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Lost in Translation
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Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

"Have you read this?"

Ceredir got up reluctantly from the deep armchair where he had been comfortably curled with a slim book of Second Age verse, and wandered across to the desk where Eleirien sat with a larger volume bound in green.  With the rain lashing down outside, a number of Elrond's folk had taken refuge in Rivendell's library for the evening.  All had been quiet, bar the occasional rustle of a page or cleared throat, until Eleirien had emitted a most inelegant snort of laughter; now her hissed question took Ceredir to see what she was looking at. He nodded.

"That's Bilbo Baggins's account of the Quest of Erebor, isn't it? Yes, I know it – I illuminated the copy he gifted to Master Elrond, and we discussed the text a good deal while I planned the work.  Why do you ask?"

"This passage, here, where they arrive in Imladris."  Eleirien indicated a section of the left-hand page where the Hobbit's narrative broke off to encompass several verses, indented and in regular lines. "Where he and Mithrandir and all those pompous Dwarves come riding down into the valley on ponies in the twilight, and he hears us singing – you were there, weren't you? I know I was, I'll never forget the Dwarves creeping across the bridge one by one while we prayed to Elbereth for at least one of them to fall in…"  Her whispers shook with suppressed laughter. "Did you see what he says we were singing?"

A smile curled the corners of Ceredir's mouth. "Ah. Yes, I remember…"

One or two of the other readers were beginning to look up and frown at the murmuring pair; Ceredir kept his tones as soft as he could as he went on:

"Bilbo, of course, was quite well aware, by the time he wrote the account, that we hadn't been singing anything of the kind; well, we were making it up as we went along, and admittedly it was fairly ridiculous, but – "

"Ridiculous is one thing!" Eleirien muttered. "It was the Dwarves we were mocking, not ourselves – he makes us out to be practically half-witted!"

"And you'll see if you turn to the Appendices," Ceredir pointed out, "that I did render him a truer version of what we'd sung; and that Bilbo himself provided a far more accurate translation. But he took the view that, for the sake of authenticity, the verse within the narrative should be the version he had in his head at the time; which, he freely admitted, was his own extrapolation from the odd words and fragments that he caught, with his imperfect knowledge of the Grey Tongue at that stage, while trying to make his way very wearily down the valley slopes and across the bridge without getting a ducking…"

"And this is the version that Hobbits and Men and anyone else who reads There and Back Again will remember?"  Eleirien shook her head.

"I fear so," Ceredir agreed, "for I don't believe the Appendices were included in all the copies that went to the Shire and to Gondor; they were thought of scholarly interest only to a few, like Bilbo's Translations from the Elvish…"

Eleirien grimaced. "Then frankly it may be just as well our time in Arda is drawing to a close! If I thought this was how the Quendi are to be remembered in Middle-earth, I'd be halfway to the Havens already!"

At this point the frowns from several other seats in the Library became pointed glares; Eleirien shrugged, and turned the page. Ceredir returned to the comfort of his armchair, chuckling inwardly as he remembered the verses carefully inscribed in Bilbo's appendices:

Sí mîn taur aeglir, an eithil a lanthir,
Linnam a glirim gilgalad gael.
Lasto mín lamath, a lalaith o laer
Sí ned Imladris, perian trannail!

Tithen elvellon, mistannech mín talath;
Laegil dilalyrn, tiro feng naugrim!
Lasto mín lamath, a lalaith o laer
Sí ned Imladris, perian trannail!

"Tra-la-la-lally, indeed," he thought, smiling affectionately at the memory of the enthusiastic scholarship of the little Hobbit. "Well, Bilbo, if you left it in precisely to provoke reactions like poor Eleirien's then you succeeded, my old friend!"  He settled himself once again into the velvet depths of the chair, and returned contentedly to his own book.


"Poetry is what gets lost in translation."  – Robert Frost

The inspiration, if it's fair to call it that, for this piece of utter silliness was a discussion with Dreamflower on tolkien_weekly over at LiveJournal, where she commented that "My own headcanon is that the "Tra-la-lally" was Bilbo's misinterpretation of whatever the Elves were actually singing in Sindarin (which he would not have known at the time) so he just made up words to fit what he thought he was hearing."

Here is a rough translation of the Sindarin verses; they're my own, and I freely admit that they don't make much more sense than what Bilbo thought he remembered – I was basically trying to include as many tra- and la- syllables as I could, in roughly the right metre, in order to account for the version The Hobbit ended up with…

Here between the high mountains, with the springs and the waterfalls,
We sing and recite to the glimmering starlight.
Listen to our echoing voices, and the laughter of the summer,
Here in Rivendell, Hobbit of the Shire!

 Little elf-friend, you have strayed into our broad valley;
Green-elves beneath the elm-trees, see the beards of the Dwarves!
Listen to our echoing voices, and the laughter of the summer,
Here in Rivendell, Hobbit of the Shire!


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