No Dawn.

For Men.
Sunday, June 13, 2004

It's been a few months since I handed in my translation of Endless Nights, the special add-on volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman collection, and one of the few graphic novels ever to receive a proper Croatian edition (the last one being, to the best of my recollection, the superb Pratt-Manara Indian Summer). As Neil has quite rightly (not to mention amusedly) found it advisable to comment on my neverending giddiness when it comes to the way I rerendered the names of the Endless Family, I might as well lay out what the names are, and how they relate to their English counterparts.

DEATH is SMRT - Literal enough; the noun happens to be feminine through no fault of mine. Oh, and "r" is pronounced rolling, and can have a vowel quality; it derives from Old Slavonic smer't, and has equivalents in all modern Slavic languages.

DESIRE is STRAST - The actual dictionary equivalent would be želja, in the sense of actual "want" or "need". However, while the primary meaning of strast would be "passion", the word has no New Testament connotations of its English equivalent; moreover, it is the closest word Croatian has to the Latin eros - one of the three traditional aspects of love (alongside agape and amor), and the one closest to the way it's embodied in Neil's character of Desire. And it fits Manara's art perfectly, yo.

DREAM is SAN - Quite literally, again; plus, since the name Sandman is retained above the title of the volume (since it wouldn't be advisable to translate the name of an actual "comic-book superhero", and there is no character in our dwindling folk tradition comparable to Sandman anyway), it's kinda fitting that the Sandman's actual name turns out to be "San", right? Hopefully the accidental resemblance will enhance the reader's identification of the same character across these two names... leaving the puzzling nature of Morpheus and Daniel to those with access to the main ten volumes of the opus.

DESTRUCTION is SMAK - And it's the one name in which I have had the fortune of being more concise than Neil in my alliterative naming, while keeping the cosmic aspect intact. The word itself is now used only in the expression "smak svijeta" - the end of the world, but with no Biblical connotations; more of a "Ragnarok" than a "Judgement Day". While archaic, it's not obsolete, mainly because the noun is echoed in the verb smaknuti - "to execute", as in to kill ceremonially... If you look up "destruction" in a dictionary, you'll get uništenje, with the same meaning, only longer, and less alliterative...

DELIRIUM is SUMANUTOST - Not quite the perfect translation, as it doesn't have all the connotations of the Latin word: then again, Croatian doesn't have an actual word for it - we just use delirij anyway. This, at least, has the virtue of being feminine, and connoting the mental state of someone who has gone completely bonkers. Come to think of it, it's as good as could be. Wish it were shorter, of course, but it's not inordinately long as it is...

DESPAIR is SHRVANOST - Derived from the verb shrvati (no relation to Hrvati, the Croats, although accidentaly very fitting), which means "to render distraught, hopeless, or forlorn". Is a feminine noun too, after the pattern of Sumanutost. So it's all good, basically, except for the bit where I freely admit that the word ocaj would have been just as good, shorter, and more readily identified as the translation of the original. But it wouldn't have been feminine, and it wouldn't have alliterated, so away it went...

DESTINY is SUDBINA - Another no-brainer choice, as the sole proper translation of the original (leaving aside the fact that "fate" would have been rendered the same way, owing to the relative paucity of our vocabulary in comparison to the Allmighty Magpie that is English)... It's also the only name that doesn't match its character gender-wise; but Croatian can fortunately handle Sudbina as a "he" much more readily than, say, Ocaj as a "she", if it happens to be a name or a nickname.

So there you go. The whole idea for making the Croatian names alliterate across the board came to me as Neil was showing his copy of then just-released Endless Nights to the small party of Algoritam staff who came along to see him off at the Zagreb airport... It was the first time I laid my eyes on the book, and I was stunned, and told Neil that if I ever got the chance to translate it, I'd want to make my own work as good as I could, just to do right by it. And Neil, of course, said that I shouldn't bother with the alliteration, that it's quite all right if the names just follow their proper senses, but, you know... it would have gnawed at me if I hadn't done it the way I did.

Anyway, this is the manner in which I approach all my work, in translation and otherwise. Similarly, for example, I'm currently making the "Tale of the Children of Húrin" in Tolkien's Unfinished Tales reminiscent of an actual heroic lay (which it is purported to be) through the use of alliteration and word-patterns specific to the Croatian epic tradition - if ever so sparsely, only in the moments of heightened dramatic tension... Such things are like spices: you can't put too much into the brew, or you'll spoil the taste entirely. And if you don't make an effort to use them at all, you end up with a tasteless dish.

To the best of my knowledge, Sandman: Beskrajne noci will be out in Croatian hardback sometime in the Fall. I'll keep you posted.


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