The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (English and German) — Of course I adore this book, but it’s honestly kinda hard to reconcile with the rest of Middle-Earth. Obviously it’s written in a more childish tone than everything else, which is fine — I think that’s really cute — but that it uses different terminology, and that the stakes seem skewed throughout, makes it harder to swallow. It almost feels like a Middle-Earth AU.
The use of “goblins” is particularly jarring because it pops up so frequently. For one thing, it’s such a silly word. It makes me think of long-snouted little green creatures with tusks and shit. And, while I actually do really love the modern fantasy concept of orcs as big buff green people with tusks, it really annoys me to have stupid kidsy-monster images filling my head when we’re talking about the descendants of corrupted and tormented elves.
That said, this time around I got to thinking. Given that orcs were created via some sort of Valar genetic engineering, it’s safe to assume their genetic lines have not been entirely stable over the millennia. Quite possibly goblins are distinct from orcs because they’re a devolution. I mean, at this point, all the orcs are masterless petty bandits (however cruel and ruthless); I could believe that the absence of a higher directing power (a literal Power) maintaining them has allowed them to devolve.
In support of this idea, Gandalf at one point mentions “goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs of the worst description,” indication that “goblin” can’t be a 1:1 replacement for “orc.” It’s still kindof a flimsy theory, though. Individual characters as well as groups that should be referred to as “orcs,” especially in the context of historic discussion, are still called “goblins.” Again, it feels more like an AU… or a bad translation where stuff got changed through carelessness. Which at times throws me out of the experience a bit.
I try hard to get over it, because Tolkien was OK with it this way. He revised and rereleased the book once; if he’d really wanted to change this about it, he could have done it again. He had complex and solid ideas about fairy stories, after all; in many ways he knew what he was doing. But I still don’t like it.
So then what was my absolute delight to find that in the German translation, they ditched “goblins” and used “orcs” throughout?!?! Beyond that, in a few other spots where weird terms are used in English, they’re (what I consider) corrected in German. It was astonishing how much of a difference this made. The story felt so much more real and serious, and so many things no longer felt out of place. It made me wish more than ever that Tolkien had gone back and changed it.
However, there are certain aspects of the story that also make me side-eye a bit, and those are the same in any language. So Gandalf’s mission in Middle-Earth is to inspire and move the people of Middle-Earth against Sauron. He’s worried about the use Sauron might make of Smaug, so he sets events in motion to remove Smaug from the picture. So far, so good. But then things get a little muddy, at least to me.
Gandalf feels this is important enough to accompany them much of the way. In fact, the only thing he considers important enough to pull him away from this quest is driving the Necromancer out of Mirkwood — something he and the rest of the White Council (which, as far as I can tell, is composed of no more than him, Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman) are strong enough to accomplish. So obviously Gandalf thinks getting rid of Smaug is pretty damn important. OK.
Throughout the time we know him, we see that Gandalf doesn’t reveal his true nature and abilities lightly. Even in a story during the course of which Gandalf and his cohorts go up against freaking Sauron (to a certain extent; we also know Sauron was playacting a bit), we don’t really get a hint of Gandalf’s true power. And that seems strange to me. Not that I’m expecting him to go all servant of the secret fire, but on a venture he obviously considers so crucial, I expect a little more out of him.
So we have this scene where our heroes are trapped in burning trees, and Gandalf, knowing he will die, prepares to leap down into the midst of the orcs and wargs. This scene baffles me every time, because it’s such a… stupid decision. The quest is so important, but apparently not using any real power is more important, so it’s a better idea to just… die? What?
And maybe he believed he would be taken care of, as he indeed was. The narration seems to imply otherwise, but it’s possible. The significance of eagles saving him (and everyone else) can’t be ignored. And if Manwë inspired them to do that (whether they knew it or not), that would indicate he was specifically looking out for Gandalf — and maybe Gandalf knew it.
That is actually pretty fun to think about, but I don’t like having to do equations to explain and justify parts of a story. Which brings us back to this book being a little hard to reconcile with the rest of the Middle-Earth experience. This has been, however, a lot of words to express a truly minor complaint about a favorite book by a favorite author. Moving on to other thoughts.
Speaking of Manwë. I imagine him with Varda on Oiolossë watching everything that’s going on in Middle-Earth and reporting on it to the other Valar. Like, “Ohhhh, you guys, he found the Ring — that little hobbit-thing found Sauron’s Ring! Shit’s gonna get real now!” (uh, speaking of hard to reconcile).
I wonder what Beorn is. He’s another one of those unexplained mysteries of Middle-Earth, but he makes me think of Elwing. Where the heck did he get the power to transform into a bear and sometimes be a DIRE BEAR? It also makes me think of Ungoliant, who was able to leave behind a long-lived race of spider descendants more or less intelligent. I’m imagining a Maia that took a bear shape and became the progenitor of a race of bears that could take a shape like that of Men. That would be pretty badass. I like Beorn, especially when he rages in at the end and kicks ass — and at that point he seems pretty overpowered unless he has some super-cool backstory.
The description of Mirkwood is so evocative. You know about me and settings; the feelings I get from Tolkien’s are just superb. And you know what else I love (and here I use that verb a liiiittle facetiously)? The stubbornness of elves. Thranduil and his people have got to be absolutely miserable about the changes coming over their beloved forest, which is infested with evil spiders and Saurons and stuff; but they keep living there, and having festivals in the wood.
It fits with one of the overall themes of Middle-Earth: the immortal elves watching the world change and darken around them until they no longer fit in it, grieving helplessly over bygones and eventually unable to find peace anywhere but in the West. Of course this heartbreaking theme isn’t even touched upon in The Hobbit, but if you know it you can see where it fits in.
I love Smaug. I love to see an echo of Glaurung’s overwhelming power of hypnosis in him. It’s kinda sad that we only get to know two of Tolkien’s dragons, because he wrote them so well. And Smaug the unique is so interesting; I love love love how he’s encrusted with gold and gems on his ventral surface (and I’m so frustrated at how even the good Tolkien artists tend to COMPLETELY IGNORE THAT DETAIL, which is not only what makes Smaug stand out from generic dragons visually but is also RELEVANT TO THE PLOT).
I’m on the fence, though, about whether sentient animals would really use “fressen” about themselves.
A few more thoughts on the German, and I’ll have done. This time there was a distinction between formal and informal language, and it seemed to progress fairly rationally at least among Bilbo and the dwarves — but I’m not sure it did with all the other character interactions.
This book has a lot of clever interjections that have always amused me. Unfortunately, they all got translated to very inappropriate phrases like “My god!” and “damned dwarves.” And when Gandalf is supposed to say, “Great elephants!” he instead addresses Bilbo as “du großer Elefant.” This all was seriously disappointing.
It’s difficult to judge the quality of a translation at my level of understanding, but I thought in general it wasn’t very good. A lot of the sentences felt truncated, as if they’d translated the idea but made no attempt to capture the spirit of Tolkien’s prose (which is particularly charming and funny in this book). That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the hell out of listening to it, though. BTW, the narrator of the audiobook edition, Gert Heidenreich, reads with so much character; I can’t wait to hear him narrate Der Herr der Ringe.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare — I believe I watched the Patrick Stewart version of this play sometime within the last decade, but I didn’t remember liking it all that much in any form. I found this time through that, though I did enjoy it, it’s another one of those “everyone sucks and does bad things and then dies” stories that definitely fall to the bottom of my list of Shakespeare plays in order of how much I like thems.
I mean, yes, of course it’s interesting to watch the madness of these murderous characters progress. In this particular recording, the actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, especially the former, did phenomenal work conveying their breakdown of reason. And you don’t actually have to have any likable characters for a story to work. But I sure enjoy stories more that do. If we got to know anyone opposing Macbeth a little better, and to really feel for them or care what happened, it would be a great “triumph of good over evil” story… but mostly it’s a “check out how well these two actors can portray crazy” story. P.S. I’d kinda like to ditch the “every woman in this story is evil” theme too.
So about the people opposing Macbeth. They sure brand him a bloodstained tyrant early in the game! Obviously Malcolm and Donalbain know they didn’t kill their father, which definitely casts suspicion on Macbeth… and the subsequent murder of Banquo is pretty telling (except for the fact that in general people don’t know about the prophecies, and, to all appearances, Banquo is still Macbeth’s friend and not a threat to his power)… but they don’t know for a fact that Macbeth is guilty of these murders. And I don’t remember any mention of specific policies or behaviors that made Macbeth a cruel or incompetent leader (as a matter of fact, his position as king seems purely nominal as far as actual ruling is concerned). But suddenly, everyone is like, THE EVIL KING WITH SO MANY EVIL DEEDS TO HIS NAME!!! I kinda feel like the princes were stirring people up with unsubstantiated claims (however true they actually were) because they wanted their throne back. Which I suppose it understandable.
I’ve never acted. I’ve done a lot of narrating, with voice differentiation as best I can, so that counts a little bit as voice acting, but I’ve never been on a stage in more than a very minor background role. But sometimes I encounter a role in a dramatic work that I kinda itch to take on, having no idea whether I’d be any good at it and in some cases (musicals) knowing perfectly well I wouldn’t. And Lady Macbeth really caught my attention in that way. I’d love to give some of her speeches a try. Funny to say that about a role in a play I’m not very enthusiastic about, isn’t it? Anyway, I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying to make a short film or something with my new phone, and considering what I could do… maybe that’ll be it. Who knows?
P.S. Though the Irony of Inevitability in the matter of Banquo’s prophecy not being resolved during the play doesn’t hit nearly as hard today as in his own time, I applaud Shakespeare for it.
The new BSSM dub — While the family was here over Christmas, my eight-year-old niece Lyric and I watched the entire first season of BSSM. And since she can’t keep up with subtitles yet, we watched it in English. She’s continued watching at home, and I’m keeping up with her so we can discuss it over email. And the entire experience has been… surreal.
I have a weird relationship with dubs. I’m always curious to see how things are translated, because translation fascinates me, and I enjoy assessing new performers. But I’ve hated anime dubs into English as long as I can remember. BSSM was the first anime I ever watched. Having never seen anything in Japanese, and having no idea of the butchery that had been inflicted on the series, I still thought it was a bad translation. I noted particularly that words were often extended unnaturally as if a lazy screenwriter hadn’t bothered to fit the length of the line to the amount of time the character’s mouth spent flapping. I also thought the voice acting was pretty dreadful.
Struck with the beautiful, tragic romance between “Malachite” and Zoisite, I mentioned it to someone online, and she promptly informed me that they were both supposed to be men. I was blown away that such a major change had taken place, and started looking into it. It made my head spin to find how many bullshit changes had been made for apparently no reason. And then, since I’d acquired my first Computer Of My Very Own and its CD drive could play DVD’s, I bought the R movie on DVD, and of course that had the original audio. My sister and I were astounded at how different — and how much fucking better — it was in its proper form. Usagi’s voice was adorable instead of ear-stabby, for one thing. We never wanted to watch the dub again, and in fact from then on, with this contrast in mind, actively tried to avoid any anime dubbed into English.
Of course I’ve heard bits and pieces of other English-dubbed anime over the years (like, *shudder*, fucking Gundam Wing), and it only ever reinforced my opinion. Even when the translation didn’t suck, the vocal performances were just terrible. I did actually watch the entirety of Mononoke-hime in English, and considered the performances at least competent because Disney… but the translation and the casting choices left a lot to be desired. I just loathe English dubs of anime. Not like, Oh, I prefer the original if I can get it, but more along the lines of, I will leave the room and put on headphones if a dub is playing.
So of course with a new BSSM dub being released, I was cautiously curious, but not enough to put myself through aural torture to find out how well they’d done. And I was a little leery of watching it with Lyric, because what if they’d changed stuff again? What if the voices were terrible?
But… they hadn’t. And they weren’t. Guys, the new BSSM dub is… actually pretty good.
I’ve watched up through episode 76, and not one moment or performance has given me uncontrollable rage or suicidal thoughts or made me want to grab my desk scissors and excise my eardrums. The vocal performances are no better than adequate, but that is such a step up from the first dub (and, indeed, from most I’ve ever been forced to listen to) that I’ve actually grown pretty fond of at least some of them. They make an obvious effort to pronounce Japanese words correctly (though ryu and ryo consistently defeat them XD); nobody sounds like they’re forty years older than the character they’re voicing (looking at you, GW); and they at least try to make the extended vowels and the cadences of the transformation phrases and attack names sound good instead of terrible. They try, which is so much more than I can say for so many cheap voice actors.
And whoever translated it… just fucking translated it. There are moments when minor lines are slightly altered, but the translators always used those moments to insert appropriate and often hilarious comments. I absolutely lost it when Umino described the internet as a series of tubes, and I die a little of joy and laughter every time someone takes a shot at Mamoru’s ugly outfit. And the mild language hasn’t been toned down in any way. (Lyric was disturbed by the hells and damns, but they actually made me pretty happy.) In an episode I watched just yesterday, Usagi actually called Rubeus a bastard. And when Mako-chan said she had the biggest boobs of all of them, I just wanted to make out with her (a quarter century into her future, of course). I don’t know when I was so pleased with a translation.
I think I’ve gone on before about how I dislike “guardian” for “senshi,” so I won’t get into that again. It’s obviously the Sailor Moon fad right now, so whatever. (BTW, Lyric agreed with me when I explained that to her.) But one thing that does kinda bother me — and puzzles me, when they’ve been doing so well, and when they haven’t even inserted any explanations for Japanese cultural references — is that they don’t use honorifics. It’s weird to have them calling Mako-chan just “Mako” and so on, and makes it especially bizarre when Mamoru does refer to Usagi as “Usa-ko.” Bit of a head-scratcher, that one.
I don’t like the way they pronounce “Chibiusa.” And you know, with the lack of honorifics, it also kinda seems strange to me that they didn’t translate “chibi” in the first place. I am not about to complain about a dedication to leaving characters’ names completely unaltered, but I think “Miniusa” and “Sailor Mini Moon” (however much the latter reminds me of the dub that shall not be named) would have been fine. Even though “mini” lacks the insulting connotations of “chibi,” Chibiusa only protests the use of the nickname twice for, like, two seconds each. But, again, whatever.
Anyway, as I said, this has been surreal for me — liking a dub (a Sailor Moon dub, no less) enough not only to watch that entire season with my niece but to continue watching in English just to satisfy my curiosity when I could easily have switched back to the original audio to keep up with her… it’s unheard of. I kinda feel like the people that made this dub were trying very hard to atone for the previous one (not that it was their responsibility to do so), to give fans of the show something that would in part assuage our wounds from those days. It’s remarkable. It’s flabbergasting. And I’m immensely grateful for their efforts.
Dave Barry Slept Here by, um, Dave Barry — One of my high school history teachers handed out excerpts from this book as required reading. Looking back, I think this was a pretty brilliant way to teach U.S. history. Just as Wishbone’s silly summaries of classic literature only now starring a dog! inspired us to read the actual books, Dave Barry’s humorous accounts of historical events would inspire us to learn about the actual events, and give us an anchor to help remember them. At least in theory, right?
Yeah, it would have worked a lot better if this book were any damn good.
In high school my clueless ass considered a lot of this shit funny, but as a pre-menopausal adult I find it entirely flat and tedious. A line here or there will be worth a weak chuckle, but in general it’s just a slog. It has no more a sense of history than a sense of humor, and in 2020 feels incredibly dated — especially the very questionable choice to make a running joke out of the fact that most histories don’t mention women or people of color much and some of us would like to see that change.
So, yeah. Give this one a pass. You’ll probably pass your U.S. History class better without it.
Trying to get through that stupid thing really held me up these past two weeks, but, having popped through the bottleneck at last, I should be able to absorb some more good material than I’ve been able to over those 14 days. Of course, I think I’m only able to get this AEL up in a timely fashion because it’s got so little on it, but we all do what we can, eh?