Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Have you read Stieg Larsson's "Men Who Hate Women"?

Yes, you likely have, though you may not know it. That's the literal translation of Larsson's original Swedish title (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor) for the much-honored novel known to English readers as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The title of the book's Italian translation is a literal rendering of the Swedish: Uomini che odiano le donne. So are the Danish, Norwegian and Dutch titles, and the French is virtually literal: Les hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes. (The German title goes in a different direction, but that's a matter for another post, unless Bernd or Lars wishes to weigh in here.)

For now, why do you think English-language publishers decided not to translate the novel's harsh title? This is not a trick question. I have read or heard nothing on the subject, so educated guesses, provocative polemics, informed speculation and inside dope are all welcome.

P.S. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first and only book of Larsson's Millennium trilogy to have been translated into English. All three books have been translated into French and German and two into Dutch. That's one area in which English does not lead the way.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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37 Comments:

Blogger Lauren said...

I'm neither Bernd nor Lars, but since I do know this one, I hope you'll forgive me for answering. Especially since what follows is, er, lengthy.

Anyway, the trilogy in German follows that rather peculiar tendency for snappy (or at least similar - cf Mel Brooks films) sounding titles: Verblendung, Verdammnis, Vergebung. (Blindness, Damnation, Forgiveness.) I suppose that gets the character arc, more or less, but I think the implication is rather more conventional than the way 'redemption' actually pans out. (Unless there's some similar wryness to the original titles intended, which play up the plot in all sorts of interesting ways.)

Book two's original title is Flickan som lekte med elden, which I *think* is something like 'the girl who played with fire', but you'd need to check with a Swedish speaker. (Given the plot, the fire refence is very clever and I hope they keep it in English. It'd actually work with 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.'

Book three in Swedish is Luftslottet som sprängdes, which has something to do with exploding castles in the air, but my pidgin Swedish doesn't get me further than that.

I really don't know why they change titles, except that in this case the original is quite confronting. Crime fiction doesn't always attract the most radical readership, and I'm not sure how well it would have gone down. (Even though the book is by a male author, the cynic in me suspects the original title would have led younger men in particular to avoid a book that they actually grabbed with a tattoo.) I suppose it's better to sell and debate afterwards than stand on principle with a stack of remainders. Still...

At any rate, "Men who Hate Women" is a powerful statement, whether in the title or text. And it sets the tone for the rest of the series - in parts of book two you're certainly given even more evidence of evidence of female-hating men.

Oh, and apparently a film version of part one of the trilogy is already underway - it's apparently conceived as a feature film plus two 90 minute TV films.

Scandinavian crime trivia AKA "it's a very small world": the Swedish actress cast as Lisbeth is married to the actor who played Stefan Lindman in the Yellow Bird Wallander series.

June 17, 2008  
Blogger The Clandestine Samurai said...

"Men Who Hate Women" is a powerful statement, but in this country, it's usually those kinds of titles that draw the most attention.

Crime fiction is more of an intellectual genre than anything (to me). In today's times, the American public is continuously assaulted with media that discourages intellectual activity. A lot of things also try to go the way of controversy. A title like the one above is bound to arouse some curiosity from passersby.\

But perhaps the publishers did not want that kind of attention for the novels. Rather, going for something more authentic.

June 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, your thoughtful and information-packed answers are always welcome even though you are neither Bernd nor Lars. I'd have invited you to comment, too, if I'd remembered that you read German and had even mentioned in this space that you'd read Stieg Larsson in that language.

The Italian and Dutch titles of the second novel mean "the girl (or woman) who played with fire," and the French title is an interesting expansion of the same idea.

You're right that the original title is confrontational. Perhaps I'm thinking like an American because I'm in the U.S., but my first thought was that political correctness prevented at least the American publisher from going with a translation of the original title. Perhaps the publisher feared protests or at least rejection from people who would be turned off without having read the book.

On the power of tattoos as an inducement for male readers to buy crime novels, I know you saw this interesting juxtaposition on the Euro Crime blog. Perhaps other might be interested as well.

June 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, controversy sells, but the concentration of book distribution in a fewer and fewer hands has forced a more conservative stance on publishers. Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime says booksellers today could never get away with what paperback-original publishers did in the 1950 and '60s -- naked women on the covers of books, for instance. He says the buyer for one major department-store chain, I think it was Wal-Mart,insisted on changes to the cover of one Hard Case book because "We don't like dirty feet or butt cleavage."

June 17, 2008  
OpenID maxine said...

Very interesting discussion!
I agree this is a strange practice, and when the titles can be different again for US and UK editions (as Karen at Euro Crime posted only last Sunday for one of her reviews), it is even more incomprehensible. Add that to the infamous "translated out of order" and readers are very confused.

On this particular front, I believe there was a little kerfuffle over at the Rap Sheet (Ali Karim post) about the translation of GWDT, in which "Reg", the translator, took part -- but I don't recall if the title came into it or just the fact that the text itself was edited further by the publishers after the translator translated it. Moans were expressed all round, anyway (but not by me, I don't have any knowledge on the topic, and I know that untranslated authors have to put up with titles being imposed by publishers in different regions for no clear reason, so this does not seem that different to me).

June 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the reference to the kerfuffle at the Rap Sheet. I shall look in.

I'm not sure this title change is that different from other, similar cases, except that English seems to be almost alone in having avoidied a literal translation of the Swedish title.

June 17, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

When Alice Munro's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' was published in the US the title was changed to, 'The Beggar Maid.' Apparently the expression used for putting someone in their place wasn't common in the US.

Who knows? Titles are tricky, you want them to attract attention (which isn't the same as sales, by the way) but you don't want them to only make sense after you've read the book - which is the way writers often think of them.

Hey, that could almost be a question on here, what titles only made sense after you read the book?

June 17, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall be sure to give you credit if I post that question. I'm surprised that Who Do You Think You Are? would be changed. What could it mean other than what Alice Munro intended?

I suppose it is of sociological interest that Canadians find it natural to put someone down for acting above his or her station. That is not the sort of thing for which Americans are known.

June 18, 2008  
Anonymous Michael Walters said...

I don't have any authoritative insights into why the title was changed, although I share my UK publisher with the late Mr Larsson. Having just finished reading (and enjoying) the book, I suppose it strikes me that the original title might have sounded over-polemical at least to a UK readership. I very much liked the book's polemical edge, but I do think it's a relatively uncommon trait in UK crime fiction (or, at least, tends to be more covert - I blame our British reserve). More prosaically, I also wonder whether there was a concern that the Swedish title gave away too much of the plot. For me, one of the strengths of the book is the way it shifts, gradually, from apparent cosiness into something much nastier and more shocking.

As a writer, one of the things that intrigues me about the book is its discursiveness. Although it's always gripping, at times it's very slow-paced by comparison with much US/UK crime writing, with lengthy digressions into aspects of the back-story (and even, at one point, the detailed specification for a laptop). The positive side of that is that, as a reader, you become deeply immersed in the book's world - but again it does seem to be something of a Scandinavian characteristic that differs from the UK/US tendency to keep pushing the story along. On the other hand, maybe I'm just mildly jaundiced because I'm currently in the middle of editing my next book and it's that kind of digression that my (excellent) editor always wants to trim. And she's usually right.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The guess about British reserve makes sense. In this case, British reserve and American timorousness lead to the same decision about titles. I wonder what the novel's Swedish, Italian, French, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian publishers would have to say about suggestions that the original title gives away too much.

The book's discursiveness appears not to have hurt its international appeal. It is the most buzzed-about novel in the field since I started Detectives Beyond Borders.

June 18, 2008  
OpenID krimileser said...

Sorry Peter,

I haven't read the trilogy, therefore I can add nothing useful. I think that "Verblendung, Verdammnis, Vergebung" sounds more modern than a verbatim translation of "Men who hate women" or of the title of the second book, which reminds me somehow of some (translated) titles by Wahlöö/Sjöwall. Perhaps the publisher thought, that "Verblendung, Verdammnis, Vergebung" have some mystery but still intellectual quality.

"Verblendung" btw could also mean infatuation. Often the titles of German translation are rather weak (one of the early posts on my blog was a rant about that) but these are strong, I think.

If I recall it correctly you had last summer a post about "alternative titles". Olen Steinhauer's books regularly change titles when they cross the Atlantik. His explanation was "I think the idea was that placing city names in the titles would raise market appeal". Translated books in Germany often change the title when they are reissued.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, which is useful despite your assertion otherwise. The German titles certainly do make an evocative sequence: Blindness/Infatuation, Damnation, Forgiveness. To me, they sound like titles of movies that Erich von Stroheim might have made. A reader also pointed out that a literal translation of the Swedish title for the second book, which would be The Girl Who Played With Fire, would work well as the English title of the first one. That could well be a consideration for publishers as well.

The most recent title change I noticed for a German crime novel translated into English was Christa Faust’s Money Shot, which became Hardcore Angel in German.

June 18, 2008  
Anonymous bookwitch said...

I suspect the attraction is that a naked tattooed back sells books.

The original title would have been better, considering how book two continues the tale. It really is a case of men hating women, and never mind the tattoo.

The castle in the third title is literally an "air castle", i.e. a castle that isn't real. This is what gets blown up.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The title of the third novel appears related to the English expression "castles in the sky," i.e. delusions. On the subject of naked backs and tattoos, have you seen this juxtaposition on the Euro Crime blog?

Oh, and with respect to the first book's original title, if kvinnor means women, I presume the -or is the plural ending, as is -er in other Germanic languages. Would this leave kvinn or kvin as the word for woman? If so, is it etymologically related to queen?

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

The OED has cuen/cwen, from the Anglo-Saxon, as the origin of Queen, but that wouldn't preclude a Nordic linguistic connection given where the Angles, Saxons (and Jutes) came from!

Tattoos on a female back do sell, and it's quite possibly a cheap trick, but I think Men who Hate Women is too confronting in the mass-market English speaking world to attract idle browsers or follow-the-leader types. I'd rather get people to read the book, and have those who care argue afterwards, as long as the text itself isn't altered. But then again, the only thing I tend to publish are academic articles with very long and bland titles!

By the way, I agree "Men who hate women" is a very strong title for the whole series. (I think they're using the Millenium trilogy in the publicity material though.)

With regards to Michael's earlier comment, thanks for the information. I also found the book surprisingly and enjoyingly discursive (even if the Powerbook sections made my eyes glaze over), and much more polemic than usual for the genre - I wonder if more got through in this case because the author had died? I'd imagine posthumous editing is tricky.

My own translation question for the crowd: luckily it's not so in Larsson's case, but why do other long series end up in English so drastically out of order? Surely any sales advantages of starting with a particularly good exemplar are outweighed by the confusion of jumping in mid-stream!

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note, to which I will reply at greater length when I have a bit more time. For now, though, I can say that I should soon be making a post about another Swedish crime series that has been translated out of order about as drastically as I can imagine.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, the Swedish counterpart of the OED ought to be able to answer the kvinnor/queen question. I will also try to remember to ask a librarian. But queen's descent from a hypothetical proto-Indo-European *gwen-, meaning woman or wife, is suggestive, as is the Gothic qino, with the same meaning. So is the suggestion I found that the word probably meant woman before Old English specialized it to mean the wife of a king. Boy, this is fun!

I've seen references in English to the Millennium Trilogy, so perhaps publishers will market the series under that name. My guess is the same as yours, that Men who Hate Women might strike publishers (and readers) as too confrontational, which leads back to the original interesting question of why this possibility did not stop publishers in other languages.

In what field do you publish those academic articles?

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

I read something about this recently but (can't remember where yet!) - all I can remember at the moment was the fear that "The Man Who Hated Women" would sound like a non-fiction title.

Maxine was referring to the fact that the translator was not happy with changes made to his work on the UK end so he changed his name from Steven T Murray to Reg Keeland on the byline. Wonder who they'll make the cheque out to should he win the Dagger :-).

June 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Let me know if you do remember where you read that. The sentiment strikes me as odd because The Man Who Hated Women as a non-fiction title would strike me over the top and far better suited to fiction.

I had heard about the controversy, but I had not kown that Reg Keeland was the well-known Steven T. Murray.

June 22, 2008  
Blogger Euro Crime said...

Found it! Article in Publisher's Weekly:
"Once Knopf won the series, the first issue to tackle was the title of that initial volume. Mehta said that he bought the book as Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but when he and his colleagues learned that the original title translated to Men Who Hate Women, they considered going with that. “The fear was that the original title might be alienating,” Mehta said, adding that he also worried the work might sound like nonfiction. Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer put it more bluntly when he said the original title “might work in other countries, but... would surely and quickly sink a very good book here.”

June 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the article. It appears that the publisher was almost honest about the reasons for changing the title and that the publicity director was completely so.(I still maintain that Mehta's statement constitutes circumstantial support for a theory of management of which I already have considerable personal, empirically verified experience: that the higher a manager rises, the less he or she tells the truth. At the very highest levels, the proportion of truth in statements to employees is so close to zero as to be virtually non-existent.)

June 22, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

Hello Peter R, EuroCrime, et al, a friend alerted me to the ongoing conversation about Stieg Larsson's book titles. Here's the straight dope.

I submitted my translation with the original title, MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. And yes, "kvinnor" is the plural of "kvinna." No ambiguity about this title whatsoever in Swedish. See the epigraphs for each part for more clarity on one of Stieg's major concerns.

The UK editor picked the Dragon Tattoo title, I would guess for commercial considerations. (Unfortunately the illustration suggests a Chinese-style tattoo, which does not match up with the description in the later books. I've even seen one reader complaining that there was nothing about China in the book!)

By the way, "Reg" is the British cousin of Thomas Keeland, himself noted for an early translation of a thriller subjected to extensive editorial cutting in the USA.

And it's odd that the current word for "queen" in Swedish is "drottning" ("dronning" in Danish and Norwegian), while the meaning of "woman" has completely taken over "kvinna" (Danish "kvinde," Norwegian "kvinne").

The title of book #2 is literally "The Girl Who Played With Fire." Haven't heard the title for #3 yet, literally "The Air Castle That Was Exploded" -- a more manageable 3 words in Swedish. No idea what they'll do with that one. "The Girl Who Blew Up the Castle in the Air/Sky"? But IMHO they are even better books than #1.

More questions on the books gladly taken, though some may have to be answered in private "due to commercial considerations."

July 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for your comment, which is rich with possibility for follow-ups. For now, I'd suggest only that English rather than Swedish is the odd language out. During my quick and dirty research on this matter, I read that English was the exception among early Germanic languages in restricting "queen" to the meaning of "female ruler."

July 07, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

Hi Peter et al, Just want to confirm that the French titles of all 3 books conform to the original titles given to the books by Stieg Larsson in Swedish. Titles of books 2 and 3 were shortened before publication in Sweden. And Stieg was indeed adamant that "Men Who Hate Women" be the title of book 1. (A woman friend told me she would never read a book with that title...)

I translated all the books in 2006, the last volume from the original MS prior to editing in Sweden. Sorry you all have to wait so long to read books 2 & 3! Hope the movies turn out to be better than what they did with Smilla.

September 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the books!!!
//Gill (gillbates.co.cc)

September 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Reg. It would be interesting to speculate about your friend's aversion to such a title, a task I may undertake when I have a bit more time. I have read, too, that the English title for the second book will be closer to the Swedish original.

September 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read the three book in french, almost 1900 pages of pure pleasure. At the end of the second book, you turn the last page and nothing!! I ran at the book store to get the third book. This series is like a drug. People should be warned before they start reading it.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's about the most enthusiastic of the many enthusiastic endorsements I've read for the books. I may finally have to get off my derriere and read the first one myself.

November 19, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

News flash: the title of book 3 will be (at least in the UK): "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest". Go figure. Comments welcome on what you guys think of that!

November 20, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I shall throw the question open to my readers for comment. The title is no translation, but it makes a bold statement about the character in question.

November 20, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I’m the guy from Canada that read the trilogy in French (all three books). It seams that you all try to see witch titles will most attract attention for future readers to get the books. And it seams to be a argument of what the titles should be, according to the sociological culture of each countries (US an UK).
Well here I will try to give some hints. The first book is titled « Les hommes qui n’aimaient pas les femmes » literally translated ‘’men’s who dislike woman’’. See here that there is a difference between the world dislike and hate. But when you read the book hates from men his what it’s all about.
The second title ‘’ La Fille Qui Rêvait D'un Bidon D'essence Et D'une Allumette’’ that translate as ‘’The Girl Who Dreamed Of a gasoline Can And a Match’’ reveals the plot. It’s all about revenge from the woman.
And the third title ‘’La Reine Dans Le Palais Des Courants D'air’’ that most likely means in the matter of the story ‘’ The Queen In the castle of air winds’’. Has you mention on july 7th that in early Germanic languages in restricting "queen" to the meaning of "female ruler" applies accurately in the plots of the third book. Has for the castle of air winds I suggest, since I already read the book, the virtual castle of the Web. A castle with full of resources and treasures but as invisible as air.
And for you that want to see the Swedish movies trailers that will go on screen on March 9th 2009

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2njyCa3KOjk&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVSnTjAVxi8

Norm

November 22, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the links.

The French titles are closer than the English to the original Swedish titles, it seems.

The English title of the second book is "The Girl Who Played With Fire," I bnelieve -- closer to the French, but with less emphasis on revenge.

November 22, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

Hey Norm, Books 2 & 3 at least must have been translated to French from the manuscript or early page proofs, because the Swedish publisher (Norstedts) changed those titles before publication to (2) Flickan som lekte med elden and (3) Luftslottet som sprängdes, which translate to The Girl Who Played With Fire / The Castle in the Air That Was Blown Up -- the latter admittedly unwieldy in English, since the Swedish compound word meaning "aircastle" can't be used, nor the handy one-word passive verb form "sprängdes".

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, one more wrinkle for this publishing outsider to consider: At what stage in its own history is a given work translated?

November 23, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

That all depends on when individual publishing houses sign a contract with the original publisher to do a translated version. I was commissioned by Norstedts in late 2005 to translate the entire trilogy as fast as possible, because Yellow Bird Films in Ystad, Sweden (partially owned by Henning Mankell) wanted to use a UK screenwriter for their planned projects, both theatrical and TV films. I started soon after the first volume was published in Sweden, and we agreed that I would use American English -- which seemed to fit Stieg Larsson's style much better, judging by the numerous American phrases he used throughout the books. Unfortunately, when Norstedts attempted to sell rights in the US, publishers were leery of putting out a book by a dead guy who could do no promotion on talk shows, or "TV sofas" as they say in Sweden. I hope they're kicking themselves now. So the books were eventually snapped up by Quercus Books, which I think will go down as one of the legendary coups in the publishing world.

At any rate, I had to work from page proofs of vol. 2 and the manuscript of vol. 3, so editing was still ongoing at that point. I finished the trilogy 11 months later, 2700 pages in manuscript.

I presume the French were among the first to translate, possibly along with the Germans, who are totally crazy about Swedish crime fiction.

Hope this answers some questions!

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Reg said...

P.S. I do recall that the original title of vol. 2 was something like "Flickan som fantiserade om en bensindunk och en tändstick" - The Girl Who Fantasized About A Gasoline Can and a Match. A bit long for a book cover.

November 24, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It appears that the French publisher translated the title of book two fairly closely, and the title works, I think.

Thanks again for your comments. They answer some questions and raise others, as good comments ought to do.

It's good to think of U.S. publishers kicking themselves. The hoopla that is just now starting in the U.S. over Larsson is old hat to me thanks to my familiarity through blogs with the books' reception in the U.K.

November 24, 2008  

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