Lexicons of the Unreal: Lord of the Rings and Journey to the West


Time:2:00-3:00pm, Nov. 14, 2014

Location: Modern Languages 201, Emory University

Open and free to the public

"Lexicons of the Unreal: Lord of the Rings and Journey to the West"

Eric Reinders, Associate Professor, Emory University

My goal is to chart out and compare different fields of the imaginary, in Chinese and English. What categories of unreal beings populate the imagination in these two languages? It is not obvious what classification system would be best, when we wish to include such un-empirical things as angels, souls, goblins, fairies, pixies and mermaids, or ling (),yao (), xian (), gui (), or tianshi (天使). Is it possible to make a clear correlation between any of these words? Are these cases of the generic problems of any translation, or does it matter that these beings do not apparently exist? We have a rich antecedent in the debates over the Chinese translation of “God,” which may shed light on my questions. I focus first on the terminology, before moving to more complex issues of translating fantasy, comparing two Chinese translations of selected passages from Tolkien, and multiple English translations of Journey to the West.My approach is not to highlight what is “lost” in translation but what is gained. Is it possible that a Chinese translation of Lord of the Rings may be not worse, but actually better—closer to the spirit of the novel than the original?