JRR Tolkien started working on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR) in 1937. But in 1943, upon receiving a full-time academic position at Pembroke College, Oxford (UK), he abandoned the project midway. He returned to it only in 1944, upon his son Christopher’s insistence.
Fittingly, it was upon her daughter’s request that Mugdha Karnik, director, Centre for Extra Mural Studies at the University of Mumbai, took up the Marathi translation (the first in an Indian language) of the LOTR trilogy. “She read a Marathi version of The Hobbit, and was disappointed by it. So she insisted that I take up LOTR before ‘someone else ruins it’,” says Karnik.
However, the Marathi LOTR is not Karnik’s first translation. She has, to her credit, translations of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (in 2010) and The Fountainhead (in 2012). “Translating her work was genuinely tough at times. Her philosophies on human nature and values are intense. I had to revisit the works of a few Marathi philosophers to do justice to her work,” Karnik says.
LOTR, on the other hand, was “enjoyable”. Karnik believes the beauty of Marathi as a language helped her retain the literary beauty of Tolkien’s writing: “Marathi is rich and versatile. You’ll find that the essence of the story has not been lost in the translations,” she says.
The translated books (from left): The Two Towers; The Return of the King; The Fellowship of the Ring
For instance, to translate Tom Bombadil’s poem for Goldberry (characters from the original trilogy), Karnik drew from Marathi poet Balkavi’s poem, Phularani (queen of the flowers). “I’m a fan of Balkavi’s writing. His words were perfect for Bombadil’s limerick,” she says.
Karnik retained the languages Tolkien created for the different races in Middle Earth: “I wasn’t allowed to translate them. Tolkien wrote The Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings for the translators who undertook his work,” she explains (see box).
Karnik is far from done, though. She’s already started work on her next translation — Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.
Tolkien’s rules for translation
In 1960, Swedish translator Ake Ohlmark took the liberty to translate the trilogy word-to-word, including the invented languages. The act irked Tolkien so much, he wrote The Guide to the Names in the Lord of the Rings. Today, all translators have to seek permission from the Tolkien Estate, run by his son Christopher, to undertake his writings. And they are required to follow the guide.
The translated versions are available on amazon.com and flipkart.com; Rs 500 onward
(The writer tweets as @poorvajoshi93 )