“Im Winter meines siebzehnten Lebensjahres kam meine Mutter zu dem Schluss, dass ich Depressionen hatte, wahrscheinlich weil ich kaum das Haus verließ, viel Zeit im Bett verbrachte, immer wieder dasselbe Buch las, wenig aß und einen großen Teil meiner reichlichen Zeit damit verbrachte, über den Tod nachzudenken.”
First line in Das Schicksal ist ein mieser Verräter by John Green
Happy Monday, everyone!
As you may have noticed, I’m a bit obsessed with languages. I love learning them, I love speaking them, and I love trying to understand their similarities and differences! So when I stumbled across a blog over a year ago that explained why Lord Voldemort was called Romeo G. Detlev Jr. in the Danish versions of Harry Potter, I had no choice but to leave a very long and slightly deranged sounding comment 😁
Miraculously, though, Line @ First Line Reader seemed to think that my enthusiasm could still be classified as normal enough to warrant a response, and as the year went on, we discovered that we actually had a lot more in common than a shared love for Harry Potter and language trivia. Which is how we ended up here, as two clueless bloggers trying to write their first-ever collab post.
Living in Germany (Naemi) and Denmark (Line), we are bombarded with translated novels the moment we walk into a bookstore. British and American literature makes up a huge part of the European market, so you can basically find the same books on those shelves that you would in English-speaking countries. It’s just – sometimes they get a bit of a makeover. A makeover that includes titles which are definitely not a literal translation of the original ones…
And today, we’re going to share some of these with you! Line and I have hunted down several popular novels that received rather interesting new titles in both of our native languages, and of course, we’re going to see which country did it better!
For every book, we’re going to start with a bit of background on the title change, and then award a point to the country we think has the better translation. The country with the most points at the end wins.
Also, to make this extra fun, you can vote right along with us! We finally figured out how to include polls in our posts – okay, fine, Line did 😅 – so you’d better make the most of them!
[I’m not sure if they work in the reader, though, so you might have to visit my blog directly if they aren’t showing up.]
And finally – this is a collab, so obviously, this post has two parts. If you haven’t read the one we wrote for Line’s blog yet and don’t want to miss any Easter eggs, you should definitely head over there afterwards and check it out!
With that, let the battle begin!
Book #1: Ruin and Rising (Grisha Trilogy #3) by Leigh Bardugo
Naemi: Since Netflix’s Shadow and Bone has reignited our obsession with the Grishaverse, we thought it’d be fitting to start with this one. The German title, “Lodernde Schwingen”, translates to Flaming/Burning/Blazing Wings. However, both the word “lodern” (to burn) and “Schwingen” (wings) are extremely poetic – in everyday language, you’d be more likely to use “brennen” and “Flügel”. But I think every German would agree that “Brennende Flügel” sounds incredibly stupid as a book title, so I guess the lyrical option works a lot better. Also, I actually have to applaud Germany! Even if it makes no sense whatsoever, I’ve found our translators seem to be extraordinarily enthusiastic about including some type of fire-related thing in their titles. But here, there really is a connection! I mean, the Firebird is kind of important, and I’m pretty positive it has flaming wings.
Line: The Danish title, “Skyggernes Trone”, translates to Throne of Shadows. If you read the post we did on my blog, you’ll probably notice that the Danish translator had a strange obsession with the Darkling… and it kind of continues here with the title of the last book. Shadows are his thing after all. However, since I remember very little from this book, I can’t actually say if ‘Throne is Shadows’ is appropriate, although I don’t think so. It’s definitely also very different from the original title despite sharing the same level of vagueness.
Naemi’s verdict: Just having reread Ruin and Rising, I’d actually say that Throne of Shadows is a pretty accurate title for this book. But I also can’t read it and not immediately think Throne of Glass. The two just sound way too similar! Still, I kind of like the Danish title. The only real problem I see with it is the translator’s Darkling obsession, but since I already punished Denmark for this in Line’s post, I think I can cut them some slack here. The problem is that while I like the German title, too, “Schwingen” is so poetic that about half the time I’ve heard it used is in some deeply religious songs about angels. And I just can’t help thinking that if a German picked this book up without knowing what it was about, it would scream “paranormal angel romance”. So I’m voting Denmark.
Line’s verdict: I liked the German better until Naemi said it makes the book sound like paranormal angel romance. I really don’t want to give the point to Denmark, but I guess this is the title where the translator is the least obvious about their Darkling obsession so I guess I should reward that. It’s just one of those titles that could belong to any YA fantasy book, so I’m not deeply impressed.
Book #2: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Naemi: The German title, “Tribute von Panem: Tödliche Spiele”, translates to Tributes of Panem: Deadly Games. For some reason, it’s become quite a thing here to publish series in a format where the first part of the title is the series’s name, which is usually displayed in gigantic font, whereas you almost need a magnifying glass to read the actual title. I’m not a huge fan, but I suppose it could help some readers figure out which books in a series belong together? Still, I’m not sure if “Tributes of Panem” was the best choice here. After all, this dystopian trilogy is about so much more than just the tributes. And regarding the “Deadly Games” thing, translators probably figured “Hunger Games” was a bit inaccurate, since the killing part is way more defining for the Games than the hunger part. But since they directly translated “Hunger Games” as “Hungerspiele” within the book, I’m not sure why they thought changing it in the title was necessary.
Line: The Danish title, “Dødsspillet”, translates to The Death Game. Basically the same title as the German one except for their series title, although the Danish translator also called it ‘Dødsspillet’ within the book. Any version of the cover that I’ve seen though, has “The Hunger Games” written somewhere on it. I think it’s fine because a direct translation would have sounded so stupid and awkward. “The Death Game” is a better representation of the book’s atmosphere.
Naemi’s verdict: Since these titles are so similar, there’s not really much to decide between. However, I’m still going to give this one to Denmark. First, because I’m not a huge fan of the gigantic series title overshadowing the actual book title of the German edition, and second, because I don’t think it makes sense to call the book “Deadly Games” if the Hunger Games have a different name within the book. I appreciate that Denmark was consistent here. Also, I just like the sound of “Death Game” as a compound a bit more than the adjective-noun combination “Deadly Game”, although I have no logical explanation for this.
Line’s verdict: Since these titles are so similar, I’m going to punish Germany for their series title here. I don’t like that at all. Not that it’s absolutely wrong, and I get that they needed a series title to make the books recognizable, but you can make it sound better than that.
Book #3: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins
Naemi: The German title, “Tribute von Panem: Gefährliche Liebe”, translates to Tributes of Panem: Dangerous Love. Ummm … Yeah. I think I’ll go hide under a rock so that the rest of the world can’t see just how badly I want to die of embarrassment right now. Some genius probably came up with the idea that marketing this as a romance – cringy title and cover included – would help it sell better. (Or maybe they were secretly Capitol agents who bought into the whole “tragic lovers” farce. Or someone really obsessed with Gale.) Never mind that it gives people a completely false idea of what this series is about… I don’t even need to see what the Danish translator came up with. As long as it’s not “Dangerous Love”, Denmark is getting that point.
Line: The Danish title, “Løbeild”, translates to Wildfire. So no, Denmark wasn’t inspired by Germany’s… creative title. The Danish title is based on the saying ‘spreading like wildfire’, which Danes also use. The thing that is spreading like wildfire in the book is the rebellious acts and thoughts throughout Panem. That’s also what the original title is referring to although you can argue there’s a difference in how fast the titles are implying the rebellion is spreading. Still a very accurate translation in my book. However, ‘wildfire’ isn’t a word we use outside of the saying above, so seeing that word on it’s own is kind of weird. I’m not sure everyone would connect it to the saying (especially not younger readers), but that’s also the only criticism I have of it.
Naemi’s verdict: I’m voting for Denmark. Obviously. They gave this book a perfectly reasonable title. Seriously, Germany, you had one job! How could you screw this up so badly?
Line’s verdict: These posts have taught me that Germany likes to put ‘fire’ in their titles. Now this one actually has that word already… but they completely ignore it! Make up your mind, Germany. Are you secretly pyromaniacs or not? But yes, that is a horrible title in every way. Dangerous Love? Surely someone from the Capitol translated this. Denmark wins.
Book #4: The Giver by Lois Lowry
Naemi: The German title, “Hüter der Erinnerung”, translates to Keeper of Memory. And I think Germany actually did a pretty good job here! The Giver is one of my absolute favorite dystopian books out there, about a seemingly perfect society where one person, the Receiver (of Memory), is tasked with remembering the past so the rest of the society doesn’t have to. And “Keeper of Memory” is simply how the Germans decided to translate that position. In contrast, the Giver refers to the previous Receiver, who is responsible for passing memories on to the next one. However, the German equivalent of “Giver”, “Geber”, just sounds a bit awkward as a title – maybe because unlike “giver”, it wouldn’t be all that odd to hear it in normal conversation. We have about fifty-million compounds that end in that word… So I think it makes sense that the other, reciprocal role was used as the title.
Line: The Danish title, “Jonas er Udvalgt”, translates to Jonas is Chosen. I have not read this book, but I guess it’s about Jonas being chosen for something. I thought this title was a joke because it sounds like a title of one of those books you read when you are learning how to read. Those that are 20 pages long and tell you a short but educational story about how Jonas is picked for the football team. And it becomes even stranger when I tell you that the Danish word for “The Giver” is “Giveren”. It’s the same word! Also, I’m genuinely sorry if our cover has permanently traumatized you.
Naemi’s verdict: I mean, Denmark’s not wrong. The protagonist of The Giver is called Jonas, and the thing he’s chosen for is being the next Receiver of Memory. But that educational book simile has got to be one of the most accurate and hilarious things I’ve ever read 🤣 We always had to read stories like that when I was in first grade, and I remember thinking they were unbelievably stupid. Why did I have to read stuff like Conni ist wütend (Connie is Angry) when the books my parents were reading to me at home were so much longer and more interesting? So yeah, there’s no way I’m giving this to Denmark. Germany wins fair and square.
Line’s verdict: This is the Danish title I’m most embarrassed about, but I really admire how Germany fixed their problem with “Geber”. And based on what I now know the book is about, it’s also like the German title is better than the original, so they’re obviously winning this one.
Book #5: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Naemi: The German title, “Nur drei Worte”, translates to Only Three Words. And I honestly have no idea which three words this title is talking about. “Ich liebe dich” (I love you)? “Ich bin schwul” (I am gay)? “Ich mag Oreos” (I like oreos)? I seriously hope it’s none of these, because they all sound horribly cheesy. Either way, this title is about as uncreative as it gets and tells you nothing about what this book is about. Whereas Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda perfectly encapsulates “this is a funny, endearing and tear-inducing novel about a teenage boy struggling with his identity”! I really don’t understand why the German translator decided not to translate the title directly.
Line: The Danish title, “Simon vs. Verdens Forventninger”, translates to Simon vs. The World’s Expectations. I haven’t read this book either, but I’ve seen the movie, so I do know what the title is referring to. And I do recognize that the title had to be changed because despite ‘homo sapiens’ and ‘agenda’ being words within the Danish language, they’re very much “fancy people”-words and not ones you put on the cover of a YA book. The original title is a reference to the term ‘homosexual agenda’ used by opponents of gay rights, and the Danish one doesn’t quite get that in there, but it still paints a picture of Simon struggling to be himself despite what the world thinks.
Naemi’s verdict: Since I have no idea what the German title even means, I’m voting Denmark. And I do think they did a good job! Simon’s struggles and the societal pressure he feels still come across beautifully, even with the “homosexual agenda” reference being cut. Also, I’d like to thank Line for pointing this connection out – now that she’s said it, it seems blatantly obvious, but I never connected those dots up until now 😅 I just thought Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was a cool title in and of itself.
Line’s verdict: I desperately want to know what those three words are, Germany. Still, I think I mainly blame them for not sticking to the unique Simon vs. XX format. Even if they didn’t want to keep Homo Sapiens Agenda, it just doesn’t strike me as hard to come up with something else for Simon to fight. Of course, I’m voting Denmark. I can’t imagine how they could have handled that title any better than what they did.
Book #6: Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking Trilogy #3) by Patrick Ness
Naemi: The German title, “New World: Das brennende Messer”, translates to New World: The Burning Knife. I guess the translator thought it might be a good idea to include “knife” in a title before the series was over, after translating something totally different for The Knife of Never Letting Go… And yeah, the Knife is certainly still important, though if you haven’t read this, probably not in the way you’re thinking. But the burning part?? Unless I have forgotten way more than I realize since the last time I read this a few years back, I don’t think it makes sense. Seriously, German translators, what is up with this burning need for fire references in your titles?
Line: The Danish title, “Krigens Monstre”, translates to Monsters of the War. The title of this book is based on a quote from the series itself which says: “War makes monsters of men”. Danish translators still aren’t liking Ness’s unique writing, so they included the war-element, but it still makes for a quite accurate translation.
Naemi’s verdict: Again, I’m going to have to give the point to Denmark here. Even though they didn’t go for a word-for-word translation of the original title, theirs is still pretty close, and most importantly, there is nothing about stuff burning! I’m starting to get genuinely concerned here – even the lack of fire in Germany’s Catching Fire translation can’t convince me that we shouldn’t keep a close eye on some of our translators around flames…
Line’s verdict: From what I remember about this book, the Germans including the knife is still quite relevant. And I think the burning could be interpreted figuratively and still make sense, although I can’t really say more than that. And yeah, I’m starting to excuse Germany for their use of fire because they’re clearly very attached to it. You do you. Still, the Danish is so close to being a direct translation that I can’t not give it to them.
Book #7: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Naemi: The German title, “Das Schicksal ist ein mieser Verräter”, roughly translates to Fate is a Lousy Traitor. It’s pretty much impossible to find an exact translation for the German word “mies”, which is very colloquial, extremely emotionally charged, but somehow still oddly endearing? 😅 But I guess you could see how someone like Hazel, who has been battling cancer for years, might say something like this. Still, I’m kind of sad that they got rid of The Fault in our Stars – which, in case you didn’t know, is an allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which I love! The corresponding passage
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
(Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141)
does have a German translation
“Der Fehler, lieber Brutus, liegt nicht in unseren Sternen, / Aber in uns selbst sind wir Untergebene.”
(Julius Caesar, I, III, 140-141)
so they could technically have used it, but even I have to admit that Der Fehler in unseren Sternen doesn’t have the same ring to it as The Fault in Our Stars. So maybe the title change makes sense after all.
Line: The Danish title “En Flænge i Himlen” translates to A Tear/Rip in the Sky. I didn’t know the original title was a Shakespeare reference, so I’m glad I can always count on Naemi to tell me about such things. I checked the Danish translation of Julius Caesar to see if the Danish translator had managed the reference. They hadn’t. And as far as I can tell, the title isn’t taken from anything else either, despite how poetic it sounds. It isn’t even an idiom. I’ll also say that a direct translation would sound weird and forced, and what they came up with instead is one of the best-sounding Danish titles I’ve ever seen. And it still incorporates some of those sky-elements from the original.
Naemi’s verdict: While I do like the sky reference in the Danish title and its poeticness, I’m struggling a bit to relate it to the actual content of the book. I mean, I suppose, like The Fault in Our Stars, it might mean that there is something wrong and deeply unfair about the world, something that we are powerless to change. It is unfair that some people are terminally ill with diseases like cancer and others aren’t. But I actually think that comes across even better in the German title. And the German title also perfectly conveys that sarcastic, somewhat pretentious, and yet still relatable narrative voice many of John Green’s books have. So I think I’ll go with Germany for this one.
Line’s verdict: I appreciate the German title for sounding exactly like something Hazel would say, and the Danish one doesn’t accomplish that, so I’m also going with Germany. Just know that it kind of hurts me not to vote for Denmark because they finally came up with a title that wasn’t awkward. I doubt it’s ever going to happen again.
Book #8: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Naemi: The German title “King of Scars: Thron aus Gold und Asche” translates to King of Scars: Throne of Gold and Ash. Nope, that first part obviously isn’t German. For some reason, both King of Scars and Rule of Wolves (“Rule of Wolves: Thron aus Nacht und Silber”, the second part meaning Throne of Night and Silver) kept their English titles in addition to getting a new German one that tells you next to nothing. I mean, we get it, Nikolai is royalty and all, but “Throne of Gold and Ash” sounds like the most generic fantasy title ever. Maybe this is also a case where the translators thought the title might help them cash in on the success of Throne of Glass?
Line: The Danish title, “Den Besatte Konge”, translates to The Possessed/Obsessed/Besotted King. There are so many ways to interpret this title, all of them wrong if you ask me. It can mean that Nikolai is possessed by something (evil creature, devil), which is accurate enough, although not when you think about how the original title is used within the book. “King of Scars” is something people call him because of how he looks and there’s even a Ravkan term for it. They can’t go around calling him “The Possessed King” because the point is that they don’t know about that. I haven’t read the Danish version, so I don’t know how they handled it within the book, but I’m actually very curious to know. However, “Besatte” can also mean being obsessed or besotted with an idea to an extreme, almost unhealthy degree. Considering Nikolai is a ruler who listens to advice a lot, I really don’t think this is the correct interpretation either.
Naemi’s verdict: Even though Line brings up some pretty valid complaints against the Danish title, you can’t deny that Nikolai is at least possessed by something in the book. Whereas I don’t recall reading anything about thrones of gold and ash… I could be wrong, since I hated the ending of King of Scars so much that I’ve never reread it, but judging by what I remember, Denmark still gets closer to the truth than Germany does. So I’m giving my point to Denmark.
Line’s verdict: I know I just complained about the Danish title a lot, but it’s actually not that bad, at least not next to Germany’s. Unless you go all analytical on it as I did, the Danish one is actually good. And those generic titles without any meaning behind them just aren’t getting my points, Germany. It already told us that the book is about a king, but then it felt the need to add a throne too. I could probably have guessed a throne was involved. And of gold and ash? What does that even mean?
Book #9: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Naemi: The German title, “Nach dem Sommer”, translates to After the Summer. And although this seems like the blandest title ever, it does actually have something to do with the book. Basically, Shiver is a werewolf version of Twilight, minus the toxic relationship that made Twilight interesting. However, these aren’t your regular full moon type of werewolves. Instead, the change is linked to temperature – when it’s warm out, the infected person stays human, when it’s cold, they shift into a wolf. Which will obviously put our star-crossed human-werewolf couple into a bit of a dilemma once the warm summer months are over… Do I think the title is still kind of boring? Yes. But then again, so was the book. And it’s not like “Shiver”, which simultaneously hints at the cold, the process of becoming a werewolf, and the wolves’ creepiness, would have been easy to translate… Literally every single German word that describes shivering has double meanings that could be confusing, or fails to capture what the original title was going for.
[Also, since we’re talking about translation here, did you know that Maggie Stiefvater’s last name is the German word for “stepfather”? I have yet to make it through a single BookTube review of her novels without succumbing to hysterics about how English pronunciation has butchered up this word. ]
Line: The Danish title, “Vildskab”, translates to Ferocity. To be honest, I’m not totally sure about the translation of “Vildskab” into “Ferocity”, but it’s the best fitting one I could find. The Danish word is about acting wild, almost like an animal. It’s actually a word I often hear in connection to sports when a coach wants their players to fight harder and show more passion. I haven’t read the book, so all I know about it is what Naemi just said, and I guess Ferocity is fitting for a story about werewolves. Danish has the same problem with the word ‘shiver’ as German. We have a ton of words for it, but nothing that would allude to the correct meaning without any doubts.
Naemi’s verdict: I genuinely can’t pick here. The German title makes this book sound like a bland and maybe somewhat tragic summer romance, but since that’s pretty much exactly what Shiver is, I can’t really find fault with the translator’s decision to use it. And while I don’t recall the werewolves being particularly ferocious, I do like that the Danish title captures the idea of someone acting like an animal. That seems adequate for a book about werewolves, right? Since I have to choose, though, I guess I’ll give this to the Danes, simply because I’d probably be more intrigued by their title than the German one if I saw it in a bookstore.
Line’s verdict: I’m also not particularly enthusiastic about either of these. If I only saw the German title and didn’t know anything about the book, I would probably believe it to be a cheesy adult romance novel. When you know what it references though, it is kind of cool. It is linked to the temperature element of the book which is what makes the book itself unique in the werewolf-romance genre, so I do think I want to give it to Germany because of that.
And that already brings us to the end of this battle! The final score is
Which means Denmark won by a landslide, but, quite honestly, for Germany’s Catching Fire title alone, I think they deserve to have lost this one. However, one battle does not win a war, so if you’d like to see if Germany did any better on a second attempt, make sure to check out Line’s half of this collab if you haven’t yet!
Before I sign off, though, for those of you that didn’t already guess – Here’s the first line we started with, but this time, in English:
“Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I never left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.”
First line in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
[Is there anyone else who else thinks that COVID has made Hazel way more relatable than ever before? Except for the eating infrequently part, this sounds eerily similar to my own current lifestyle…]
Anyway, feel free to tell us how you voted in the comments and where you agreed or disagreed with us, because we are very nosy and would love to know! Which translation do you think was the worst? Which one was the best? Are there any books that got strange title makeovers when they were translated into your native language?
And what did you think of our countries’ covers? We tried our best to focus on titles for the sake of staying on topic, but you can bet that Line and I were in hysterics over some of these design choices 😂
Other than that, I’ll see you on Friday with my June wrap-up!