From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Speaking of blue (octavo?) notebooks: There are two Hebrew translations of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit: The “regular” (professional) translation by Moshe Hanoomi, and the Pilots’ Translation. The latter translation was a group effort undertaken by ten Israeli air force pilots and corpsmen in the early 1970s, and was carried out while they were prisoners-of-war in Egypt. The ten men were held in a single prison cell, and their collaborative translation of Tolkien’s masterpiece was but one cooperative, social (kibbutznik, even) activity by which they helped each other cope during their shared captivity. “We had this vision of a...society in which everybody had the same rights and privileges,” one of the pilots recalls. “We had classes; those who knew something taught it to the others: English, mathematics, engineering, Arabic, sewing.” After reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy together (they had obtained tattered copies via the Red Cross), the pilots were able to obtain a copy of The Hobbit. This they set about translating into Hebrew. A few years after the pilots were released in a prisoner exchange, their translation was published, becoming the first Hebrew edition of Bilbo Baggins’s tale of “There and Back Again.” Today, the pilots’ translation remains a popular item in Israel, and customers have to specify which translation they would prefer.

The Hobbit is an amazing story of fantasy; its translation into Hebrew is an amazing story of fact. As Tolkien had a keen interest in Hebrew and other Semitic languages, I suspect he would have had a keen affinity for this unique translation, and not just because his novels had served as a lifeline for a group of Israeli P.O.W.s in a rather desperate situation. I first learned of this notable and highly original translation of Tolkien’s magisterial prequel a while back, but I didn’t know much about the specific circumstances surrounding its genesis or its translators, other than that it had been a group effort by Israeli P.O.W.s during the War of Attrition. The following article, which I came across at a friend’s house and from which the above quotation is taken, is in the latest Hadassah Magazine. It offers some nice information about some of the people who crafted The Hebrew Hobbit. Check it out, elfim. (If the link doesn’t take you straight to the article, click on “current issue” and then “The Hebrew Hobbit.”)

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