Translation of The Lord of the Rings into Swedish
The translations of The Lord of the Rings into Swedish have been the subject of controversy.
Åke Ohlmarks (1911–1984) was a prolific translator, who during his career published Swedish versions of Shakespeare, Dante and the Qur'an. His translation of The Lord of the Rings, however, was intensely disliked by author J. R. R. Tolkien, more so even than Shuchart's Dutch translation, as is evident from a 1957 letter to Rayner Unwin:
- The enclosure that you brought from Almqvist &c. was both puzzling and irritating. A letter in Swedish from fil. dr. Åke Ohlmarks, and a huge list (9 pages foolscap) of names in the L.R. which he had altered. I hope that my inadequate knowledge of Swedish - no better than my kn. of Dutch, but I possess a v. much better Dutch dictionary! - tends to exaggerate the impression I received. The impression remains, nonetheless, that Dr. Ohlmarks is a conceited person, less competent than charming Max Schuchart, though he thinks much better of himself. (Letters, 263)
Examples singled out by Tolkien in the same letter:
- Ford of Bruinen = Björnavad! ("Bear-Ford")
- Archet = Gamleby (a mere guess, I suppose, from 'archaic'?)
- Mountains of Lune (Ered Luin) = Månbergen; ("Moon Mountains")
- Gladden Fields (in spite of descr. in I. 62) = Ljusa slätterna "Bright Plains"
Other dubious translations include Vattnadal "Water-dale" for Rivendell, apparently by way of taking riven for river. Snigelöv "Snail-leavings" for Esgaroth, apparently by association with French escargot "snail". The Ent Quickbeam becomes Snabba solstrålen "Swift Sunbeam", apparently taking beam in the sense of "beam of light" in spite of all Ents having "arboreal" names. Ohlmarks also appears to have forgotten what choices he had already made, and renders Isengard variously as Isengard, Isengård, Isendor or Isendal.
In terms of style, Ohlmark's prose is hyperbolic and laden with poetic archaisms even where the original uses simple or even laconic language. The translation also contains numerous factual errors, straightforward mistranslations of idiomatic expressions and other non-sequiturs, such as
- "Three stars and seven stones / And the whitest tree you may see." (Sagan om de två tornen 233) for
- "Seven stars and seven stones / And one white tree." (The Lord of the Rings 620).
Ohlmarks' translation remained the only one available in Swedish for forty years, and until his death in 1984, Ohlmarks remained impervious to the numerous complaints and calls for revision from readers. After The Silmarillion was published in 1977, Christopher Tolkien consented to a Swedish translation only on the condition that Ohlmarks have nothing to do with it. After a fire in his home in 1982, Ohlmarks incoherently charged Tolkien fans with arson, and subsequently he published a book connecting Tolkien with "black magic" and Nazism, including fanciful constructions such as deriving the name Saruman from "SA man" with an interposed Ruhm "glory", and conspiracy theories surrounding the Tolkien Society.
Ohlmarks' translation has only been superseded in 2005 by a new translation by Erik Andersson with poems interpreted by Lotta Olsson. This translation is considered much closer to the original, and abides by Tolkien's instructions. In the translation process, Andersson had access to a team of Tolkien fans as advisors. In 2007, Andersson together with John Swedenmark translated The Hobbit, making it the third Swedish translation of this book, but the first time that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were available in Swedish from the same translator.
The translation project attracted great interest from both Tolkien fans and Swedish media in general. In 2007 Andersson published a book called Översättarens anmärkningar ("The translator's notes") based on his diary during the project.
- Tolkien och den svarta magin (1982), ISBN 978-91-7574-053-9.