As the Harry Potter saga and accompanying marketing frenzy drew to a close last year, I was living abroad and so saw the movies in French. No one can deny Harry Potter’s worldwide success, but I feel like old J.K. has sold the French a bit short. For starters, the main characters have names which, to say the least, are difficult for those of a Gallic persuasion to get their tongues around; Arry Potteurrr, Err-me-own Grrronjeurr and R-(phlegm)-rrron Wesley are much harder to take seriously than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.
Then, there are the made-up words. The French take Hogwarts and Muggle and translate them into Poudlards and Moldu, which doubtless sounds better to them, but causes sheer confusion for non-natives. Is it another English word being mangled with rolling r’s or some obscure vocabulary you’ve never previously encountered? Oh, no, it’s a made-up translation of a made-up word, how silly of you.
But the real problem for the English speakers scattered amongst French cinemas was the translation for wand. We first encountered it during the tense scene when Voldemort demands Malfoy’s wand, except in French, he asks for his baguette. “J’ai besoin de votre baguette” isn’t something I was able to take at all seriously, nor were any of the English people I was with. The French were mystified; exclamations of “But this is the word, une baguette magique!” did not help. Though I still cried a few times, calls of “‘Arrry!! Ta baguette!” or “Err-me-own, où est ma baguette?” made it hard to get in the spirit of the thing. One consolation though, Daniel Radcliffe’s acting is certainly better when he’s dubbed.