfully delightful novel, I began to come across words and phrases I wasn't familiar with, so I had to look them up. However, I did understand the whole story, for the most part. And I became fascinated with how skillfully the translator rendered the original into Spanish. 

For instance, the first translated expression I encountered was the following, in the original: "Thank you very much". Of course, in Spanish, this would be "Muchas gracias". However, the way this common phrase appeared in the original would not lend itself to being translated into the usual phrase. It was part of a sentence, and not an expression of appreciation for a favor given, or services rendered. This is how it appeared in the original: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." A literal translation would not give the real SENSE of this sentence. Dellepiane's Spanish version reads thus: "El señor y la señora Dursley, que vivían en el número 4 de Privet Drive, estaban orgullosos de decir que eran muy normales, afortunadamente." The word "afortunadamente" actually means "fortunately", but giving the literal translation as "muchas gracias" would simply not have conveyed the same meaning in Spanish. 

Another element of this sentence that could not be translated literally is "of number four Privet Drive". Instead of translating "del número cuatro" Dellepiane chose the phrase "que vivían" ("that lived"), as this would more exactly convey the intended meaning. ("Del" is the literal translation of "of", in this case.)

Another interesting translation is the following, also from the first chapter. The original reads: "It was on the corner of the street that he noticed the first sign of something peculiar -- a cat reading a map." The Spanish translation reads thus: "Al llegar a la esquina percibió el primer indicio de que sucedía algo raro: un gato estaba mirando un plano de la ciudad." Again, this is not a literal translation. The original states: "It was on the corner of the street", which, in Spanish, would really be "Fue en la esquina de la calle". It seems that the translator thought this would sound a bit awkward in Spanish, although, in this particular case, I really don't see why. Be that as it may, what Dellpiane actually wrote translates, in English, as, "Upon arriving at the corner". Furthermore, she renders "he noticed" as "percibió" -- "perceived". I must here explain that, in Spanish, pronouns are not used as often as they are in English. It's usually very evident to readers of books -- or any other written materials -- who the writer is referring to.

Dellpiane also introduces an additional phrase into her translation of the following: "he noticed the first sign of something peculiar". Her version, "percibió el primer indicio de que sucedía algo raro:" actually translates in English to "he perceived the first indication that something strange was occurring (or "taking place")". Apparently the translator felt that the meaning would be clearer if she added the phrase "de que sucedía".

Interestingly, in the original English version, the cat was reading a map. In the Spanish version, the cat was looking at, not reading, a city plan -- "mirando un plano de la ciudad". 

Here's a beautifully rendered passage, from the beginning of Chapter Twelve, "The Mirror of Erised". (In Spanish, the title is "El Espejo de Oesed". Just as "Erised" is "Desire" spelled backwards, "Oesed" is "Deseo" spelled backwards. "Deseo" is the word for "desire" in Spanish.)

Here is the original:

"Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The lake froze solid and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban." This is, of course, too funny!

Here's the Spanish version:

"Se acercaba la Navidad. Una mañana de mediados de diciembre Hogwarts se descubrió cubierto por dos metros de nieve. El lago estaba sólidamente congelado y los gemelos Weasley fueron castigados por hechizar varias bolas de nieve para que siguieran a Quirrell y lo golpearan en la parte de atrás de su turbante."

Actually, the sentence "Se acercaba la Navidad" could be rendered, in English, "Christmas was approaching". However, the idea is the same: Christmas was on the way. 

The phrase "woke to find itself" is translated to, in Spanish, "discovered itself" ("se descubrió"). So, in the Spanish version, Hogwarts, the school, did not metaphorically awake, and then found itself covered in snow. Instead, the school DISCOVERED itself covered in snow. The difference is a subtle one, although the same element of surprise is there. It seems that Dellpiane thought that a literal translation of "woke to find itself" would have been much too awkward in Spanish. I totally agree with her in this case. 

Now, as to the Spanish version of "covered in several feet of snow", I do disagree with the translator. She has rendered it as follows: "cubierto por dos metros de nieve", which actually means, "covered by two meters of snow". The original doesn't specify how deep the snow was, but only states "several feet of snow". In Spanish, meters are used, instead of feet. But the fact remains that the original does not speficy just how deep the snow was. On the other hand, perhaps the translator thought that giving a specific number would give the reader a clearer idea of just how much snow Hogwarts was buried under.

In the original, the snowballs bounced off the back of Quirrell's turban. In the Spanish version, they actually HIT the back of his turban. No mention is made of them bouncing off. Still, the meaning is conveyed.

As you can see, translation is not an easy thing at all. Any translator worth his or her salt will always strive to give a sense of the original meaning, and this means frequently finding alternate words and phrases, instead of literal ones.

Of course, I'm noticing these things now, as I compare the original English with its Spanish translation. When I actually read the Spanish version, I simply allowed myself to enter the story fully, as I did when I first read the original. 

The Harry Potter story, in whatever language it's conveyed in, is, and will always remain, an incredibly fascinating, as well as addictive, tale of a young boy who fights against all odds to find his own place in the magical world he was born into. 

This story flows. This story enchants. This story has that elusive "something" that draws a reader in, that holds him or her, that brings him or her back, again and again, to experience Harry's adventures, to feel his feelings and exult in his triumphs. It's all here, and all of us Potterheads will ALWAYS love it!! 

More delights abound in this masterful translation that transported me to Harry's wonderful world, just as much as the original English version! I really don't have the room to explore them all. Suffice it to say that I know I will be reading these books many more times in the future, and most likely, in English AND Spanish! 


Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling, a Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer, and Anne Rowling (née Volant), on 31 July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, England, 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Bristol. Her mother Anne was half-French and half-Scottish. Her parents first met on a train departing from King's Cross Station bound for Arbroath in 1964. They married on 14 March 1965. Her mother's maternal grandfather, Dugald Campbell, was born in Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Her mother's paternal grandfather, Louis Volant, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for exceptional bravery in defending the village of Courcelles-le-Comte during the First World War.

Rowling's sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four. She attended St Michael's Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More. Her headmaster at St Michael's, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. She recalls that: "I can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it. Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee." At the age of nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. When she was a young teenager, her great aunt, who Rowling said "taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind," gave her a very old copy of Jessica Mitford's autobiography, Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling's heroine, and Rowling subsequently read all of her books.

Rowling has said of her teenage years, in an interview with The New Yorker, "I wasn’t particularly happy. I think it’s a dreadful time of life." She had a difficult homelife; her mother was ill and she had a difficult relationship with her father (she is no longer on speaking terms with him). She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother had worked as a technician in the science department. Rowling said of her adolescence, "Hermione [a bookish, know-it-all Harry Potter character] is loosely based on me. She's a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I'm not particularly proud of." Steve Eddy, who taught Rowling English when she first arrived, remembers her as "not exceptional" but "one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English." Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth, owned a turquoise Ford Anglia, which she says inspired the one in her books.


  1. This is a fascinating post. Translation is such an interesting subject. These days, when a classic is translated by a new translator, it seems that the new translation addition of the book includes an essay by the translator. I find these worth the read and insightful in regards to the translation process.

    I found your analysis of this translation to also be insightful. Among other things, it illustrates just how many decisions that a translator must make. Word for word translation does not work for many sentences.

    Great post as always Maria.

    1. Hi, Brian!

      Thanks for the good word! :)

      Yes, translation is indeed an interesting subject. The actual act of translation is also a challenging one, as there are so many different ways the original language can be rendered in the new one.

      I’ve seen those essays written by translators, too. They are usually included at the beginning of important works of literature, such as classics. They are indeed very insightful, as a reader gets a better idea of the difficulties inherent in the process of translation.

      You seem to be comparing this ‘review’ I’ve written to one of those essays. Thanks for that! :) I actually stated, in paragraph 4 of this post, that this ‘review’ would concentrate on the translation. Since the story is already an excellent one, and I have already reviewed the original in another post, I was really concentrating on the effectiveness and excellence of the translation itself. And I do feel that this translation merits FIVE stars! As you know, a poor translation can ruin a good book.

      Thanks for writing such an insightful comment, Brian! I always look forward to your comments, as they are always thought-provoking! <3 :)

  2. This is such a great post, Maria! Personally I've always hated the translations of books from english to my mother tongue Dutch. Most I've read are actually pretty awful, which is why I stick to English books only now. But I'm so glad you enjoyed this translation so much. :D

    1. Hi, Stephanie!

      Oh, gosh, how sad that there are such poor translations from English to Dutch….. :(

      It’s great that you’re able to read books originally written in English! Otherwise, what would you do?

      The only two languages I’m fluent in are English and Spanish, although my vocabulary is much more extensive in English. That’s because my family moved to the States when I was 9, so I was exposed to English more than Spanish in school. So now I’m actually trying to read more books in Spanish. But I think the best thing for me to do is to read books in Spanish that I have already read in English. And vice versa, too! Lol.

      Obviously, since I have already reviewed this book in English, the 5 stars are actually for the translation. Yes, I thought it was EXCELLENT!!

      Thanks for the wonderful comment, as well as the compliment!! <3 :)


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