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Tricky Translation: Annemor Sundbø’s New Book

annemorCongratulations are due to my friend Annemor Sundbø; her newest book has just been released, Spelsau og Samspill, her homage to the Norwegian Spelsau sheep.   Here is a (quick and clumsy) translation of the introduction:

This is neither a handbook on raising sheep nor a primer on working with wool or spinning.  It contains stories that encompass our original Norwegian sheep and the life around sheep husbandry that made their mark on folk traditions and beliefs. The book is a combination of reminiscences, myths, and thoughts based on old sources – guided by Google, the “web of the world” of modern times.  I have not approached my sources academically. Instead I have followed both tracks and sidetracks. I read between the lines in old documents that were written when raising sheep and working with wool were a central part of daily life, but were left out of descriptions of folk life.

The book can give a perspective on the value of sheep husbandry and the importance of various textile arts at a time when the ancient sheep, our Norwegian spelsau, played an important role in peoples’ lives and art. In addition I tie in my own experiences and reflections.  I pose hypotheses on one dimension that sheep and the art of spinning could have had in relation to man and the powers of the gods.

In addition, here is Annemor’s synopsis:

The book is a combination of cultural history, reminiscences, myths and hypotheses.  It give a perspective of the world of historical sheep husbandry and the characteristics of the spelsau, the ancient Norwegian sheep.

The author created this work from her own position and experiences, and also followed threads of modern research to reveal the role that the ancient Norwegian sheep and wool handcrafts have played throughout history.

Her full title, with subtitles, is difficult to translate!  Spelsau og samspill: Glansfull ull og lodne skjebnetråder: Myter og refleksjoner.  In Norwegian, it is enormously clever and contains wordplay that would make sense to a Norwegian speaker. English speakers–not so much.  When Annemor sent me a Facebook message asking for suggestions for an English title, she wrote, “The word spelsau has a number of double meanings – spel (mirror) – spill (play, as in an instrument, or play with words, or play a game). The spelsau is an ancient sheep with lustrous fiber, a sheep from the earliest times. Therefore I am looking towards early times and old myths and I am playing with the connections.  So the “reflections” in the title is both the reflection from the luster of the wool and from my reminiscences and hypotheses.  The English language doesn’t have words that can cover the contents.  The words spel and spill are a wordplay.”

Here are translations, word for word, of the title.

Spelsau (When Annemor wrote a suggestion, she used the words “Norwegian short-tailed sheep” instead of spelsau.  I think that using the actual sheep name is better.)
og (and)
samspill (interaction, harmony, interplay, teamwork)
Glansfull   (glossy, lustrous, glorious, resplendent. Glossy or lustrous are best, I think, because she is emphasizing the special quality of the long-fibered wool.)
Ull  (wool)
og (and)
lodne  (wooly, hair, shaggy.  Annemor added that to be hairy is sort of being lucky, and to be “lodden” is to be extra rich in something, like having extra luck or good fortune.)
skjebnetråder (web of fate.  Annemor wrote in explanation that the goddess of fate spins the life thread of every person at birth and clips off the length that represents the life span of that person. Plus, “Skjebnen er “lot” or “lod”  is a part of something,  life thread spun of an a lotter.”)
Myter og refleksioner (Myths and reflections)

What a word puzzle!  It would be very difficult to capture the richness of the Norwegian word associations.  So I sent on this information to our Scandinavian Weavers Study Group and Lisa Bauch (my go-to friend for all editing and word-related collaboration).  My first attempt at a title was: Spelsau Sheep in Norwegian Culture and History: Glossy Fiber and Wooly Stories.  Here are the others.

Lisa Bauch had several:  Spinning Spirits: Folk Beliefs and Traditions of Ancient Norwegian Sheep; Spinning Spirits: Folk Beliefs and Traditions of Norway’s Golden Fleece; Wool Gathering: Myth and Magic in the History and Husbandry of Viking Sheep; and Wool Gathering: Myth and Magic in the History and Husbandry of Ancient Norwegian Sheep.  Lisa noted, “I like wool gathering because it has that double meaning of gathering information on wool but also daydreaming. Since Americans and other English speakers are interested in Viking times, it might make sense to use it in the title. It’s also a shorthand way of saying ancient Nordic/Norwegian – people automatically think of old time Scandinavia when they hear it. Spinning Yarns: Myths and Reflections on Norway’s Ancient Sheep; Spinning Yarns: History and Hypotheses of Norway’s Ancient Sheep; Spinning Yarns: Myths and Folktales of Ancient Nordic Sheep. Lisa added, “You could explain to Annemor that in English, spinning yarns means telling stories – in particular, fanciful stories or tall tales. Unfortunately, the word fleece has negative connotations in English, so it’s hard to work it into the title.”

Mary Skoy suggested a three-part title, based on the model of the Norwegian book cover.  Spelsau: Norway’s Ancient Sheep: Myths and Reflections.  She wrote, “I think the word “reflections” is  appropriate in the title because of Annemor’s content and  the awesome cover picture.

Judy Larson suggested Norwegian Spelsau Sheep:  Fibers and Fables.

I hope this helps Annemor!  Even if you don’t speak Norwegian, and whether or not the book is eventually translated to English, you’ll want to see the glorious content and photography in this over 400 page book.  And if you haven’t read Annemor’s previous books, you should!

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