Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was first translated into Swedish in the 1950s. A fresh new translation was produced in 2004-05, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the book, as well as the movie trilogy.

Erik Andersson, the translator of this new version, kept a diary of his thoughts around this work. This diary was published under the title Översättarens anmärkningar (“Translator’s notes”).

I’ve always been fascinated by the craft of translation, and by LOTR in particular. It was the first major book I read in English, and the book that definitely lured me into fantasy, which led on to SF, which now dominates my reading. In fact I started on a translation of LOTR into Estonian, sometime in my early teens, together with a friend. I don’t think we got further than 100 pages or so.

Översättarens anmärkningar is an interesting and entertaining little book. The entries range from Andersson’s difficulties with translating “pools of light” and all the various names in LOTR, to his back pain – and the endless flood of suggestions, corrections and objections he gets from Tolkien fans from all over Sweden. “Translating The Lord of the Rings is almost like translating the Bible,” someone notes – everybody has strong opinions. Andersson has an editor, of course, but also a reference group, a group of fact checkers, plus various engaged fans who send him their unsolicited comments, or call him, or post their views in online forums. On top of that there’s Tolkien’s own “Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings” – he was rather unsatisfied with a few early translations.

I haven’t read the new translation (or the old one for that matter) but I liked what I saw of Erik Andersson’s style and philosophy in Översättarens anmärkningar, and really enjoyed reading it. Several times I found myself reading slower only to make the slim book last longer. Nevertheless it ended far too soon.

AdLibris.


With excellent timing, an essay was published today, comparing the two Swedish translations of LOTR and discussing the very different philosophies that underlie them. God åkermark eller fet och fruktbar mylla? – Om Erik Anderssons och Åke Ohlmarks översättningar av J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings. Long and very interesting.

Actually, the Mac arrived on Saturday, but I haven’t had a chance to unpack it. Now I’ve actually opened the box and turned it on. It’s a joy to look at, outside as well as inside. I’ve never had that feeling with a computer before.

But I really feel like a novice: I don’t know how stuff works, I lose my windows, I’m sometimes not sure whether an application is running or not (or whether it even matters) and I know no keyboard shortcuts.

Now comes the hard slog of migrating all my documents (mostly photos), my RSS and mail archives, and my bookmarks. But not today.

I considered switching to Mac Mail, but now I’m leaning towards keeping Opera after all, mostly because no straightforward migration path seems to exists. And I’m very used to Opera, and quite happy with it. Perhaps I’ll look again later, after I’ve moved everything from the PC to the Mac. Or I might keep just my archives in Opera and use Mail for all new stuff?

It’s January 27th, 4 days before the deadline, and I’ve just gotten my (UK) tax return done and submitted. There’s something about the combination of “tax return” + “online” that really makes me drag my feet. I know it’s going to be boring, and I know the bottom line will be negative, and at the same time I know that (because I’m submitting online) there’s no rush.

My track record for the past 6 years: January 25th, January 22nd, November 27th, January 19th, December 30th, January 27th. I think the 2004/05 tax return got done so early because there was a discount offer for the software I use to do my tax return, and the discount expired end of November. This year those few pounds weren’t enough to make me download the software early.

The one thing I miss from my pre-child days are the lazy Sundays. The days when I felt like doing nothing much at all – perhaps because the weather was gray and wet, or because I was tired, or just because. Days I spent in the sofa, reading, only occasionally getting up for a quick meal.

Now with Ingrid there’s no chance of more than 10 minutes of peace and quiet, unless she’s asleep, or Eric and Ingrid both leave the house. Otherwise she’s always wanting me to read a book, play with her, watch Miffy with her, endlessly. If I insist that I want to rest, she tells me she wants to rest too, and lies next to me on the sofa – for all of a minute, after which she gets restless. She’s not fond of lazy do-nothing Sundays. I guess it’s something one learns to appreciate after a certain age.

Four or five years ago, global warming was a fringe topic. The kind of thing that occasionally came up in conversations or published news, but it wasn’t on everybody’s minds. Then something changed, and global warming got everyman’s attention. Now hardly a day goes by without a GW-related news headline. I guess this means that the issue is perceived as important, for real, and isn’t going to go “out of fashion” the way ideas sometimes do.

Not that this attention has led to much actual action (as far as I can perceive). I remember a cinema ad campaign about GW that I saw in London. Solemn children quietly looking towards the sky, and a voiceover of children’s voices asking questions like “What will happen to polar bears?” and “Will we all turn into puddles if it gets really hot?”. The punch line was, “Write to your MP and ask the government to do more.” You yourself don’t need to do anything, the government should somehow fix this.

I wonder what it will take for people to actually start changing their behaviour.


PS: If you have any articles or other resources with more information or data on the emergence and growth of global warming as an idea, let me know!

Sometimes I read a book and, after finishing it, wonder if I read the same book as all the other reviewers. This is the case with Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Long Sun series. The back-cover comments (not by Oprah or by some little back-country magazine but by big-name newspapers and famous SF writers) call Wolfe “the best novelist in America”, and “a national treasure”, and describe the novels as “one of the major SF series of the decade … a bona fide masterpiece”. And I read all four books, with slowly decreasing enthusiasm, and come away rather disappointed, relieved that it’s over and I can read something else.

The series was originally published as four books, but it would make no sense in reading them separately. It is really one 1200-page book, broken up for the sake of reading convenience. (I read the two-volume edition.)

The book is set in an artificial world inside a vast spaceship. Several centuries have passed since the world was created, and by now its inhabitants, both biological and robotic, have forgotten that that’s what their world is. The creators and the gods of the world have mostly withdrawn, and haven’t been seen for decades in the electronic altars of the temples of the world. Technological skills have declined, knowledge and tools partly lost – no new advanced products are manufactured, and old ones are mostly maintained by scavenging parts from totally broken ones.

In this world lives Patera Silk (Patera meaning priest). He’s in charge of a small temple & school complex in a poor part of town. The temple is bought by a crime lord, probably to be razed and replaced with more lucrative buildings. Silk decides to fight for the survival of the temple.

Silk’s story starts out personal and local, but then spirals at increasing speed, as he is enlightened by a god, gets caught up in high-level politics, becomes a prophet and inspires a civil war. All the while learning what his world really is, who the gods really are, and so on.

While I was reading this, I kept feeling that the book is picking up, is about to become interesting, is taking a new turn. But even though it took new turns, they didn’t lead to any real improvement. It was never bad enough to make me give up, but never actually enjoyable either.

The first book was slow; ploddingly so. It starts midday of day 1 and ends in the early hours of day 2, and Silk spends most of that time performing an impromptu burglary, aimed to save his temple. (Somehow that idea makes sense to him.)

At least that book was clear and made sense. The following books set a slightly faster pace, at the expense of clarity. We now see and hear the story from the viewpoints of multiple persons, not just Silk. But far too often, each thread is cut off just before something important happens, and we only hear about it through some half-informed conversation later on. This trick gets repetitive and annoying. There is way too much talk talk talk and too little direct participation in the action. I really wanted to shout at Wolfe: “Show, don’t tell!”

Even worse are all the cases where we are sort of given the facts and then some hours later Silk (or some ultra-perspicacious colleague of his) tells someone else something like “I think you were really his mother, even though no one knew, weren’t you? Here are the clever observations and connections I made. Was I right?” Oh please can you stop showing off your smarts!

The fourth book was probably the weakest of them all. There were more and more unexpected turns, making me feel like I was lost on the sea in a storm. Rushed and confusing. Then suddenly the book was over, and most of the questions he raised were still unanswered.

There are occasional great scenes, but the series as a whole just felt contrived, rambling and lifeless, full of complications for the sake of complications. I don’t understand the point of this series, nor why Wolfe wrote it.

One Amazon reviewer said “If you’re already a Gene Wolfe fan, you may like this series. If this is your first Gene Wolfe series, you may never read his work again after this series.” I guess I might give him another chance, but only after this experience has had a few years to fade in my memory.

Amazon US – parts 1 and 2, parts 3 and 4. Amazon UK – parts 1 and 2, parts 3 and 4.

This month’s big news is that we’ve finished breastfeeding. We took it slow and easy (almost 6 weeks from decision to completion) so it wasn’t much of a struggle but Ingrid still misses it occasionally. Early December I cut out breastfeeding from the afternoon we’re-home-from-nursery cuddle session. Then a week later I told her that she would not get to nurse in the evening when she goes to bed. Then in mid-December she was sick with a high fever, and so miserable that I relented and let her nurse in the evenings again. Around Christmas I took that away again. Once that happened, she also became less interested in nursing in the morning. Partly because nursing once a day was not enough to keep the supply up – and partly because she was happy and rested each morning because she wasn’t woken by an alarm.

Food goes in the mouth!

One day I told her that there was no more milk, and she accepted it pretty well. “Ingrid eaten it! In the mouth! And then the tummy!” she told me. She still talks about milk and boobs almost every day, though. Some days she asks to nurse and I remind her that there’s no more milk. She confirms: “Piim sai otsa. I Ingrids magen!” (“Milk all gone. In Ingrid’s tummy!”) Other days she just tells us, randomly in the middle of some totally unrelated conversation: “Pappa ingen tiss. Ingrid ingen tiss. Bara emme tiss, bara emmel on piim!” (“Daddy no boobs. Ingrid no boobs. Only mummy boobs, only mummy has milk!”)

That last quote is pretty representative of her liberal mixing of Swedish and Estonian. When talking to me, she almost always uses both languages in one sentence, even when she knows all the necessary words in one of the languages. Some words have always tended to always come out in Swedish, even when she’s generally speaking Estonian, and vice versa. But in general Swedish now dominates. She always speaks Swedish to herself, and often to me, too. I prompt her – “What’s that in Estonian?” – and generally she’s able to find the words, but in the next sentence she’s back to Swedish.

Now that she’s generally speaking well and confidently, I’m starting to sometimes ignore her when she speaks Swedish to me, waiting for her to repeat in Estonian. When she was younger I was happy when she spoke any language, but now I think she’s got a solid enough foundation, and I can be a bit more demanding.

It doesn’t help that she’s still very fond of TV (Teletubbies has now been complemented by Miffy) and spends about an hour in front of the screen every evening. That’s all in Swedish, which means we spend much less time reading Estonian books or singing Estonian songs. We’ve also lost our bedtime stories: she now prefers to lie quietly in her bed, next to me. Every evening I ask if she wants a story, but no, she wants me to lie down. Which means even less Estonian exposure.

And the books affect her language a lot. She’s often quoting Miffy or Alfons or something. Miffy is actually quite good for this, because unlike Teletubbies this movie uses proper grownup language. I think that (plus the novelty value) is why she now prefers it to Teletubbies.

When she isn’t quoting movies or books, a lot of her conversation has been small stories about sequences: of things that have happened, or things that tend to happen, or things that she intends to do.

Du ramla i sängen. Och så gjorde ont och du var ledsen. Och så hüüad Emme! ja emme tuleb. Siis emme sülle ja on parem.
You fell down in the bed. And it hurt and you were sad. And then you shout Mummy! and mummy comes. Then sit in mummy’s lap and it’s better.

or

Emme gå till jobbet. Pappa och Ingrid gå till dagis, och sen pappa gå till jobbet. Emme [???] eftermiddag [???] dagis och sen emme och Ingrid hem.
Mummy go to work. Daddy and Ingrid go to nursery, and then daddy go to work. Mummy [???] afternoon [???] nursery and then mummy and Ingrid home.

Ingrid’s current favourite activities apart from TV are jigsaws (still going strong), hide-and-seek, and cooking. She got a toy stove for Christmas, together with an assortment of pots, pans, spoons, and toy food. Apart from jigsaws, that’s the toy she uses most, by far. The toy food is a set of sandwich parts – bread, slices of egg, cheese, ham, tomatoes etc – all with small pieces of velcro so she can assemble a sandwich and play with it without it falling apart. And the sandwiches are just large enough to fit nicely in the pots and pans.

Food not done yet

She potters around with her stove, making hot sandwiches: assembles several sandwiches, puts them in pots, then into the oven. Closes the oven, tells us that the food is not ready yet, and then reports that it’s time to check if the food is hot, and finally serves it to us or to her doll.

There seems to be no end to Ingrid’s interest in jigsaw puzzles, so we keep adding to her collection. Occasionally she still plays with her cube puzzles, too, but one’s almost too easy and the other one’s a bit too hard. She’s more interested in the jigsaws, anyway – and becoming really proficient, because she gets lots of practice.

She likes re-doing the same puzzles, unlike adults who generally do a puzzle once and then put it away and go on to the next one. With Ingrid it’s the opposite: the first time is less fun, and she needs a lot of support. Then she learns what the picture looks like, and how to look at each piece, and plays with it much more independently. After a while she knows the puzzle by heart, but that doesn’t diminish her enjoyment. She still likes assembling the farmyard picture, which was her first larger jigsaw (20 pieces), and she’s had it for almost two months. Some evenings she can assemble it four or five times, turning it over to begin again as soon as she’s finished. I think it takes her no more than a few minutes now.

Surrounded by puzzles

But she does more than just memorise the puzzles. She has now learned the difference between edge pieces, corner pieces and middle pieces. She’s learned how to try different orientations when a piece should fit but doesn’t. And she’s learned to actually think about what she’s doing. It used to be that she grabbed a rather random piece and tried to put it somewhere random. If it didn’t fit, she tried something else. Now she looks at the puzzle, sees that she needs a piece of a flag, and looks for it – or takes a piece, checks if it’s something she recognises, and then tries to find a place for it. Great cognitive training! Plus it’s patience training, too: “Det är svårt! Den passar inte! Prova en annan bit.” she says to herself. (“It’s hard! It won’t fit! Try another piece.”) Her newest, largest puzzle has 48 pieces and last time it took her three or four evenings to finish it.

When she’s in the mood for something slightly more actively social, we play hide-and-seek (and it’s real hide-and-seek now, not like last month). It seems to be a favourite game at nursery, too: several days now when I’ve asked her what they’ve done, she tells me they’ve played hide-and-seek. At home at least, it’s almost always her counting and me hiding. She very much likes counting to ten, and she likes finding me, but she hasn’t quite understood how to hide, and mostly looks a bit confused when we try and switch roles.

Hide-and-seek actually has three roles, not two: in addition to the hider and the seeker, there’s the hinter. Ingrid’s patience and especially her imagination are still quite limited, so if she doesn’t find me within a minute or two, she gets confused and gives up. She hasn’t figured out the concept of looking again, more carefully: if she doesn’t see me at first glance, she concludes I can’t be there. That’s where the hinter comes in. “Could emme be in the bathroom? Go look in the bathroom again. Not there? Go look in the bedroom,” Eric says. That way I can find a slightly more interesting hiding place than just round the corner, and the game lasts a bit longer. When it’s just the two of us playing, it’s almost enough for me to go to another room, and some part of me needs to be immediately visible (like a foot sticking out from behind the sofa). When we have Eric as a hinter (or vice versa) I can hide under a sheet in the laundry room, etc.

Speaking of counting, she’s now also understood for real how to use numbers to count things. For quite a number of months she’s been able to tell me when there are two of something, but not beyond that, even though she could name the numbers beyond two. I think it’s because she could see “two” at a glance, without needing to count. Now she actually counts things, pointing at them with a finger. Occasionally the finger goes too fast and she touches two items for one count, and sometimes she loses track and skips an item, so quite often she reports having four fingers on a hand, but she’s definitely grasped the general principle. (For a short while the fingers were often six: she’d count them – one, two, three, four, five – and then loudly announce, SIX!)

It may sound like we spend all our time with pedagogical exercises and educational activities. We don’t. It’s just that Ingrid enjoys learning. One of us thinks “wouldn’t it be interesting to see what she thinks of X”, and we discover that she really enjoys X, and in the process of playing with X she learns stuff. One day Eric thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to see if she can understand the difference between left and right. It turns out that she could, so now she knows that as well. Other times we discover that she doesn’t enjoy X at all, so we forget about it and do something else.

When we need something more energetic, we wrestle and tumble and twirl. She’s too heavy for me to swing her by holding onto her hands, but I can still twirl her around that way. Or she runs in circles around me while holding my hands. Her goal seems to be to make herself as dizzy as possible, without falling down, which is why she wants to hold on to me: otherwise she reaches the falling-down stage much faster. My tolerance for twirling has improved massively over the last half-year. Still, she could keep going far longer than me, and then collapse in a heap of giggles.

She’s developing a giggly sort of sense of humour. I’m sure she’s had a sense of humour for a while, but it has been quiet and understated. Now there’s a lot of bubbly laughter, cheeky faces, and general monkeying around. She enjoys tickling, and making funny noises and faces, and silly games like me pretending to eat her toes and fingers.

Blogs and web sits I would write if I had a lot of time on my hands:

  • Good stuff – where I would find something good every day, something worth appreciating. Good news, good events, personal successes, beautiful things seen during the day, etc.
  • How life used to be in Soviet Estonia – before we all forget what it was like.
  • 1000 everyday facts – like the previous one, but written now and not 20 years later. Something for my grandchildren to read. It would be an interesting exercise to try and guess what might change in the next 50 years.
  • Recipe-free vegetarian cooking – vegetarian improvisation and cooking without following a recipe.
Exhibition poster. Foto: © Yves Bresson

Yesterday we went to the Nationalmuseum to catch their exhibition about trompe l’oeil art, “Lura ögat”, during its last weekend. The objects on display were many and varied, ranging from 17th-century paintings to video installations.

Based on the exhibition poster I was expecting most of the works to be modern, but the bulk of the exhibition consisted of works from the heyday of trompe l’oeil painting: pictures pretending to be plaster reliefs, or deceiving the eye about the dimensions of the room, or simply attempting such verisimilitude to make the viewer believe that what we see is not a painting but the real thing.

The video installation I mentioned showed a woman balancing on a tightrope that’s runs just along the horizon, where the sky meets the sea. Other modern works included what seemed to be a photo of Queen Elizabeth II but turned out to be a photo of a wax statue at Madame Tussaud’s.

The exhibition topic was interesting and so were the contents, but the presentation was suboptimal. There were too many objects in too few rooms: many of them would have made more of an impression if they had had more space around them. Especially the small rooms were way too small (or way too crowded) – I skipped several rooms because I could not see past all the other people in there. It’s partly my own fault for waiting until the last weekend, of course. The poster image was particularly badly placed, in a corner, opposite a three-dimensional installation which left a relatively narrow passage in front of the image, so everyone was queueing to go past there.

Many of the older hyperrealistic paintings lost much of their effect because of the frames around them – they became nothing more than impressive still lifes. That’s the traditional way to display oil paintings, I know, but it was not very appropriate for this exhibition. On the other hand, Escape from the Critique looked great.

I also thought there were disproportionately many paintings of quod libets (paintings of small objects on a wall, like this one), which became much of a muchness after a while.

My favourite was Yrjö Edelmann’s Packed Picasso (Blue period). What you see here is a photo of a painting of a parcel containing a painting.

You can see many more pictures on the exhibition’s press relations page.

Whenever I write a book review here, I always browse other people’s reviews, too. Mostly I do it after writing my own but sometimes before. They don’t change my opinion, and I don’t lift content from them, but sometimes they help me clarify my own thoughts: things that I feel vaguely but can’t quite put my finger on. It’s also useful and interesting to read opinions that differ from my own.

Often I also read reviews before I buy books. In London I could go to a bookshop and find new interesting books just by browsing, but here that’s not so easy – the shops carry very limited ranges of English books. So I have to resort to the internet, which means no browsing, which means I have to have some idea of what I’m looking for. Mostly I find them via SF Site or other blogs, and then I go to Amazon and/or to Google to get a second, third, and fourth opinion.

This has been one of the reasons why it’s been so hard for me to find Swedish books to read (or Estonian, which is even harder): almost nobody reviews these books. There are only reviews for the absolute top of the bestseller list, and even then they’re often very few – all I find with Google is dozens of copies of the publisher’s blurb and maybe one or two reviews by the major newspapers. Anything older or less mainstream, and I find nothing at all. Same for Estonian books.