J.R.R. Tolkien, despite having been dead for decades, is doing pretty well these days. His books have become canon beyond the modern fantasy genre he helped define, and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of his Middle Earth adventures continue to smash box-office records, 70 years after the source material was written. Hell, Hobbit money is legal tender in some countries! No, being dead hasn’t stopped Tolkien from enjoying the kind of career most authors would kill for. And yet, Tolkien never set out to become the juggernaut of fantasy literature he’s become. In fact, he saw himself as, first and foremost, a linguist – one whose tinkering with language and philology colors even his most fantastical literary creations.
It is Tolkien the linguist who would probably most appreciate the work of Barry Goldstein, whose recently completed Yiddish translation of The Hobbit (“Der Hobit”) has just been released. That’s right – Yiddish. The Yiddish Book Center spoke with Barry about his new translation for their Tune In! podcast. It’s worth a listen, if for no other reason than to hear him actually read a bit of his work out-loud (Spoiler alert: It sounds exactly like you think/hope it will.) For those of you who hate unfinished business, yes, Barry does discuss plans to translate Tolkien’s entire Lord Of The Ring trilogy. Hey, some people collect stamps; Some people build model railroads; And some people translate epic fantasy series into a language that hasn’t been widely spoken for nearly a century
And, for those of you who end up buying Der Hobit – When you get to the part where Gollum starts hissing in Yiddish? Try not to picture your bubbie, ok?