School of Communication
Primary Subject Area
Tolkien, language, linguistics, translation, subcreation, nontranslation
Current views on the translation of Tolkien are that his works are completely translatable and understandable. The Lord of the Rings has been translated into many languages, and has sold millions the world over.
While an argument cannot be made for the non-translation of Tolkien’s works, his tales should be experienced in English whenever possible. J.R.R. Tolkien was by profession a philologist, and by hobby a creator of languages and story. His life work was the creation of a unifying legendarium, spanning thousands of years and dozens of languages. These languages and Tolkien’s use of English form the backbone for the intentions and outcomes in the story.
Without a proper understanding of the linguistic and cultural journey that takes place, Tolkien’s motives and the narrative thrust of the story are in many ways diminshed. Three options are available for a translator, with necessary but qualified translation being the preferred route for translation of Tolkien’s works.