Calvin & Hobbes in Chinese!
15 Nov 2004
Ever since I first started reading it as a kid, I’ve always been a huge fan of Calvin & Hobbes. No other comic strip has ever impressed me on so many levels. I remember when I first came to China and brought presents for the special Chinese people that helped me get on my feet, the most prized ones I would give away were Calvin & Hobbes collections. They were one of the few really good items I could think of that you couldn’t get in China.
But that was back in 2000. Today at Shanghai’s Scholar bookstore (思考乐) in Xujiahui, I stumbled upon these:
The store had Something Under the Bed is Drooling, Revenge of the Babysat, Yukon Ho!, and Weirdos from Another Planet. Notably absent was the original self-titled collection. I’m really stoked that the Chinese can now share in this cultural treasure.
After I got over my excitement, though, I started wondering… how good could the translations be? The titles of the two books I picked up were translated OK. Something Under the Bed is Drooling became “Who is under the bed drooling?” (谁在床下流口水), and Yukon Ho! became “Off to the North Pole” (到北极去).
More disappointing were the names of the two main characters. Most fans know that Calvin was named for theologian John Calvin, and Hobbes was named for political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. I know I’m no translator, so maybe there were good reasons, but it was sad to see Hobbes’ name translated as something like “Jumpy Tiger” (跳跳虎). That name seems much more appropriate to Winnie the Pooh’s friend Tigger, whose Chinese name also happens to be — guess what? — 跳跳虎. “Hobbes” in Chinese is 霍布斯. Not cute enough, I suppose.
Calvin’s name became 卡尔文, which is very close to the preferred Chinese transcription of the theologian’s name, 加尔文. Unfortunately, the transcription 卡尔文 is the one used for Calvin Klein’s Chinese name.
But what’s in a name? The real test is how the comics themselves read. I don’t have the books anymore; I sent them home with my girlfriend under strict instructions to read and enjoy ASAP. Hopefully I’ll know soon. If she doesn’t love Calvin & Hobbes, I’ll be forced to conclude that the comics must be poorly translated into Chinese.