Tolkien’s Way
to Russia:
There and Back Again
It took the Fellowship of the Ring three
books and three films to take down the
“‘Eye of Sauron' finally appears in
Moscow sky – but shares spotlight
with holiday goodness” needed just a couple of days," a joke on
“Arda out in the Sticks”
VII Тolkien Seminar, St. Petersburg, 28 January 2012
Co-sponsored by St. Petersburg Tolkien Society
and the Philological Department of St. Petersburg State University
“One does not simply walk into Mordor…”
The ‘Goblin’ translations
- What are you doing?
- Making some RDX. Why?
“Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest
has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a
body of more or less connected legend,
ranging from the large and cosmogonic to the
level of romantic fairy-story... The cycles
should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet
leave scope for other minds and hands,
wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.”
— from a letter by J. R. R. Tolkien
Survey (41 responses)
How were you first introduced to
Book – 36 people
How old were you at your first
introduction to Tolkien?
5-6 years old - 2 people
7-8 – 6 people
9-10 years old – 12 people
11-13 years old лет – 6 people
14-15 years old лет – 5 people
16-18 years old лет – 3 people
In their 20s – 3 people
In their 30s – 3 people
• The Fellowship of the Rings – 2
• The Lord of the Rings trilogy – 15
• The Hobbit – 23 (some combinations)
Film – 3 people
Animation film (The Hobbit) – 2 people
Comic books – 1 person
Really well read; only one person read the books
partially; all others – at least The Hobbit and LOTR, quite
a few – Silmarillion and other books, essays, even letters
2 people first read Tolkien in English; the rest – in Russian
P.S. One person: ‘Lion, Witch and Wardrobe’
The Films
Do you like the films?
Yes, very – 17
Yes, fairly – 14
Could have been better – 4
Not very – 2
“LOTR – yes; Hobbit – no” – 2
“LOTR – yes; ‘The Hobbit’ only
retains the title; nothing else
remains from the book”
“I would give ‘The Hobbit’ an F. The spirit of
Tolkien is absolutely lost. In LoTR Peter Jackson
was able to (so to say) combine Tolkien’s ideas
and his narrative style with new technologies
and massive battles, but in ‘The Hobbit’ he
failed completely. If you just look at it purely as
a stand-alone film, Part 1 would earn a B, the
rest only a C. In the last film even the battle
seems fake, everything is a lie, not a drop of
“The first was ok, the rest – not really”
“I don’t watch them because I find such things boring”
The Films
Do you think these films made Tolkien more popular?
• Yes, and I think it’s great – 28
• Yes, but it’s not really Tolkien – 8
• No, he was popular already – 3
• No, they only repelled those who could have loved Tolkien’s books – 1
Smb’s own response: Yes, but “The Hobbit” film is really not Tolkien
“The Hobbit”
Natalia Rakhmanova
“Queer Lodgings” (“The Hobbit,” Ch. VII)
The quarterly magazine “Anglia” (= “England”),
published for the USSR by the British Foreign Office
Natalia Rakhmanova
Zinaida Bobyr’
V. Matorina (V.A.M.)
S. Likhacheva
K. Korolyov
A. Gruzberg
L. Yakhnin
I Togoyvea
N. Prokhorova
S. Stepanov & M. Kamenkovich
V. Bakanov & E. Dobrokhotova-Maikov
Planned for 2015
+ «Сильмаррилион», «Дети Хурина», «Легендариум», «Приключения Тома Бомбадила», etc, etc,..
Natalia Trauberg
(1928 – 2009)
“I am truly a rare exhibit because I
read Tolkien in 1970, in the very end
of 1970, when only about three
people [in Russia] had read him.
Here is how it happened: Vladimir
Muraviyov, who worked at the
Foreign Literature Library, read it and
went completely wild about it. … He
gave it to Andrei Kistyakovsky and a
few others... About five of us read it
and were enthralled…” (“Tolkien and
"I myself create it, edit it, censor it,
publish it, distribute it,
and get imprisoned for it.“
– Vladimir Bukovsky
“You had to have some very serious reasons to dare to do that.
And, by the way, it also meant spoiling the lives of your family,
relatives, friends, and colleagues.” – Evgeniya Smagina, one of
the first readers of samizdat “Tale of the Ring”
Zinaida Bobyr’, Moscow
“The Tale of the Ring,” 1966
“Tolkien paints his world in detail and in
the tones of utter credibility. Few
authors achieve such strong
‘participation effect,’ especially with a
fantastical plot. Reading ‘The Tale of the
Ring’ you can’t help believing its
surroundings and events. It is an
extraordinary world, but it is governed
by strict laws. It has no dreamlike
fluidity, it is not Carroll’s Wonderland or
Baum’s Oz. It is a real world, even
though it’s different from our own.”
(“History – Saga – Poetry”)
Alexander Gruzberg, Perm’
1975, a complete samizdat translation
of LoTR (a year of work)
“Most [samizdat] translations were…
terribly poor. They were so illiterately done
that it is hard to believe. The translators
not only didn’t know English, but didn’t
even have the most elementary knowledge
of history and culture of the country. But
undemanding readers just swallowed it all.”
«We discovered Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Ring’ in 1971. Now it is widely
loved and read, and people see different things in it. Back then we saw
in it, first of all, a great moral reminder. Tolkien and [C.S.] Lewis spoke
to us with sadness and seriousness... For many of those who had lived
through some very horrible times in our country, samizdat books by
[C.S.] Lewis, Tolkien and [Charles] Williams were endlessly helpful , and
we will be forever grateful to them” – Natalia Trauberg
“I read the trilogy about 11 times, twice translated it orally to
others, and for me it is a Book with the capital B! Tolkien is
great because he described and gave real shape and form to
the world which had already existed in its potentiality – and it
was the shape and form that hundreds and thousands of
people believed. His reality proved to be so close to, so needed
and so indispensable for daily life – and not just as an escape
but as an augmentation, a necessary enlargement of our
understanding of life as a whole” – Boris Grebenshchikov,
Russian rock musician
1982, an abridged translation of Volume I of
LoTR in Children’s Literature Publishers
Vladimir Muraviyov
Andrei Kistyakovsky
An immediate bestseller, 1983 – 2nd edition
(300,000 copies )
“The Translation Boom”
Alina Nemirova
(Ukraine), 1989
Valery Karrik
and Maria
1994 (K&K)
Grigoryeva and
1991 (G&G)
Valeria Matorina
(V.A.M.), 1991
… and others
“The 2nd Publishing Boom”: 1999 – 2003
“A search for ‘Tolkien’ at a well-stocked
online Russian bookstore in 2003
returned 105 titles” – Mark Hooker
+ a “read-Tolkien-in-the-original” boom
“Although I am old and gray of head,
And free of the stresses that others all dread,
I would learn English and only because
The Professor in it wove a marvelous cause.”
Mark Hooker, “Tolkien
through Russian Eyes”
The Big Translation Debate: Which one is better?
“Because it was the first I read”
“Because I haven’t read any others”
“I have known it since my childhood”
“The language is more imaginative”
“It’s closer to the original”
“It’s beautiful”
“Because this translation is better”
The Big Translation Debate
• Translation is a problem with multiple solutions
• “Good translation is the matter of making the right
sacrifices” (Dorothy L. Sayers)
Some of the translation dilemmas:
• More foreign or more Russian?
• More literary or more accurate?
• Dealing with contemporary Russian realities - ? (like translating
“red” or subtly hinting at Stalin and the police state)
© N. A. Dobrolubov State Linguistics University, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Intercultural Communication (translation)
Reality 2
Cons.1/Prod. 2
Tradition 1
© N. A. Dobrolubov State Linguistics University, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Tradition 2
Cons. 2
1st translation by Tatiana Bobyr (1/3 of the original), 1966
Translation by Muravyov and Kistyakovsky, very “Russianized”, 1983
Karrik and Kamenkovich (academic, with extensive commentary; Tolkien’s
instructions taken into account), 1994
Natalia Trauberg, on two different approaches to
“The Fight”
“[M & K] wanted to make the
book into a militant manifesto for
the revolt of GULAG prisoners and
underlined it every way they
could – the book was used as a
direct proclamation. They used it
as a manifesto, fairly long but
“Not daring to touch it (… I still
don’t know how to translate
Tolkien…), we tried, without adding
our own words, with awe, to convey
this amazing vision that these
homely little creatures, with their
patience, kindness to animals, and
pity for Gollum, are actually saving
the world.”
The Big Translation Debate: Which one is better?
M&K: “The most literary and beautiful,
which is not always best; very Russianized,
too emotionally colored”
B: “Bad; more like an
abridged retelling
with a lot of adlibbing”
K&К: “The most accurate, not a step away
from the original, but dry, academic, and
mechanical; hard to read”
G&G: “Very popular; fairly good in terms
of style, but I don’t care for the translation
of the names”
“If I were buying the book as a gift for a child, I would get one by Muravyev &
Kistyakovsky; for an adult, for study and not for addictive, immersive reading, I would get
Karrik & Kamenkovich.”
“All the translations have their merits and drawbacks. I believe the Professor
should be read in the original.”
“They have managed to
convey the color and tone of
the book: Magic, middle ages,
kings… Poems in Muravyev’s
translation are better, but I
think his version is too
“Firstly, G&G was my first
introduction to LOTR.
Secondly, tone and color. My
favorite chapters are about
Goldberry and Tom Bombadil.
If you compare, for instance,
the English, the French and
the Russian versions, the
Russian one takes a lot more
liberties, but as a reader I am
more interested in the visual
picture, and its picture is
The Big Translation Debate: Titles and Names
 “Correct names, beautiful language”
 “Nice translations of names, geographical places and poems.”
 “Names of places are not translated and thus the atmosphere of the
book is rendered better”
 Names are more beautiful, and the meaning can be guessed even if
you know just a little English”.
 “I think, names are rendered better. the one disadvantage is that
Frodo Baggins is called “Sumkins”. Last names should not be
translated, just as names of places”
 “I don’t like it when proper names are made too Russian-sounding”
 “The feeling of magic”
 “I like our language”
“The Keepers”
“The Fellowship of the Ring” “The Brotherhood of the Ring”
“The Community of the Ring”
“The Return of the King”
“The Return of Korol’’”
“The Return of Gosudar’”
The Shire
‘Rasdol’ (split + dale + peace + space)
‘Rivendell’ (rEE-vendell)
‘Rivendell’ (rAI-vendell)
“Baggins” (transliteration)
Bilbo Baggins
“Torbins” (“torba” – old Russian for
‘bag,’ ‘knapsack’)
“Sumniks” (“sumka” (‘bag’) +“niks’)
“The best Russian translation of Tolkien
is “The Hobbit” by Rakhmanova.
Infortunately, there is no adequate
translation of LOTR: all existing versions
are, in essence, retellings that take
outrageous liberties with the original –
especially that of Muravyev and
Kistyakovsky whose ‘translation’ was
the first to be published and is now by
many seen as “classical.” There is a
relatively unknown translation by
Gruzberg, where the translator tried to
follow the original faithfully, but it is a
rather amateurish effort which contains
a lot of goofs and errors.”
Taking Liberties
“Forgive me, but these liberties
they take with the original are not
‘outrageous’ but creative. As the
result we have a truly Russian
book, valuable in its own right,
and reading it (if you stop thinking
of originals) is pure pleasure.”
Zinaida Bobyr’, Moscow, 1966, ‘Tale of the Ring’
• 1/3 of the length, severely abridged
• embellishments (Aragorn’s Silver Crown)
• a happily-ever-after fairy-tale ending
A hack job? Or a daring effort to make Tolkien available?
Mark Hooker, “Tolkien through Russian Eyes”
• Sentences / passages omitted – ???
• Struggle with key concepts, Tolkien’s and Russia’s: hope /
despair / luck / avos’, destiny / fate, master / servant, job / duty
• Arbitrary translation of proper names
• Slanting language with a personal agenda
“He is only an Englishman, what could he write?”:
finishing what the Professor began
“The Ring of Darkness”
by Nik Perumov,
Fourth Age of Arda
“The Black Book of Arda”
by Natalia Vasilyeva (Illet) and
Natalia Nekrasova (Nienna)
– history of Middle Earth from
the point of view of the
Vanquished (Niennism)
“Well beyond the Text”
“Our admirers of Tolkien, in contrast to those who study his legacy in the West,
do not imagine the dimensions of the underwater part of the iceberg, on top of
which his works rest… Partially from ignorance and partially from a lack of
desire to search, people replace his realities with their own artificial and
contrived constructions, which turn what is really there into what the authors of
these constructions want to see” – K. Asmolov
Russian Tolkienism initially grew out of Tolkien’s texts but has grown much
larger than the texts. Now it is possible to be a Tolkienist without having read
Tolkien: “Tolkien’s reality is much broader than the text, and many of its aspects
remain outside the framework of the narrative” – Petr Chistyakov
“Well beyond the Text”
Tolkien’s world and Tolkien’s text are not synonymous
It is possible to immerse oneself in Tolkien’s world
bypassing the text
Nevertheless, the texts retain their status as sacred texts for a
movement that is beginning to function independently, without
direct connection to the text
“… Russian thoughts on sacred texts,
or on a ‘Tolkienism’ that exists
independently of any knowledge of
what he wrote (because “Tolkienian
reality is broader than the text’), float
at a level beyond my critical capacity.
I can however suggest some (admittedly well known) words of
the new prophet that might be carved on the portal of the
Tolkienist temple or cathedral when it is built: ‘I begin to feel like
I am shut up in a madhouse’”
(12 September 1965, letter to his publishers)
Russian Tolkien Scholarship and Fantasy Studies
1) Theoretical Tolkien Studies
• Genre studies: is it fantasy or not? (and WHAT is fantasy?, etc.)
• Textual and literary studies (myth and mythopoetic features; Biblical
themes and motifs; style, language and poetics; sources, main themes,
key concepts, etc.)
• Study of Tolkien’s worlds (geography, politics, space and time, Tolkien’s
languages cultures, etc.)
2) Social Tolkien Studies (influence on people and society)
3) Translation Studies
Tolkienism in Russia
Tolkienism – “a philosophical movement which Russians have used to fill the
philosophical vacuum after the fall of Communism”
1st wave: intellectuals in the humanities (English-reading)
2nd wave – a fandom (often no or little background; often Russian-reading)
Several different types:
• the aphilosophicals – “Simply enjoying a good book”
• the ‘alternativists’ – “The Professor was wrong!”
• the Northerners - Nordic elements, Nordic theory of Courage
• the Christians – Tolkien’s Catholicism, Christian elements
• Толкинутые [‘tolkienOOtyie’] = “touched in the head by
Tolkien as a “visionary”
Толкинутые [‘tolkienOOtyie’] = “touched in the head by Tolkien”
= “Mythomaniac Tolkiensies” (an article in the early 1990s, by S. Kirillova)
• Stage One: contagious Tolkien ‘evangelists’
• Stage Two: “Everything The Professor wrote in his books I true, and I
have seen it with my own eyes”
• Stage Three: “I have seen everything The Professor wrote about in his
books with my own eyes, and it is not that way at all!”
• Stage Four: “Only I know what really happened in Tolkien’s novels! All
other Tolkienutyie are liars!”
What attracts you most in Tolkien’s books?
• А complex and intricately worked out history and culture of a different world – 30
• A chance to immerse myself into a different world – 29
• An interesting plot – 28
• Carefully constructed languages of various races and peoples – 23
• His moral and ethical message – 21
• The author’s language and style – 18
• Characters, their development and growth – 17
• Romantic adventures and optimism despite the presence of evil – 16
• A chance to complete or add to what the Professor started – 2
• + A theological view of various aspects of life (own)
• “No one else has been able to out-do the Founding Father”
• “Tolkien is a fantastic writer! Thanks to him, you begin to
see how beautiful and diverse the world is, and to suspect
the existence of things that ordinary people are completely
unaware of. Tolkien teaches us to think differently, to use
our imagination; he inspires us towards something
extraordinary and makes it possible to get immersed into
other worlds”
Why do you think Tolkien is so popular among Russian readers?
Because these are good, high quality books – 27
We like romantic adventures – 23
Because of the chance to “escape” into a fantastical world from daily reality – 20
It’s interesting to get into fictional languages and cultures – 11
Mainly because of the films – 8
We have many great translations that are regularly published – 1
I don't think Tolkien is that popular – 1
“The Fellowship of the Ring is like lightning from a clear sky…”
“heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed”
“… the conquest of new territory. Nothing quite like it was ever done before...”
“sub-creation” – … he creates a whole world!”
“… piercing, high, elvish beauty of which no other prose writer has
captured so much.”
“… here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold
iron; here is a book that will break your heart.”
“This is good news, good beyond hope.”
Morals and ethics: “Fantasy is a genre that allows us to take a speculative look at
morality. The language of fantasy – the language of symbol and gesture – makes
such study free from boring didacticism” – Olga Brileva
“Double-coding”: “LoTR is a cunning, double-bottomed thing; it can be read as ‘a mere
book,’ as ‘another fantasy story,’ just like ‘The Name of the Rose’ can be read as ‘yet
another detective story.’ Tolkien’s novel is not simply a story of a quest; it is in itself a
quest, a journey that ends (or doesn’t end) in a mystical initiation.” – Olga Brileva
“Proto-negative theology”: Tolkien’s approach does not frighten one away with the
necessity of thinking, looking for hidden meaning… He truly entertains without being
didactic… His approach is more advantageous theologically, because by not saying
anything positive about God, Tolkien avoids the risk of making an error… There is
nothing to accuse Tolkien of, because he didn’t say anything…. In our culture a direct or
even allegorical conversation on similar topics often frightens away the audience before
it begins” – Yakov Krotov, Russian theologian
“Tolkienism as a Return to Mythological Consciousness”
“Tolkienism as an Element of Neo-Religiosity”
“On the Connections of Tolkienistics with Religious Systems”
“Tolkienism and Magic”
“Tolkienism and the Contemporary Rebirth of Paganism in Russia”
“The Phenomenon of Neo-Religiosity: ‘Finding Oneself’ in Tolkienism”
The numinous experience without the Gospel?
“I guess no Christian preaching in the world is ever [fully] successful
(according to the parable of the Sower): three people will
understand it, and the rest will do something exactly opposite…
Our main trouble now that we have many religious people but as few Christians as ever. Of
course, I do not mean that all preaching always fails completely: there is always a tiny
island, a tiny remnant. But I have certainly seen that Tolkien, in this edited understanding
[of his works], has been very instrumental in promoting this religiosity without
The human soul is religious by its very nature, it’s a fact. But after it was stamped out for
so many years, and then, over the last 30 years, all the other idols – not pagan, but our
own – have also dissipated, people started creating this...”
“I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal
past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of
my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so
hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about
God or the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief
reason was that one was told one ought to. An
obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence
itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with
lowered voices; almost as if it were something
medical. But supposing that by casting all these things
into an imaginary world, stripping them of their
stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one
could make them for the first time appear in their real
potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful
dragons? I thought one could.” ― C.S. Lewis