Chapter 32: The Elder Wand

Simplified Chinese (Mandarin: China)
Lǎo mózhàng
lǎo = 'old'.
魔杖 mózhàng = 'magic wand'.
The old wand
Traditional Chinese (Mandarin: Taiwan)
Jiēgǔmù mózhàng
接骨木 jiēgǔmù = 'elder tree' (literally 'set bone tree').
魔杖 mózhàng = 'magic wand'.
The elder wand
Niwatoko no tsue
ニワトコ niwatoko = 'elder'.
no = connecting particle
tsue = 'wand'.
The elder wand
Vietnamese (Chinese characters show etymology)
Cây Đũa phép Cơm nguội cây = measure word
đũa phép = 'magic wand'.
cơm nguội = 'hackberry'
The hackberry wand

We all know what a wand is. But what about an elder?

In The Tale of the Three Brothers, Death makes the elder wand with the branch of an elder tree growing near the river.

Botanically speaking, the elder is one of a group of shrubs or small trees belonging to the genus Sambucus. Elders bear clusters of small berries which are relished by birds, hence their alternative name of 'elderberry'.

There are 5-30 species of elder around the world (depending on your approach to classification), mostly found in temperate and subtropical regions. In this story, Rowling is most likely referring to the Common elder or Black elder (species Sambucus nigra) found in the warmer parts of Europe and North America.

According to various Internet sources, the elder does have some traditional magical associations in Europe. They were not lucky to have in the garden and it was considered bad luck to chop one down. The elder was thought to be inhabited by a malevolent spirit, and permission was needed to take the wood to make a wand. Green parts of the elder, including the unripe or uncooked fruit, can be poisonous to humans. See here for more about the elder.

Having got that under our belts, let's see what these plants are called in CJV. Although Sambucus nigra (the black elder) is not native to China, Japan, or Vietnam, they do have several other types of elder and thus names for elders in general. In addition, Chinese and Japanese have scientific or botanical names for Sambucus nigra. Unfortunately, botanical names are a confusing area.

There are many names for local species of elder in China, showing historical and dialectal variation, and I'll refrain from trying to list all the ones that can be found. The local Sambucus chinensis (Chinese red elder) is known as 接骨草 jiēgǔcǎo or 'set bone grass'. The Chinese botanical name for the Black elder is 接骨木 jiēgǔmù 'set bone tree', 接骨木树 jiēgǔmùshù 'set bone wood tree', or 西洋接骨木 xīyáng jiēgǔmù 'western set bone tree'. (The official name with 西洋 xīyáng is definitely from Japanese because Chinese seldom uses this word.) The reason for this strange name, 'set bone wood', is not clear.

Japan has the Japanese red elder, Sambucus sieboldiana, found in Japan and Korea. This is known as ニワトコ niwatoko in Japanese. The name niwatoko is native Japanese and is occasionally written 庭常 (literally 'garden-permanent'), which may actually reflect the real etymology, although it is entirely possible that the characters were only assigned because they 'seemed right'. In fact, niwatoko is usually written 接骨木, literally 'set bone tree', using characters taken straight from Chinese. Sambucus chinensis, the Chinese red elder, is known in Japanese as ソクズ sokuzu (written 朔くず?) or クサニワトコ kusa-niwatoko 'grass niwatoko' (written 草接骨木). Sambucus nigra is known as セイヨウニワトコ seiyō niwatoko 'western niwatoko'. This is written 西洋接骨木.

The Vietnamese name of the elders in general appears to be cây cơm cháy, or 'rice crust tree'. The reason for this peculiar name is unclear. Sambucus chinensis (Chinese red elder) is known as cây tiếp cốt thảo. Cây means 'tree'; tiếp cốt thảo is a word-for-word borrowing of the Chinese name 接骨草 ('set bone grass'). I am not aware of a specific Vietnamese name for the Black elder.

Now that we know what names can be used to translate 'elder', we can see what the translators have done in reality.

The Taiwanese translator translates 'elder wand' literally and accurately as 接骨木魔杖 jiēgǔmù mózhàng 'elder tree wand'. The Japanese uses ニワトコの杖 niwatoko no tsue, where ニワトコ niwatoko is the name of the local Japanese red elder.

Turning to Vietnamese, we find that the translator doesn't use the name cơm cháy ('rice crust') at all. Nor does she use cây tiếp cốt thảo ('set bone grass tree'). The word she uses is cơm nguội, literally 'cold rice tree'. Unfortunately, cơm nguội does not appear to refer to the elders at all. Instead, it appears to refer to trees in the genus Celtis. These are completely different trees from the elders, being known in English as hackberries, in Japanese as エノキ enoki, written , and in Chinese as 朴树 pòshù.

So why would the Vietnamese translator use a hackberry to make the elder wand? The reason most likely lies in the name itself. In Vietnamese, cơm means rice. Literally, cơm cháy (elder) means 'rice crust' (the burnt part that sticks to the rice cooker). Cơm nguội (hackberry) means 'cold rice'. So the linguistic distance between an elder and a hackberry is negligible in Vietnamese. Substituting one peculiar name for the other would not be all that remarkable. Of course, the actual reason for the substitution can only be surmised. It could be due to faulty dictionary definitions, dialect differences (with the names so close, could the two types of tree be completely mixed up in popular speech or dialects?), lack of botanical knowledge on the part of the translator... or perhaps the translator felt that a 'cold rice tree' just sounded better than a 'rice crust tree'! If you have any insight on this, please let me know!

The Mainland translation of the elder wand is also curious. Although it is quite clear at The Tale of the Three Brothers that the elder wand was made from the branch of an elder tree (接骨木树 jiēgǔmù-shù) the Mainland translator decides to call the elder wand 老魔杖 lǎo mózhàng or 'old wand'.

This is justified in a footnote to the text pointing out that in English 'elder' is identical in pronunciation to 'elder', meaning 'of greater age'. One can only feel, however, that the translator is reading more into this identity of pronunciation than is really there. Although 'elder' could be understood as 'older' or 'senior', and this could conceivably influence the way the wand is perceived, it is more likely that an English speaker would, after momentary confusion, suppress the meaning 'older' or 'senior' and go on to interpret the wand as intended, that is, as being made from the branch of an elder tree.

Of course, the footnote might just be an excuse by the translator not to use the unwieldy and somewhat incongruous 接骨木树魔杖 jiēgǔmù-shù mózhàng ('set bone wood tree wand') and use the more congenial 老魔杖 lǎo mózhàng 'old wand' instead. After all, 'old wand' gives a feeling of ancientness and power that 'set bone wood tree wand' somehow lacks.

The Elder Wand is also known as:

The Deathstick
The Wand of Destiny
Simplified Chinese (Mandarin: China)
Simplified Chinese (Mandarin: China)
Sǐshén mózhàng
Mìngyùn mózhàng
Shi no tsue
Shukumei no tsue
Vietnamese (Chinese characters show etymology)
cây Gậy Tử thần
cây Đũa phép Định mệnh

(Detailed notes on the chapter can be found at Harry Potter Lexicon)

Chapter 31
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