Probably a much-overlooked resource when teaching, or studying, Latin is the translation of various modern stories into Latin. There are the “classics”: Winnie Ille Pu, Regulus, Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit, Cattus Petasatus, Arbor Alma, to name a few. Then there are some recently released translations such as the Harrius Potter series (Camera Secretorum, Philosophi Lapis) and now J. R. R. Tolkiens very own, Hobbitus Ille.
What is great about these recent editions is that these are books students today now regard with a bit of nostalgia. The Harry Potter books and film adaptations are a part of popular culture (for good or bad) and are references which students can find relevant as they became initiated into magic and, well, Latin being used for spell casting (…expecto patronum…).
The Hobbit, of course, is the subject of the latest three movies from Peter Jackson, who revitalized Tolkiens’ Lord of the Ring classics for the modern audience with his trilogy of films. Not only was Tolkien a philologist himself, but his reliance on the past to build and construct his own language (Elvish, a “secret vice” as Tolkien regarded its creation) was grounded in good scholarly and academic training and approach. It should serve as an interesting irony that the very world he created would be retold as a world shared through an ancient language.
Yet there is something really interesting to note here. Not only are the books that have been translated into Latin familiar children stories, which anchors nostalgia for students of Latin, but there is also proving to be a market for it, too. Sure, these won’t become best sellers in their own rights but the fact that these stories are being translated into Latin shows that there is still a viable market out there to consume these stories as a Latin remix.
More importantly, we are seeing a gradual introduction of more complicated texts for students. Reading a children’s story is one thing, but the gap to reading ancient texts is quite a divide to cross. What about intermediate students who have just enough Latin to be dangerous? And how do we get them to realize that Latin is a living language that can be used, just like any other language, to express relevant and new modern thinking? Give them the stories they read before but revisited in Latin.
If there is ever any real hope of reviving Latin and the Classics in the curricula of high schools across the country, there has to be a more diverse source of material to grab from. No, we haven’t quite gotten the reality show shot in Latin yet, but in gradually growing more resources for students to access, we are expanding the horizons of Latin students and helping create greater access to the language itself.
In his introduction to the Latin version of the Hobbit, Mark Walker makes a great point. His translation of Tolkien should be read for, gasp!, pleasure. “Reading for pleasure is a rare experience for Latinists, who, in my opinion, deserve to enjoy themselves as much as anyone else.” This is a critical point – Latin is usually offered only as a tough intellectual challenge for elite students. This, of course, pigeon holes the students but also the whole field as only for the serious and elite. While Latin does greatly enhance one’s abilities in most all academic fields, shouldn’t we also get back to doing things just because, well, it’s fun?