Translation of The Lord of the Rings into Swedish

The translations of The Lord of the Rings into Swedish have been the subject of controversy. In particular, Tolkien took issue with the version made by the first Swedish translator, Åke Ohlmarks, where he and Swedish fans detected numerous errors. That translation was superseded in 2005 by a new translation by Erik Andersson.

Åke Ohlmarks 1959–1961Edit

Åke Ohlmarks (1911–1984) was a prolific translator, who during his career published Swedish versions of Shakespeare, Dante and the Qur'an.

Dubious translations include Vattnadal "Water-dale" for Rivendell, apparently by way of taking riven for river, while Esgaroth becomes Snigelöv "Snail-leavings", apparently by association with French escargot, "snail". The Ent Quickbeam becomes Snabba solstrålen, "Swift Sunbeam", apparently taking beam in the sense of "beam of light" instead of "tree", ignoring the fact that all Ents have names connected with trees.

Ohlmarks sometimes offers multiple translations for names; for example, he renders Isengard variously as Isengard, Isengård, Isendor or Isendal.

In terms of style, Ohlmark's prose is hyperbolic and laden with poetic archaisms, where the original uses simple or even laconic language. The translation contains numerous factual errors, straightforward mistranslations of idiomatic expressions and non-sequiturs, such as

"Three stars and seven stones / And the whitest tree you may see."[1] for
"Seven stars and seven stones / And one white tree."[2]

Ohlmarks' translation was the only one available in Swedish for forty years, and throughout his life he remained impervious to the numerous complaints and calls for revision from readers.

After The Silmarillion was published in 1977, Tolkien's son and literary executor Christopher Tolkien consented to a Swedish translation only on the condition that Ohlmarks have nothing to do with it; the translation was made by Roland Adlerberth.[3] After a fire in his home in 1982, Ohlmarks incoherently charged Tolkien fans with arson. He subsequently published a book connecting Tolkien with "black magic" and Nazism, including fanciful constructions such as deriving the name Saruman from "SA man" with an interposed Ruhm "glory", and conspiracy theories surrounding the Tolkien Society.[4]

Tolkien's viewEdit

The book's author, J. R. R. Tolkien, intensely disliked Ohlmarks' translation of The Lord of the Rings. He disliked it even more than Shuchart's Dutch translation, as is evident from a 1957 letter to his publisher Rayner Unwin:[5]

The enclosure that you brought from Almqvist &c. was both puzzling and irritating. A letter in Swedish from fil. dr. Åke Ohlmarks, and a huge list (9 pages foolscap) of names in the L.R. which he had altered. I hope that my inadequate knowledge of Swedish - no better than my kn. of Dutch, but I possess a v. much better Dutch dictionary! - tends to exaggerate the impression I received. The impression remains, nonetheless, that Dr. Ohlmarks is a conceited person, less competent than charming Max Schuchart, though he thinks much better of himself.[5]

Examples singled out by Tolkien in the same letter include:[5]

Ford of Bruinen = Björnavad!("Bear-Ford")[5]
Archet = Gamleby (a mere guess, I suppose, from 'archaic'?)[5]
Mountains of Lune (Ered Luin) = Månbergen; ("Moon Mountains")[5]
Gladden Fields (in spite of descr. in I. 62) = Ljusa slätterna "Bright Plains"[5]

Reception in SwedenEdit

Some of the initial reception was warm; Sven Stolpe wrote in Aftonbladet that "He has made a "Swedishisation" (försvenskning) – he has found wonderful, magnificent, Swedish compound words, he has translated poem after poem with great inspiration, there is not a page in his magnum opus that does not read like original Swedish work by a brilliant poet".[6] Staffan Björck [sv], reviewing the book for Dagens Nyheter, listed some objections but wrote that "I only list these objections so that I can with greater emphasis praise the translation as a whole: it is magnificent."[7]

Later, the translation's reception became more hostile. In 2000, the author Leif Jacobsen [sv] of Lund University's Institute of Linguistics, noting among other things the confusion between Eowyn and Merry in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, wrote that "There can be no doubt that the Swedish translation is defective and in many ways a failure".[8]

In 2004, Malte Persson wrote in Göteborgsposten that the translation was "so full of misunderstandings, misconceptions, inconsistencies, and arbitrary additions that it must mean that Ohlmark was either significantly worse at English than Icelandic, or that he had not taken the assignment seriously".[9]

Erik Andersson and Lotta Olsson, 2005Edit

Ohlmarks' translation was not superseded until 2005, when a new translation by Erik Andersson [sv] with poems interpreted by Lotta Olsson [sv] appeared. This translation is considered much closer to the original, and abides by Tolkien's instructions. In the translation process, Andersson had access to a team of Tolkien fans as advisors. A sample of the prose was translated as follows:

From "A Long Expected Party"
Author Swedish (Literal) English
J. R. R. Tolkien

Night slowly passed. The sun rose. The hobbits rose rather later.

Åke Ohlmarks

Natten svann långsamt mot gryning. Solen gick upp, men hoberna steg ju i allmänhet upp lite senare än så dags.

The night faded slowly towards dawn. The sun rose, but the hobbits in general got up a little later than that.

Erik Andersson [sv]

Natten förflöt sakta. Solen gick upp. Hobbitarna steg upp något senare.

The night passed slowly. The sun rose. The hobbits got up somewhat later.

A sample of Tolkien's verse was translated like this:

The Rhyme of the Rings
Author Swedish (Literal) English
J. R. R. Tolkien

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Åke Ohlmarks

En ring att sämja* dem, en ring att främja dem,
en ring att djupt i mörkrets vida riken tämja* dem
i Mordors land där skuggorna ruva

One ring to tame them, one ring to bring them out,
one ring to harness them deep in the wide realms of darkness
in the land of Mordor where the shadows brood.

Lotta Olsson

En ring att styra dem, en ring att se dem,
en ring att fånga dem och till mörkret ge dem,
i Mordor, i skuggornas land.

One ring to control them, one ring to see them,
one ring to catch them and to the darkness give them,
in Mordor, in the shadows' land.

* Both sämja and tämja can mean "to tame".

In 2007, Andersson together with John Swedenmark [sv] translated The Hobbit, making it the third Swedish translation of this book, but the first time that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were available in Swedish from the same translator.


The 2005 translation project attracted great interest from both Tolkien fans and the Swedish media. Dagens Nyheter wrote: "Let me say that Andersson & Olsson have prepared a readable, even and in large part correct translation, a test of a very robust piece of work that deserves deep respect, but also a careful review".[10] Aftonbladet wrote of the poetry that "Lotta Olsson has had the thankless task of translating the book's numerous verses which many readers skip, though she does it well and economically".[11] Malte Persson wrote in Göteborgsposten that "the new translation follows the original's fluent prose very closely, and only a linguistic pedant could find anything to object to".[9]

In 2007 Andersson published a book called Översättarens anmärkningar ("The translator's notes") based on his diary during the project.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ohlmarks, Åke. Sagan om de två tornen, 233
  2. ^ The Two Towers, book 3, ch. 11 "The Palantir"
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1979). Silmarillion (in Swedish). Translated by Adlerberth, Roland. AWE/Gebers. ISBN 9120059051. OCLC 43152257.
  4. ^ Ohlmarks, Åke (1982). Tolkien och den svarta magin [Tolkien and Black Magic] (in Swedish). Stockholm: Sjöstrand. ISBN 978-91-7574-053-9.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Letters, #263 to Rayner Unwin, 1957
  6. ^ Stolpe, Sven: Nutiden som saga, Aftonbladet 2 Oktober 1959, p. 3
  7. ^ Björck, Staffan, Sagan om Ringen, Dagens Nyheter, 11 December 1959
  8. ^ Jacobsen, Leif (2000). "Sagan om Ringen = The Lord of the Rings? En kritisk komparativ granskning av Åke Ohlmarks översättning av J.R.R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings" (PDF) (in Swedish). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  9. ^ a b Persson, Malte: "Ring, ring, ring", Göteborgsposten, 27 September 2004, pp. 48-49
  10. ^ Williams, Henrik: En ring i Tolkiens anda, Dagens Nyheter, 27 September 2004, pp. 4-5
  11. ^ Lindgren, Petter: Hux flux - en ny Tolkien, Aftonbladet, 27 September 2004, pp. 4-5
  12. ^ Andersson, Erik (2015). Översättarens anmärkningar : dagbok från arbetet med Ringarnas herre [Translator's Notes: diary of my work with The Lord of the Rings]. Stockholm: Norstedt. ISBN 978-9113071084.


Ohlmarks' translation of The Lord of the Rings:

  • Sagan om ringen. Stockholm: Gebers. 1959. OCLC 43127536. (Volume 1)
  • Sagan om de två tornen. Stockholm: Gebers. 1960. OCLC 186811060. (Volume 2)
  • Sagan om konungens återkomst. Stockholm: Gebers. 1961. OCLC 43141566. (Volume 3)

Andersson and Olsson's translation of The Lord of the Rings:

  • Ringens brödraskap: första delen av Ringarnas herre. Stockholm: Norstedt. 2004. OCLC 186369912. (Volume 1)
  • De två tornen: andra delen av Ringarnas herre. Stockholm: Norstedt. 2005. OCLC 186594636. (Volume 2)
  • Konungens återkomst: tredje delen av Ringarnas herre. Stockholm: Norstedt. 2005. OCLC 186770341. (Volume 3)

Translations of The Hobbit:

  • Hompen eller En resa dit och tillbaks igen. Translated by Zetterholm, Tore. Stockholm: Kooperativa Förbundets Bokförlag. 1947. OCLC 185957270.
  • Bilbo: en hobbits äventyr. Translated by Hallqvist, Britt G. Stockholm: PAN/Rabén & Sjögren. 2000 [1962]. OCLC 186189343.
  • Hobbiten eller Bort och hem igen. Translated by Andersson, Erik; Swedenmark, John. Stockholm: Norstedt. 2007. OCLC 185232203.