‘Dune’ Hebrew translator speaks on novel as remake hits screens

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“Dune,” a film based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi epic, hit screens on October 21. In recognition of the event, the National Library of Israel blog published an interview with Dune’s original Hebrew translator, Immanuel Lotem.

While he originally worked at the Foreign Office, Lotem’s real passion was – and remains – science fiction and fantasy. He is responsible for dozens of Hebrew translations, making him one of Israel’s most prolific sci-fi / fantasy translators. He is also a founding member of the Israel Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, of which he served between 1996 and 2001.

The translation of Lotem de Dune, now over 40 years old, is still being published. He was recently interviewed by Chen Malul of the National Library of Israel.

Malul began by asking Lotem about his career as a translator. Lotem explained that as a young man he started working at Tel Aviv University and wanted to earn extra income. A friend of his at the famous Israeli publishing house “Am Oved” introduced him to the world of translation, and he found himself drawn to science fiction. In 1976, he was asked to translate “Dune”.

Frank Herbert, author of “ Dune ” in 1984 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Lotem told Malul that when he received the request, he was working at the “Center for Policy Research and Planning”, the foreign ministry’s intelligence service. He found out that some of his colleagues were passionate about science fiction, and when he told them about Dune, they immediately offered to help.

Lotem handed in homework. A friend was in charge of finding all the Hebrew Bible verses cited in the book, and another tool on herself to find the correct translation of some concepts from the feudal era. Another friend decided to translate some of the terms into Arabic – which he told Lotem were not correct in the book itself.

Lotem added that he translated the book by hand and had secretaries in his office type the text into their typewriters.

Malul asked Lotem what he liked so much about the book.

“The psychological depth, breadth and character design,” he said. “In Dune, the reader follows their development, and as the book progresses, he can find more and more layers,” he explained. “It’s a masterpiece from Frank Herbert,” he added.

Asked about the challenges he faced while translating, Lotem explained that at the time he was not in contact with the authors and had to find solutions on his own to reflect the depth of the book. .

“It’s easy to be superficial and translate verbatim, but if you want to do better and show the psychological depth of the book, you have to work harder,” he said.

One aspect of Dune, however, was the translation of mystical concepts, drawn from Jewish and Muslim traditions. There is even one person in the book defined as a “Kefitzat Haderech”, referring to a miraculous journey between two distant places in a short time.

Malul asked Lotem about the status of fantasy and science fiction in literature. According to Lotem, the Zionist founders were not interested in fantasy or science fiction and saw them as a waste of time. However, since the early 2000s the attitude towards them has changed and original Hebrew fantasy writers have started to emerge.

Asked about the translation he was most proud of, Lotem didn’t hesitate.

“The Lord of the Rings and its aftermath – including all of JRR Tolkien’s works,” he said.

“No one taller than Tolkien. I wish there were but I don’t know where it could come from. He is an author, special in his generation in all aspects. He is everything to me, and I was honored to be his Hebrew Translator. ”


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