I may be mistaken, but allegedly, Tolkien really took great offense to the first (and only, during his entire lifetime and decades beyond) Swedish translation of The Lord of the Rings. He called the person responsible for it "conceited" and basically seemed to strongly dislike, if not hate, him.

My parents had the first two books as the original Swedish translation. I read them as an almost-teenager and then borrowed the third book from the library, still about six years before the new translation was released (which occurred in 2004-2005).

Quite recently, I re-read them, then again borrowed the third one from the library. This time, I got the 2005 Swedish version of The Return of the King. This translation, the first new one in Swedish since the original, has many changes, which were very jarring to me initially. For example:

  1. "Vattnadal" (Rivendell) is now called "Riftedal".
  2. "Lavskägge" (Treebeard) is now called "Trädskägge".
  3. "Hobsala" (Hobbiton) is now called "Hobbinge".
  4. "Bilbo Baggins" (Bilbo Baggers) is now called "Bilbo Secker".
  5. "Hober" (hobbits) are now called "hobbitar".

All of these changes (and many more) are supposed to be "more faithful" to the original, English text. And they are, in some objective sense, but they don't really sound right to me. I almost get a "Swenglish" kind of feeling about this, as if they tried too hard to literally translate everything with no concern to what sounds natural or "more fitting" in Swedish. However, the book has a page explaining that they "now know far more about Tolkien's ideas" than they did in the 1960s when the first translation was made, and apparently, critics and fans far prefer this new version.

But, in particular, I find "hober" (the old Swedish translation) to sound a million times better and more natural in Swedish than "hobbitar". Let's face it: Swedish is not the exact same language as English. Tolkien may have been extremely skilled at (with? In?) English, and with languages in general, but he was not a native Swedish speaker (which he even mentions as a possible explanation), so why was he apparently so shocked/disgusted by this translation, which he cannot possibly have read in any meaningful manner?

I have to say that I actually find it enriching to have experienced (at least parts) of the story in multiple different "interpretations". Tolkien's own world is absolutely full of redundant and varying names/labels/words for everyone and everything; named in many different languages and even varying between different characters and ages and sub-species/races. It almost feels like "Lavskägge" and "Trädskägge" are different peoples' names for Treebeard, or used in different eras by the same people! (Which is technically the case...)

To me, the hobbits are forever "hober". Not "hobbitar". Of course, I call them "hobbits" when writing or speaking in English, and I have read parts of the books in the original language as well. I mostly didn't this time just to cling on to my dying language.

As a side-note: I don't even think that he brought this up in his criticism, but one thing that I genuinely do hate about the original Swedish translation is that it uses the vile "dash format" instead of quotes, making it impossible to know what is part of dialogue and what is narration, without constantly trying to "read ahead" and guess what's what. I can't tell you how many times I was continuing the dialogue in my head when it was suddenly the narrator who had taken over, and the other way around.

Why did Tolkien, himself so interested in languages and using so many different names for everything, get so angry/upset/offended when the Swedish translation didn't use what he, as a non-Swedish speaker (to the best of my knowledge), considered "more appropriate"? And he even compliments the Dutch translation at the same time, another language which I don't think that he was an expert in.

Note: I'm not "bashing Tolkien". I'm just wondering about this.

  • This will explain: Beregond, Anders Stenström, "Tolkien in Swedish Translation: from Hompen to Ringarnas herre", in Translating Tolkien: Text and Film (edited by Thomas M. Honegger. Walking Tree, 2004, second edition 2011), pp. 115-124 Oct 28, 2020 at 9:41
  • I'm sure I read something online once detailing some objections (Tolkien's or someone else's, I can't recall) to the old Swedish translation and defending the new one. But all I can find now is this article doing the same for the old vs new Hebrew translations. Oct 28, 2020 at 14:10
  • This reads like 90% rant (or to be kinder, personal reflection) and 10% question, which makes me think it's not suitable for SE.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 16, 2021 at 11:02

1 Answer 1


Åke Ohlmarks took liberties in everything and never backed down

Åke Ohlmarks was quite the special character. He considered it a translator's liberty and duty to reinterpret any work and improve it in the translation, and he took similar liberties in interpretting the original author's inspirations as well as in the way he portrayed people in general.

Tolkien did not appreciate any attempts to find allegories in The Lord of the Rings to historical or contemporary people or events. The reason why events transpire in his world is solely contained within the world itself, not necessitated by some action in the real world. Furthermore, both Tolkien and Ohlmarks were philologists, and language was very imporant to Tolkien, and The Lord of the Rings is written in a style similar to the old Icelandic tales.

I do not know if Tolkien was especially curious in seeing how a philologist in Nordic languages would translate his work, or if he simply took interest in all translations (only the Dutch translation came before the Swedish, and Tolkien criticised that one as well), but over a year before the publishing of Härskarringen, Tolkien expresses concerns about Ohlmarks translation efforts. Three years later, he wrote this letter to his publisher after having read the Swedish foreword to Sagan om Ringen.

The previous letter also criticises Ohlmarks, but in this case I suspect Tolkien made a mistake as well. Tolkien knew some Swedish, but not a lot. I do not have Ohlmarks' translation at hand, but since "fjäder" can mean both "feather" and "spring", I strongly suspect Ohlmarks translated "leathery" to "fjädrande" ("springy"), which Tolkien mistranslated back to "feathery". These problems with reverse translation only served to aggravate the issue.

Meanwhile, Ohlmarks basked in the attention and praise the translation of the books brought him, and took to styling himself as one of the foremost experts in Tolkienology impervious to criticism. He continued to peddle his interpretations of the books despite all denials and sometimes even his own admittance that they were far-fetched. Eventually, he would be forbidden from translating Silmarillion into Swedish (I haven't found any definitive source on whether it was J. R. R. or Christopher Tolkien who made the decision), which Ohlmarks took as a grave insult.

Eventually, Ohlmarks would gradually become enemies with everyone associated with Tolkien, which culminated in the book Tolkien och den svarta magin ("Tolkien and the Black Magic", 1982) in which he accuses Tolkien of forgery, the Tolkien estate of being a money-grubbing mafia and the different Tolkien societies around the world of being satanic cults which do the mafia's dirty business while engaging in orgies and ritual murder.

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