The Book "The Hobbit" from J.R.R. Tolkien's. Reflection of the Romanian Translation

Scientific Study, 2020

88 Pages, Grade: 10





Operational concept: “children”
Major features of children’s literature
Diachronic evolution of children’s literature

Features of fantasy literature
Typologies of fantasy
Translating fantasy
The fantasy genre in Romania

Biographic information on J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit or There and Back Again

Macrotextual considerations
Paratextual analysis
Translation of the titles
Translation of the poems
Typographic interventions
Translation of proper names
Marks of orality




List of tables

Table 1: Chapter titles

Table 2: Toponyms

Table 3: Anthroponyms

Table 4: Miscellanea

Table 5: Exclamations

Table 6: Vocatives

Table 7: Onomatopoeia


The presence of a foreign author in a culture through translation is not the outcome of accident or fate. The decision to translate a particular work of a particular writer at a certain moment in time is governed by a number of factors. These may have to do with aspects as varied as the need for the introduction of a literary genre insufficiently developed/explored in the target literature, the introduction of an author who enjoys international acclaim, but is largely unknown in the target culture, or the need for retranslations that would reflect a change in readers’ expectations, tastes and extratextual knowledge of the author/work, a shift in the norms and conventions prevalent in the target system at a given time and which may or may not be ideologically driven, or simply a translator’s approach to a literary work that complies with his/her view on the act of translation. A diachronic investigation of retranslations of the same source text uncovers to which extent the above-mentioned factors influence the result of the translation.

In his paper “La retraduction comme espace de la traduction”, Antoine Berman approaches the issue of retranslation as a significant, yet often neglected component of the translation status in a culture. Berman maintains that while the original remains eternally young, translations “age” and no longer reflect the realities of the target language, literature or culture. Moreover, there is also place for “improvement”: “retranslating is necessary because translations age and because none of them is the translation: this shows that translation is an activity subject to time, an activity that has its own temporality: impermanence and incompletion” (1990, 1). In this light, it is exciting to consider the retranslations of such an iconic text for high fantasy literature as The Hobbit. In this study, the concept of retranslation is considered from the perspective of distinct translations of the same source text A.

Tolkien has acquired a certain status of fame in Romania, but apparently, to the large public, The Hobbit is probably more famous than his creator and this is particularly due to Peter Jackson’s film adaptation. However, there are already four retranslations of the novel, which is of no little significance, as this suggests an interest in the book itself. These are also highly important for the reception of Tolkien in Romania, given that the critical apparatus surrounding his writings, although insightful and scholarly, is not vast in Romania B. Our analysis relies on the four translations performed so far of Tolkien’s Hobbit. It was impossible to find the 2010 version signed by Dan Slușanschi that was issued by Paideia Publishing House. However, through the generosity of professor Slușanschi’s son, we managed to have access to the text of the translation. This is the reason why this particular edition of the text will not be considered in the graphic analysis of the translations.

The aim of this study is double fold. On the one hand, given that the translations were performed in different periods and the time span between them is considerable, we set to identify to which extent they bear the signs of their epoch. The moments of translation production were governed by distinct translation norms which were influenced by the prevalent ideological background, the status of the literary genre to which the novel pertains, the category of target readership envisaged and even the translators’ own agenda, idea on authorship and view of the translation process itself. In close connection with the concept of translation norms, the other objective of the investigation is to detect the overall orientation of the Romanian versions, i.e. whether they tend towards domestication or foreignization.

The research advances in concentric circles, from the more general towards particular elements of the analysis. A significant part is dedicated to the survey of children’s literature, particularly since fantasy is most often included in this subdivision of literature; in addition, three of the four Romanian translations explicitly address children of various ages. Further still, we have also proceeded to a contextualisation of the translations, which includes background information on the translators, but also a general outlook on the status of translations in general and of fantasy in particular in the Romanian literary polysystem at the distinct moments of translation production.

The study touches upon some of the most relevant, in our opinion, elements that differentiate the translations amongst themselves and from the source text. Thus, the analysis will take a comparative look at how the four translators (actually six, if we also consider the translators of the verses) solved potential roadblocks and provided solutions to issues such as the treatment of proper names, both anthroponyms and toponyms, the use of archaisms, the presence of orality markers and mechanisms of domestication/foreignization. However, it is far from being a comprehensive analysis and there is more unexplored ground for research both in respect of the topics that we have already touched upon and in aspects that have not been envisaged in this work. Since, to our knowledge, no comparative analysis of the Romanian Hobbits has been published so far, we hope this would represent a contribution, however small, to the reception of Tolkien’s work in Romania.


Any analysis of a piece of writing requires a theoretical scaffolding, a methodological support that guides the coordinates of the research and finally validates its findings. Our study proposes a comparative analysis of a world famous fantasy novel, The Hobbit, with its productions in Romanian that spread over a period of more than thirty-five years. Its aim is not to carry out an evaluative appraisal of the Romanian versions following a prescriptive direction, but rather to try and identify the extent to which the variables that govern the time of translation production (position of fantasy as a genre within the Romanian literary system, reader profile in terms of expectations and previous exposure to the genre, the translators’ own agenda, dominant ideology or agency) influenced the translators’ strategies and techniques and, as such, the final product, i.e. the target text.

The tools that proved to be most useful for our endeavour are provided by the branch of research in translation called Descriptive Translation Studies. DTS was actually a merger of two schools of thought, namely the Polysystem theory and Translation Studies. This theory represented a break away from previous approaches to the translation process – such as the linguistic or the pragmatic ones – that mainly considered translations in isolation, as mere results of a linguistic exchange. In the DTS approach, the “time” coordinate is of utmost relevance, as any process of translation has to take into account the overall context of a target culture, the evolution of a given literary system, but also any changes in readers’ expectations and the norms governing the target language/culture at a certain moment in time. It views translation as an element of a highly dynamic cultural structure, which interacts, influences and is influenced by all the other elements composing the structure. In this light, the diachronic and synchronic lines of a translation event are paramount in establishing its role in the target culture. As ours is a diachronic analysis of the Romanian productions of The Hobbit, the tenets of DTS have proven to be invaluable instruments of research.

Another instrument that proved to be invaluable for our study is the concept of norms as described by another DTS scholar, Gideon Toury. According to Toury, norms should inform translator decisions, as they are a highly significant component of the target culture fabric: “Norms are the translation of general values or ideas shared by a certain community – as to what is right or wrong, adequate and inadequate – into specific performance instructions appropriate for and applicable to specific situations providing they are not yet formulated as laws” (Toury 1995, 51).

Whether translators decide to comply with or run counter the norms valid in the target system at the moment of their translation dictates the orientation of the translation towards adequacy or acceptability. When a text strives to achieve acceptability, it complies with the conventions and norms of the target culture/language with the aim of reaching maximum readability and, as such, creates the impression that it was written in the target language. The translation inscribes the text in the literary and cultural tradition of the target system; if taken to the extreme, it is a clear case of naturalisation. On the other hand, when the aim of the translation is adequacy, it follows the source text as closely as possible, clearly signalling the otherness of the source and forcing readers to make efforts in order to access the universe of the foreign text. The concepts of adequacy and acceptability are the two ends of the translation continuum and the translated text tends towards one or the other, but not in the absolute sense, “because translation cannot be completely adequate, as the norms it abides by generate inevitable shifts from the source text. At the same time, it can never be completely acceptable, since it usually introduces new ideas, structures and forms in the target system” (Bîrsanu 2019, 282).

A translation may strive to achieve either acceptability or adequacy; in either case, it has to consider the norms and conventions prevailing in the target system at the moment of its production. Considering the diachronic perspective of our analysis, it is natural to take into account the norms applicable to the translation of children’s literature and to fantasy in particular in the various periods when the translations were produced. Following this line of research, we may be able to detect whether the main concern of the translators was acceptability from the target readership’s position or loyalty to the source text and the original author, in which case the notion of adequacy takes the forefront.

Apart from these, we have also relied on the works of researchers such as Andre Lefevere, who, together with Susan Basnett, advanced the idea of translation as rewriting, implying that the result of the translator’s work is an interpretation of the source text, a repeated writing, in a different code, under different norms and conditions and in a different cultural setting. They also claim that any process of translation involves, to some degree, a manipulation of the source text with the aim of complying with what they call ‘ideology’, i.e. the set of rules and conventions that inform the target culture at a certain moment in time. According to these two scholars, translation “is never innocent. There is always a context in which the translation takes place, always a history from where the text emerges and into which a text is transposed” (Basnett & Lefevere 1990, 11). We concur with them in that any translation needs a context analysis that would indicate its place within the larger literary framework of the target culture. Hence our contextualisation of the Romanian Hobbits which, as we are going to demonstrate later, considers the time of translation production, but also background information on the translators.

The analysis that makes the object of this study also benefited greatly from Lawrence Venuti’s pair domestication/foreignization applicable to translation orientation. When opting for a foreignizing translation, the translator deliberately favours a non-fluent rendition of the source text in the target language. This means that, by consciously resisting the conventions of the target system, the resulting translated text clearly marks the foreignness of the source text, shaking readers off their comfortable reading experiences; the ST signals “the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad” (1995, 20). The expected outcome is to raise readers’ awareness to the equally valid perspective of the world that is entailed by a foreign text.

Venuti places domestication at the other extreme; he considers it aggressive and dominating, as it strives to annihilate the strangeness of the source text and assimilate it to the dominant system of values and beliefs of the target culture. The resulting translation provides “readers with the narcissistic experience of recognising their own culture in a cultural other” (1995, 15) through the inclusion of additional explanations, the removal and/or adaptation of any culture-specific items from the target text and the use of a discourse pattern and style that do not run counter the preferences and expectations of the target readership.

These two approaches to translation are tightly linked with the concept of translator visibility/invisibility. Visible translators will make their presence felt in the target text through the decisions they make in relation to the inclusion of paratexts such as prefaces, foot notes or even dedications, but also through their interventions in the text that are meant to flag its alterity (typographic interventions, preference for neologisms/archaisms or transfer of culture-specific items without explanations); these translation strategies are the apanage of non-fluent or foreignizing translations. On the other hand, an invisible translator will favour the domesticating strategy that resorts to mechanisms which eventually make the translation read as an original, depriving it of its alien flavour. The comparative exploration of the Romanian versions of The Hobbit will also strive to detect the general orientation of the translations (towards domestication or foreignization), by taking into consideration the fact that no translation is absolutely domesticating or foreignizing.


Operational concept: “children”

Up until not long ago, children’s literature did not represent a topic of interest for academic research, being regarded, at best, a minor form of literature. When it was, indeed, considered for scientific purposes, the emphasis fell mainly on its didactic and pedagogical values, and not on its intrinsic qualities. This perspective was also due to the status of the child in society, the image of childhood in general and the needs that adults (parents, educators, publishers etc.) presumed to be essential for the evolution of children. Interest in children’s literature was marginal, because so was the status assigned to children in society until later during the twentieth century.

As there is a very strong connection between the approach to this form of literature and the image and evolution in time of the concept around which it revolves (children as target readers and/or main characters), we will take a brief overlook of how the concept of “child” developed in time. The notion of “children” was subject to numerous and fleeting interpretations and approaches in time. In preliterate societies, children were viewed in light of their social, economic and religious relations to their clan or tribe. They were thought of not as themselves, but as pre-adults. In ancient Greece and Rome, children, dressed in modified adult costumes, were considered miniature adults. Their importance lay not in themselves, but in what Aristotle would have called their final role: potential citizen-warriors.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the time spent as a child was completely ignored: “in medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist; this is not to suggest that children were neglected, forsaken or despised. The idea of childhood is not to be confused with affection for children: it corresponds to an awareness of the particular nature of childhood, that particular nature which distinguishes the child from the adult […] In medieval society, this awareness was lacking. That is why, as soon as the child could live without the constant solicitude of his mother, his nanny or his cradle-rocker, he belonged to adult society” (Ariès quoted in Thane 1981, 2). Times were not favourable to a consideration of childhood as a special part in a person’s life; apart from the nobility and the thin class of merchants, living conditions were rough for most of the population. Children had to join their parents in their efforts to make a living for the family; child mortality was high and education targeted at children was almost inexistent, as was the awareness of the distinct needs children had as opposed to adults.

This situation changed gradually beginning with the seventeenth century, which was a turning point in the consideration of the notions of “child” and “childhood”. This reconsideration occurred in two different stages. It has to be mentioned that this reinterpretation of the age of childhood – regarded now for the first time as a separate period between infancy and adulthood – was prevalent among the financially eased middle and upper social classes. Under the influence of religious paintings of the sixteenth century, adults began to see that children possess qualities such as innocence or cuteness.

However, the newly discovered period of childhood in the life of a future adult triggered the need for training and formal education. Although it was widely acknowledged that children were indeed different from adults, the dominant opinion especially among religious figures of the time was that, on the one hand, children had to be disciplined, and, on the other hand, that parents should become aware of their responsibility for the proper evolution of their children (Shavit 1999, 7). The ideas of the sixteenth century Reformation, with their emphasis on discipline and order, still endured in the seventeenth century. They were successfully completed by the emerging seventeenth century Calvinism, which “emphasised the depravity rather than the innocence of infancy, that the child was doomed to sin and evil unless controlled and trained by parents and by the schools” (Thane 1981, 3). Children seemed thus in need of special nurturing, that could purify their innate evil nature.

This gloomy view of human nature and the puritans’ strict mindset meant to turn potential ill-natured beings into do-gooders were replaced, towards the end of the seventeenth century-beginning of the eighteenth century, by the opinions of John Locke, who regarded children as empty recipients ready to be filled with knowledge. He approached not only aspects pertaining to formal education, which, in his opinion, had to be done with kindness and patience, but also touched upon parents’ relationship with their children, advising them to teach their children through play and to mind their emotional development as well. According to Locke, children are innocent and pure and should be moulded through proper and gentle training and guidance. In a way, one might consider Locke’s opinions as a precursor of parenting as we see it today.

Locke’s ideas were taken a step further by French philosopher Jacques Rousseau. In his book, Émile, Rousseau shares his view of children not as vessels devoid of content, but as human beings with their own concept of the world, which is not tainted by the prejudiced and biased thinking system of adults. Since, as they grow up, children become corrupted by society, Rousseau proposed social changes that would help adults maintain their childhood innocence throughout their life.

As can be noticed from the factors specified above, the development of the concept of “child” is linked to other numerous historical forces, among which the development of Enlightenment thinking (with Rousseau and, before him, John Locke), the rise of the middle class, the beginnings of women’s emancipation, and Romanticism, with its interests in the cult of the child and in genres which had a particular appeal to children (fairy tales, folk tales, myths and ballads).

Even if the perspective on children had suffered a considerable mutation in the positive sense, they continued to be considered diminutive adults when their reading habits were concerned. However, non-fantastic fiction in most countries regarded the newly discovered child in a mirror that reflected only a partial image of who s/he was.

Major features of children’s literature

The emergence of a new conscience of children as separate beings from adults, in close connection with the adults’ awareness (triggered by religious movements such as the Reform and Calvinism) of formal education led to the appearance of a literature targeting especially the needs (rather than the interests, at first) of this category of beneficiaries. “The society’s new perception of childhood created for the first time both the need and the demand for children’s books. This second notion – of child – eventually provided the framework for canonized children’s literature” (Shavit 1986, 7).

Despite a certain fuzziness in the conceptualisation of children’s literature (is it literature for and/or about children? Is it literature written by children?), there is general consensus that, in a broad sense, “children’s literature” refers to literary productions that address juniors, which does not mean that it is not also intended for grown-ups as well. Professor Cernăuți-Gorodețchi claims that, for defining purposes, it would be insufficient to consider children’s literature solely as that part of literature read by children (2008, 37), particularly since they do not have enough power to make decisions as to their reading list (which is mostly established by factors such as parents and educators, but also their environment).

Klingberg (1986) gives five possible definitions to children’s literature from the viewpoint of its content and the pragmatic orientation “author-intention-user”. Thus, he mentions: texts considered proper readings for children and youngsters; literature especially written for children; literary productions of children and youth; texts written for adults which children appropriated and, finally, every piece of writing which is read to/by children. It is also true that sometimes, children’s books seem to have been written with adults in mind, as is the case with the French Astérix series of comics which parody historical events.

Considered from a communicative perspective, children’s literature deals with a special type of reader, at a certain stage of the language acquisition process, with specific interests and rather limited life experience. The fairy tales collected by English, French and German writers in the 17th and 18th centuries were the first to take into account these features, creating, as it were, children’s literature as a literary genre in itself (although not all of them are indeed suitable for children).

The major topic of children’s literature, with the exception of most informative and didactic works, is children themselves. These literary works embrace the whole content of a child’s imaginative world and that of his/her daily environment, as well as certain feelings and ideas connected with it. In children’s eyes, this world consists of animated objects, plants, even grammatical and mathematical abstractions, toys, dolls and puppets, figures of fairy tales, myths and legends, even grown-ups seen from the child’s perspective, regardless of whether we talk about superheroes, parents or educators.

As compared to books for adults, those written with children in mind are more likely to deal with fantastic events that could hardly ever happen. This may be so because younger children do not always understand where real life ends and fantasy begins, while older children are nothing but happy to let their imagination go wild. Fantasy for children was frowned upon by adults in the 1700s and early 1800s, but, first in England and in regard of literature addressing girls, it was gradually acknowledged as acceptable reading.

One of the most salient features of children’s literature is that it develops more slowly than adult one. In terms of content, it started to exploit topics considered taboo until then such as race, war or social class only after World War II. Moreover, the pace of development varies greatly from country to country and from one region to another.

The most striking characteristic, however, is the creative tension resulting from a constantly shifting balance between two forces: that of the pulpit-schoolroom and that of imagination. The former can take on many guises. It may stress received religious or moral doctrines, which generated the Catholic children’s literature of Spain or the moral tale of Georgian and early Victorian England. Or it may have a pedagogical orientation, through the importing of useful information presented as dialogues or narrative. Whatever its form, it is distinguishable from imagination, which ordinarily embodies itself in children’s games and rhymes, fairy tales, fantasies, animal stories, poetry, humour and nonsense.

Also in connection with the major characteristics of literature addressing children, Cernăuți-Gorodețchi mentions ten elements that give this literary genre its specificity (2008, 46-53). They are to be detected across children’s literature with varying degrees of weight in the overall economy of the respective texts. Thus, the first she mentions is the relatively reduced dimension of the text, followed by a certain simplicity of language (consideration should be given to the somehow limited vocabulary of the readers); the third element refers to a preference for dialogue and action to the detriment of description or introspection; the fourth indicates that the plot unfolds chronologically, without going back and forth in time; the fifth refers to the character, who in most cases is a child, an animal, a fantastic creature or even adults but with such a childish behaviour that young readers can easily relate to them; the sixth element considers the classical pattern of conventions organised into pairs such as good and bad, with a well-defined set of moral principles, that almost always help the positive characters prevail over the evil ones; in close connection with the previous one, the seventh element refers to the overall positive atmosphere of the text, in which happy ending is the norm; the eighth characteristic of children’s literature reflects the presence of magic and/or fantastic elements, which signals that the action does not take place in the real world; the nineth trait indicates the willing omission of topics such as sex or the use of drugs or alcohol; finally, the tenth feature refers to the overall joyful outlook that encompasses even a transformation of language into an item to play with.

Children’s literature designed for entertainment rather than self-improvement, aiming at emotional expansion rather than the acquisition of cultural, moral etc. information, usually developed later. Alice in Wonderland, the first supreme victory of imagination, did not appear until 1865. Entertainment literature took its inspiration from oral tradition, nursery rhymes, chapbooks and the penny romance. While the didactic and the imaginative are usually considered at two extreme poles, they are not always antagonistic. Robinson Crusoe, for instance, is at once didactic and highly poetic.

Given the general features of CL that are shared by most literary productions that fit this definition, there can be identified a series of criteria that apply to the development of CL in any geographical area. Some criteria are artistic, while others are connected with social progress, wealth, technological progress or political structure. One criterion is the degree of awareness of child’s identity. Another one is the progress registered beyond passive dependence on oral tradition, folklore or legends. Yet another criterion refers to the rise of professional writers as distinct from moral reformers, teachers, clerics or journalists, i.e. all those who, for pedagogical, doctrinal or pecuniary reasons turn themselves into writers for children. The degree of independence from institutions of control such as the state, the church, the school system or a rigid family structure is also an important factor to be taken into account.

Another criterion reflects the invention of forms or genres and the exploitation of traditional ones: the extent to which CL depends on translations; the amount of primary literature, namely the number of productions aimed for children; the amount of secondary literature, that is criticism, reviews and institutional development such as libraries, book stores, publishing houses etc.

A historical consideration of the above-mentioned standards reveals a gap between the literary achievements in the Far East as compared to the Western world. Hazard (1978) claims that certain literatures are still in the state of oral literature, while others enjoyed international visibility due to the large scale use of their language. In Western Europe that has been a considerable difference between the north and the south parts of the continent: “In the matter of literature for children, the north surpasses the south by a large margin” (1978, 56). Hazard provides an explanation for this gap: “For Latins, children have never been anything but future adults. The Nordics have understood better this truer truth that men are only grown-up children” (ibid., 32). Historically, the south has shown a greater attachment to authoritarian control.

Diachronic evolution of children’s literature

Childhood is different in distinct parts of the world and has changed considerably over the centuries. The literature that people think suitable for children has changed a great deal, too. In the West, children’s literature is extremely rich, dealing with almost any topic, including racial conflict, sexual education, children’s rights and death. In earlier times, such topics would not have been allowed in pieces of writing addressing children; in other countries, these subjects are still taboo.

Early children’s literature

For a long time, children shared the oral tradition of the adults. When books first began to be printed, children read fables and religious writings. One of the first books printed by William Caxton in England was Aesop’s Fables (1484). The institution of the church disapproved of books being read for entertainment purposes, and so children were provided with sermons, which were often grim and menacing. At the beginning of the 1700s, an increasing number of people began to read and more books of fictions were published. Children adopted books initially targeted at adults such as Defoe’s Robisnosn Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Initially, these books served religious or political purposes, but were soon simplified and adapted to suit children’s tastes. Fairy tales were mostly imported from France.

In 1744, Mary Cooper, a London bookseller, published the first known collection of nursery rhymes entitled Tommy Thumb’s Song Book. Another bookseller, John Hewlery, published A Little Pretty Pocket Book, which was meant to make learning fun for the first time. It was sold with a ball for boys and a pincushion for girls. John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) is often quoted as an early enlightenment emancipatory influence. One of his daring ideas was that children should read for pleasure and, to this end, he recommended Aesop.

The modern period

Beginning the eighteenth century, the change of perspective on the status of children brought about a considerable shift in topics and writing style of books addressing children. The first book to show children behaving as they usually do, with adults treating them as children, was Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (1839). After that, children’s books became more fun. In 1846, Hans Christian Andresen’s fairy tales were translated into English. In England, there were mainly two types of writings, one aimed at boys, the other, at girls. In the latter category, the girls were depicted as helping the poor and the needy and living happy lives at home. Writings for boys focused on school stories and adventures. Many of these were set in historical backgrounds and were meant to educate and to entertain the readers. In the United States, girls were also encouraged to read books with strong moral principles, but the heroines had more freedom and stronger characters. A fashion for books about naughty boys was set in the United States by Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.

The period between 1860 and 1920 is often described as “the golden age” of children’s books. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have become classics. Writers such as Rudyard Kipling created a very direct style of writing for children, which was subsequently imitated on a large scale. Illustrated books became relevant in the late 1800s, as new printing processes made the printing of coloured books both better and cheaper. The most successful artist of the time was Beatrix Potter, whose Peter Rabbit books, with their delicate watercolour illustrations, were translated into many languages.

Since children’s books are written by adults, very often they reflect adults’ own world. After World War II, children’s books emphasised a sense of security. This period was dominated by two famous authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The former’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings, revisits many of the techniques and motifs of traditional romance and fantasy, including the quest for the Grail. Tolkien’s fellow scholar, C.S. Lewis, created his own world of Narnia, which made the books more adapted to children’s tastes.

After World War II, children’s literature became a major industry, producing everything from books for the youngest readers to young adult novels. Starting with the sixties, a great number of children’s books came from translations, which equalled national productions. The most important feature of the literature of the period is the idea of the reader’s active participation, which is gradually considered by authors themselves.

Beginning with the 1990s, children’s literature entered the era of globalisation. Supporters of the idea of literary globalisation claimed that there should be a sense of belonging to a single great nation. The idea was to instil in children the feeling that they are all part of the same whole, that they should become aware of and respect otherness, but without any pressure for cultural and social integration. In fact, as Pascua Febles claims (1998), the aim of multiculturalism was to create a multicultural reader by means of books belonging to different geographical areas, which come to be known mainly through translation.


Although it has a very long tradition and a rich history (as it is deeply rooted in ancient myths, folklore and legends), fantasy literature drew critics’ attention as a field ‘worthy’ of academic research only late into the twentieth century, around the seventies. If we think of the literary polysystem of a given cultural space as organised into concentric circles, we would find children’s literature set on a marginal circle, pretty much like literature for/by women. And if we are to inscribe fantasy within children’s literature, we would find that it has occupied, until recently, a marginal position. This marginal status was not due to its inherent literary qualities and values; it had more to do with adults’ perception and their (in)ability to clearly see and grasp the alternative fantasy literature proposes to reality. Which is paradoxical, since the Greek term, phantasia, translates into “making visible”.

In recent years, however, fantasy has turned into an important part of children’s literature. It is undeniable that this change of status has benefited from the fact that fantasy has also successfully entered other media apart from literature – film, cartoons, video games, manga, etc. It continues to gather momentum, as there is an increasing demand for fantasy literature addressing not only children, but also adults.

Within the larger circle of children’s literature, the fantasy genre has been regarded as the counterbalance for the mimetic part of literature dedicated to children. This mainly consists of so-called adventure stories located either in an exotic setting (as is the case with works signed by authors such as Rudyard Kipling or R.L. Stevenson) or a domestic one, in which case the characters share their adventures from school, from the time spent at their grandparents’ or in nature. These topics are completed, in the “realistic” children’s literature, by modern and unsettling themes such as social problems and inequities, racism or sex (Cernăuți-Gorodețchi 2007, 41).

To all these, fantasy works oppose a magic (in all senses of the word) alternative which, while not completely devoid of conundrums, problems and challenging choices, speak more to the child’s imagination and need of spiritual and emotional fulfilment. In this respect, fantasy has been defined as “imaginative fiction that allows us to explore major life mysteries without being limited by size, time or space. More specifically, fantasy literature, like all other forms of myth, springs from the human need to understand the struggle of good versus evil” (Gates et al. 2003, 2). Gates’ definition focuses on the psychological aspect of fantasy which explains its appeal to the readers: the human need to quest for answers to problems of the world, but also the need to dream of an alternative reality, where lines are blurred and the impossible becomes possible. This evasion into another reality is not, as some critics contend, a form of escapism, of leaving all behind and ignoring inherent hardship. It is precisely the contrary – an attempt to make better sense of the surrounding world and rehearsing, in the fantasy universe, roles that might be taken in the real one. This evasion is therefore “healthy and productive because, among other things, it can encourage skills in designing scenarios whereby individuals can pursue alternatives or try out new roles without actual risk” (ibid. , 3).

The psychological aspect is closely linked to the cultural side of fantasies. “Fantasy and mythology are intricately linked, and mythology and society are symbiotic. […] Myths are part of our cultural sub-conscious and they reflect valuable and universal truths that transcend context and culture and permeate into the fabric of human existence” (Pinner 2014, 24-25).

Features of fantasy literature

The psychological approach to the definition of fantasy literature is completed by another which pertains more to literary criticism. Thus, fantasy is seen as including fiction with a specific author, generally novel-length, that contains some sort of supernatural elements. It is considered to be closely associated with fairy tales (Carpenter and Pritchard 1990). In a nutshell, this definition comprises most of the coordinates of fantasy literature that link it to the modern folk tale and sets it apart from other literary sub-genres. Although they are deemed to be an extension of fairy tales – with which they have a close rapprochement in terms of themes, characters and stylistic devices – in fantasies there is no anonymous authorship and the works are usually longer than short stories and, in many cases, they even have sequels.

These are the macrotextual features of fantasy literature. The microtextual ones give this literary sub-genre its specificity. Although researchers have extracted a large number of such characteristics, most classifications could be summed up by Timmerman’s six-item model detailed in a 1978 paper, “Fantasy Literature’s Evocative Power”. The first on his list is the story, in connection to which he makes a differentiation between fantasy and allegory, as fantasies are often considered as representing something else. Timmerman argues that in fantasy, as opposed to allegories, the plot has value in itself and endures for its own merits and for what it represents for each and every reader. Moreover, in fantasies the story is the background for characters’ evolution through the action, towards the climax and beyond: “In fantasy, often a powerful tale, is compelling upon the reader, but it is also impelling in the work, providing action, encounter, desperation and resolution”.

Another trait refers to the nature of the characters. The protagonists are endowed with such qualities, undergo such dilemmas and are faced with such decisions that make them easily relatable to the readers. Even when the characters are not human beings, they possess some traits of character that liken them to humans. It is precisely this nature of the protagonists that conveys the message that any of us can turn into a hero of fantasy and change things for the better. Timmerman makes two other observations in connection with fantasy characters. The former is that they retained some of the innocence of childhood and, as such, they are more willing to engage in adventures. That is also the reason why most characters are children. The latter observation has to do with heroism. As opposed to the bulk mass of mainstream literature, in which the hero saves the others, fantasies relay the message that anyone can be a hero. A fantasy adventure is a quest towards finding inner strength and activating all the attributes that make us human. By saving the others, a fantasy hero reconnects with his/her real self.

The third feature is connected with the creation of another world, which is similar in many respects to our day-to-day reality, it is not a dream world. The main difference resides in the fact that in the fantasy realm, prominence is given to the spiritual landscape, and not to the concrete one. Another trait is the insertion of the supernatural, which is not merely a theme, but the engine that triggers the unfolding of the plot and character development. The fantastic and the magic are so tightly interwoven into the fabric of the story, that sometimes they become characters themselves.

A fifth trait of fantasy reflects the classical battle between good and evil forces. On this field of battle where the characters walk, the line between good and bad becomes blurred sometimes and they need to take action, to be active in order to find the right track. Only by acting and chasing inertia and passivity away can the hero come achieve the certainty that his/her decisions are correct. Although the ending of fantasies is positive and bright, there is a sense of loss, struggles and doubts that were part of the hero’s road to spiritual fulfilment.

Finally, the sixth feature refers to the fact that any fantasy involves the idea of a quest. Timmerman distinguishes between mere adventure, which does not have a clear itinerary and can move in any direction whatsoever, and the quest, in which the destination is already known, as are the possible dangers and obstacles towards reaching that final point. With that goal in mind, the character has to resort to all his spiritual resources, because, more often than not, in fantasy the quest has a marked spiritual value.

And in this last trait resides the key to any fantasy, which is actually a journey towards one’s profound self. Fantasy is not about escaping one’s reality with all its inherent issues, but, on the contrary, it is about initiating an expedition toward the deepest layers of one’s consciousness, sometimes a more challenging endeavour than the confrontation of reality. The transposition in another (fantastic) world and the results of the inner quest may contribute to the shaping of this reality and to the formulation of solutions to problems it may raise.

Typologies of fantasy

In broad lines, fantasy followed the same evolution as children’s literature in general. Therefore, in the nineteenth century, which saw an upsurge of this literary genre, fantasy was confined to topics, literary styles or techniques considered to be safe for children’s emotional and spiritual development. In the modern era, however, fantasy has been liberated from the stylistic and narrative constraints of the past and has come to embrace so many forms, that it has developed numerous subgenres to cater to almost any type of reader.

In historical fantasy, the plot is set against the background of real history, in which actual historical figures interact with fictional characters oftentimes of magical and/or fantastic nature. The aim of resurrecting the past is achieved in a manner which leaves room for new interpretations, although in most cases the historical events remain ultimately unaltered despite the intervention of magic and fantasy.

Animal fantasy is mainly aimed at children and has a long history, which can be traced back to Aesop’s fables and even farther in time, to the oral tradition of legends, myths and folktales. The cast in this form of fantasy consists of voluble animals, mainly domestic, as they are the most familiar to kids (wild animals such as those from Kipling’s Jungle Book are more rarely encountered), which are endowed with traits specific to humans through a process of anthropomorphisation. Many such animal fantasies can be read in an allegoric key that reflects human societies. The most frequently met animals that borrow from their human counterparts traits of behaviour, attire and personality are rabbits, mice, cats, pigs, foxes or squirrels. Some of the best known illustrations of this subgenre of fantasy include Beatrix Potter’s stories, Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (2001) or Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

High or epic fantasy is rooted in ancient myths, legends and epic tales. As opposed to low fantasy (which is set in the real primary world), high fantasy occurs in a fictional world, with its own internally constructed rules and structure which provide it with logic and coherence. Usually, high fantasy is recognisable due to three distinctive traits: the use of noble heroes, archetypes and elevated language (Gates et al. 2003, 121). The main character is noble either by birth or due to his inner qualities which make him/her capable of great deeds. Archetypes (such as the mother, the hero or the shadow) provide a recognisable framework to the plot, whereas formal language transposes readers into a world of civility. The main theme revolves around the battle between good and evil and the hero’s quest for means and solutions to defeat evil forces helps him/her mature and acquire further positive qualities, which turns the fantasy into some form of bildungsroman. J.R.R. Tolkien is regarded as the founder of high fantasy with his Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring trilogy, but the list also includes C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia or P. Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

Dark/Gothic fantasy takes its inspiration from the Gothic novels of the 17th-18th centuries. As such, it makes use of the themes (death, pact with the devil etc.) and scenography to be found in Gothic literature: cemeteries, medieval castles, catacombs, innocent victims in danger and valiant saviours, vicious characters. Although they may not seem appropriate for children (but, of course, it depends on the definition of “children”), they enjoy great success among this category of readers due their suspense and mysterious atmosphere. Suffice it to say that Harry Potter, although a blend of fantasy subgenres, has very marked accents of Gothic fantasy, which are part of its appeal.

Religious fantasy (mainly Christian) casts heroes who undergo a series of adventures usually set in a secondary world, against the background of religious ideas. Fantasies borrow from religion both topics and characters – the image of the hero and his quest, the conflict between good and bad, the rite of passage or the need for a saviour. In religious fantasy, commonplace features are the hero’s personality traits dominated by Christian virtues such as patience, wisdom, kindness, and/or a fictional realm which is actually the scene of the combat between good and evil forces.

Comic fantasy relies heavily on humour as a tool to parody various other literary subgenres. It makes extensive use of puns and jokes as literary mechanisms meant to create characters and develop the plot. Terry Pratchett is considered to be a master of this fantasy subgenre.

Translating fantasy

In this study, we follow the line of research that inscribes fantasy within children’s literature. The main reason for taking this path is that all the Romanian translations seem to be targeted at children as the main category of readers. Therefore, we will consider the process of fantasy translation along the lines of target language productions addressing children.

There are two sets of challenges that are faced by translators when approaching fantasy. On the one hand, if the translator decides that s/he translates for children, s/he needs to be aware of the specific profile of this class of readers, who have certain expectations, but also a limited knowledge of the world, a specific level of emotional development and already formed literary tastes, especially if we include teen readers in this category. But, if the translator considers that his/her version addresses both children and adult readers, s/he has to account for the fact that adult readers, aficionados of the fantasy genre, have a solid background of previous readings and are familiar with plot and character construction, but also with the semantic and stylistic scaffolding of such a piece of writing.

The other category of possible challenges for translation is represented by the specifics of the genre itself, which comprises elements such as invented names, a very poetic discourse, character idiolect and, in some cases, culture-specific items (or culturemes). Moreover, translators have to carefully weigh whether they choose the path of domesticating the text or foreignizing it in keeping with the conventions and strategies dominant in the target culture in the period when they produce their translations.

It is a fact that translations do not appear in a void and that there are numerous factors that contribute to its appearance: agents – translators, publishers, editors, but also the status of translations in the target system at a given moment and, within it, the status of a particular genre with its norms, conventions and potential readership. In this respect, Even-Zohar (1990) mentions the existence of a literary polysystem, which is organised into concentric circles, with more relevant literary genres at the core surrounded by layers of less significant ones from the perspective of the dominant literature. The same organisation in circles applies to the relationship between original literature and translations, where there is a certain interdependence and a special form of dynamics. This means that, at certain points, original literature holds the main position, while the marginal one is assigned to translations; the reverse is also possible at times when the domestic literary system lacks models and patterns which are found in a foreign one and which are imported through translation.

According to Even-Zohar, in a given literary polysystem, translations may hold the central place in three situations: when a literature is young and needs models; when a literature holds a marginal position or when domestic literature is faced with some crisis and needs rejuvenation. In these situations, translation contributes significantly to the strengthening of the target system through the introduction of new forms of expression, inspiration and composition. This is particularly the case with fantasy literature in Romania. It had quite a slow evolution on itself and became known to the Romanian public mainly through translation. As a matter of fact, the genre has received scholarly consideration only in the last two decades, with just a handful of researchers willing to tackle this genre which is still considered ‘minor’ by the establishment.

The fantasy genre in Romania

When The Hobbit was first translated into Romanian, in 1975, there was not even talk of fantasy as a literary genre and Tolkien was completely unknown. In her introduction, the translator, Catinca Ralea, touched upon the specificity of his writing by calling them “fantastic books”. That was all that was to say about fantasy at the time. However, after the 1989 Revolution, when there was no longer any censorship on literary genres and authors to translate, massive translations were produced, particularly in the science-fiction field. Fantasy had a slower evolution, but a steady one; so it is that now there are publishing houses that have entire collections dedicated to it; not to mention that the constant concern for the translation of fantasy and an increasing interest from both children and teenagers have stimulated the local production of fantasy books.

In his book, Fantasy, Cătălin Sturza makes a very thorough analysis of the genre with focus on its status in Romanian literature. In support of the claim that fantasy is constantly considered within the confines of children’s literature he mentions the commercial success of fantasy collections in Romanian translation. According to Sturza, this can be accounted for both by the appeal of the plot and atmosphere (“the opportunity to escape in a fairy tale universe, the presence of magic and fabulous creatures – very similar to those present in computer games – doubled by the presence of familiar elements from their own universe: schools, teachers, exams” (2019, 47)) and the fact that the readers can easily relate to the heroes.

Sturza also sketches a useful history of original writings of fantasy in Romanian. Although not named as such, there are some novels and short stories that may be deemed as pertaining to fantasy literature on account of a number of features they share with the genre. Obviously, the “fantasy recipe” has been followed to more or less successful outcomes. From among writers that published their writings after the Revolution, he mentions names such as Vladimir Colin, Radu Pavel Gheo, Răzvan Rădulescu or Liviu Radu, who published their novels around the year 2000. This year is actually relevant for the evolution of the genre in Romania, as it marked its detachment from the field of science-fiction with which it had been agglutinated until then. The path towards the autonomy of the genre – which readers and researchers alike started to see with different eyes, not as a mere appendix to children’s literature – was paved by translations that had prepared and instructed the public on this form of literature. It is obvious, thus, that in the Romanian literary polysystem, as far as fantasy literature is concerned, translations hold a central position. It has helped establish fantasy as a genre in its own right by providing models for original local creations and helping shape readers’ tastes.

Apart from translations, the reception of an author in a foreign culture benefits greatly from a critical apparatus. In Romania, given the still marginal status that is assigned to fantasy literature, critical reception is not extensive and centres mainly on the reception of Tolkien’s works. And since the object of our study is a novel signed by Tolkien, we will focus particularly on the reception of the British philologist’s works. Cătălin Sturza dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the critical reception of Tolkien in Romania. Thus, readers will be surprised to find out, given the little attention received by the author on Romanian ground, that the first paper dedicated to the British author was signed by Nicolae Steinhardt, who astutely grasped the in-betweenness status of his works that address children and grown-ups alike: “Tolkien’s merit is to have understood that one of the most convenient and happiest manners to capture the mind of an adult consists in making use not necessarily of concepts and ideas, but rather of symbols, myths and metaphors connected with the universe of childhood” (quoted in Sturza, 120).

Tolkien’s writings have received constant attention from literary critic and writer Robert Lazu, who dedicated to him two in-depth works: Lumea lui J.R.R. Tolkien and Enciclopedia lumii lui J.R.R. Tolkien, the latter being a collaboration with several other authors, among them professor Mihaela Cernăuți-GorodețchiB and Györfi-Deák György, who authored numerous other papers dedicated to fantasy literature and Tolkien in particular. Another monographic work was co-edited by Robert Lazu and Virgil Nemoianu, J.R.R. Tolkien. Credință și Imaginație, in which celebrated names in literary criticism comment upon various topics related to Tolkien’s work, from his resourceful use of mythology to the multi-layered meaning of his literary creations.

Despite the critical interest in Tolkien’s works, it is indisputable that the large public discovered him particularly after the 2012 release of the first part of the film trilogy based on the original novel, namely The Hobbit. An Unexpected Journey. This is proven by the fact that, in 2013, one year after the film release, RAO Publishing House issued three editions of the novel. Apart from the one that is beautifully illustrated by Jemima Catlin, there are two others, which have a marked commercial stand. It is obviously a marketing strategy to use, as covers, images from the movies, as a means to attract readers. The same could be said about the translation of the trilogy Lord of the Rings, which was actually translated before The Hobbit. The first volume was printed in 1999, followed by the two others in the two successive years, 2000 and 2001, respectively. The success of the novels and, with it, of fantasy literature and Tolkien alike took an unprecedented turn in Romania, with a massive demand for the book as well.


Biographic information on J.R.R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Africa, but at the age of three he moved with his mother to England, where he remained for the rest of his life. He studied at Exeter College, Oxford; he volunteered to join the British Army and thus became a combatant in the First World War. Because of health problems, he was not able to take part in many combats, and in November 1920 he left the army for good. But before retiring, during his convalescence, he started to design his Middle Earth universe, which marked the beginning of a creative adventure to last his entire life. His writings took the form of The Book of Lost Tales later to be renamed The Silmarillion. The year 1920, when his second son was born, was also the beginning of a long tradition of Christmas letters that were posthumously collected in the volume The Father Christmas Letters.

It was also in 1920 that Tolkien started his career as an educator when he accepted the position of reader in English at the University of Leeds. In 1936 he managed to finish his first novel, The Hobbit or There and Back Again, and, surprised and encouraged by the success of the novel, he embarked on the design of a complex saga, The Lord of the Rings. Because of the harsh general context surrounding the outbreak of World War II, the trilogy only saw the light in 1954-1955. He was already a well-known writer when his work started to be published in the United States in 1965. He became so widely famous – a status he neither expected, nor desired – and his quiet life was so profoundly shaken, that he was forced to leave Oxford and move to Bournemouth, a much quieter place.

Probably the accomplishment for which Tolkien is most widely known is his creation of an entire ancient universe, cosmology included, for which he took his inspiration from British, Germanic and Nordic mythologies. In the design of his fictional languages, he relied on his mastery of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic philology (Chance, 2001). Considering the vastness of the Tolkian world inhabited by characters which are in possession of humanity traits to various degrees, who have numerous adventures and are the heroes of happenings that are as exciting as they are universal, it has often been read in various allegorical keys. Although the “reality” of Middle Earth mirrors in some points aspects of the real world, “it is NOT a replica of the real world”, as professor Cernăuți-Gorodețchi maintains. It is a world with its own laws, dynamics and interactions and its own creative coordinates, but which, as it happens, speaks of “power and frailty, desires, fears, temptations, dare and tiredness, patience and haste, love, hatred, envy, friendship and sacrifice, time and times, victory and failure” (2007, 19) – all of which happen to enter the fabric of the world we are all inhabiting now. Tolkien’s universe is timeless, because it tells of things that once made and still make the most in-depth tissue of our being in the world.

It would be impossible to fully grasp the intricate mechanisms of Tolkien’s creation in the absence of a thorough reading of his On Fairy Stories. It is both his personal credo and a guide, if you will, into the subtleties of fantasy as a pure form of Art, as he calls it. In the creation of Secondary Worlds – which hold a very close connection with the Primary one – the artist is compared to a sub-creator, shaped after the image of God, the divine designer of the Primary World. The best vehicle for fantasy as the manifestation of sub-creation seems to be literature, because words can build up the mystery that painting, for instance, fails to render. The professor also draws a distinction between Enchantment and Magic, claiming that the former is essential for designing a Secondary World, whereas the latter is merely producing effects in the Primary World. The Epilogue closes his lecture in a Christian note, emphasising the element of “joy” that is the main attribute of good-written fantasy similar to the Gospels which, through the central message of Christ’s resurrection, convey the idea that life triumphs over death.

The Oxford scholar was not only a skilled writer; he also did translation work and glossed on the role of the translator as the interface between the reader and the text. It is highly relevant – and it is also a privilege and a fortune for translators – to be aware of his opinions on the labours and expected outcomes of translation. He claims that the translator should first and foremost be concerned with the text, with rendering the true meaning and intention of the author; this faithfulness to the text may prevent potential misreadings and, thus, the subversion of the text. The translator is bound to approach the ST as a mediator, not as an interpreter or as a critic of the text; the translator should collaborate with the author, not compete him/her. Thus, in the preface to the translation of Sir Gawain and the Great Knight that he performed together with E. V. Gordon, he claims that the poem (and, by extrapolation, any text) should be approached “with an appreciation as far as possible of the sort which its author may be supposed to have desired” (Preface, 7). His translation agenda does not include an appropriation of the source text, but a self-effacement of the translator who is only meant to facilitate the encounter between the source text and the target readers. It is also notorious that he wrote a guide for the translation of the proper names in The Lord of the Rings. And it is obvious that any translator who embarks on the difficult task of translating Tolkien’s works should first become acquainted with his own opinions on the act and process of translation.

The Hobbit or There and Back Again

The creation of The Hobbit or There and Back Again started in a rather unspectacular manner. In one of this letters Tolkien mentioned that while he was grading his students’ papers, he wrote on a blank page “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”. Although he did not have a very clear idea of what a hobbit was at the time, he started writing this hobbit’s story, which he completed in 1937. The publication of the novel was met with great success, which took the Oxford professor by surprise.

It is a known fact that Tolkien had a complete dislike for allegories, and so the story should be interpreted as it is: a quest for the truer self, for the discovery of strengths and abilities that lie dormant until trials forces one to take them to light. This is embodied through the story of Bilbo Baggins, a seemingly unadventurous hobbit – hobbits being one of the races that populate Middle Earth together with elves, gnomes, goblins etc. – who is lured by Gandalf, the wizard, and Thorin Oakenshield into what proved to be quite a dangerous journey. The purpose was to recover the dwarves’ treasures captured by the fierce dragon Smaug. Although at the beginning Bilbo does not seem to be a highly useful addition to the Company of Thorin and his twelve road partners, through courage, intelligence and initiative, he demonstrates that he is a trustworthy companion, one that could be relied on in any challenging situation. From the perspective of heroic conduct, while Men represent “the traditional noble and knightly style of heroism”, hobbits stand for “the kind of courage exhibited by the ordinary person who rises to heroism in the face of challenge” (Purtill 2003, 60).


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The Book "The Hobbit" from J.R.R. Tolkien's. Reflection of the Romanian Translation
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tolkien, hobbit, romanian, translation, overview
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Roxana Ștefania Bîrsanu (Author), 2020, The Book "The Hobbit" from J.R.R. Tolkien's. Reflection of the Romanian Translation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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