Friday, November 21, 2014

A box without hinges, key, or lid...

Today I was thinking a bit about the Hobbit (because that is the sort of thing I think about); specifically about the novel and the old Bass and Rankin animation that had so much charm. Definitely worth a watch!

I've been a fan of riddles for a while now, and it may be that reading and watching the Hobbit as a kid played a part in that. There's one particular short and simple riddle of Bilbo's that I've always loved:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
yet golden treasure inside is hid.

The answer, of course, is an egg. Or "eggses" might also be acceptable. I was wondering today whether the Japanese version of the riddle is a literal translation, or maybe something with a delightfully poetic spin. The English version rhymes, and rhyming can be quite challenging to translate satisfactorily. The meaning will come across, but the flair, the feeling, some nuance, will often be lost.

A quick Googling brought up an old Japanese Middle Earth blog post from a few years ago, before the release of the recent movies, in which the writer shares the text of the riddles bandied back and forth between the hobbit and the, er...Gollum.

The egg riddle is laid out as:


Alas, it turns out to be a literal translation. Functional, yes. But lacking that something.

At any rate, now I totally want to read the Japanese version of the Hobbit. I'll have to add it to the massive queue of J books I have yet to get through!