The Mirror of Erised

Harry stumbles on the Mirror of Erised as he is escaping from the screaming book in the Library's Restricted Section on the night of Christmas Day. It is a magnificent, gold-framed mirror with a mysterious inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. It's only on his third visit that Harry learns from Dumbledore the mirror's name, the Mirror of Erised, and what it actually shows. As befits a mirror, the words around the frame must be read backwards to understand their meaning: I show not your face but your heart's desire.

The translators face two separate but interrelated problems with this name:

    (1) How to render the inscription Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi in a foreign language while concealing a hidden meaning.

    (2) Depending how this is done, how to name the mirror.

Chinese (Mainland version):

Problem (1): Transcribing the inscription

    The Chinese Mainland version represents the reversed English lettering phonetically. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi becomes:

    厄里斯 斯特拉 厄赫鲁 阿伊特乌比 卡弗鲁 阿伊特昂 沃赫斯
    È-lǐ-sī sī-tè-lā è-hè-lǔ ā-yī-tè-wū-bǐ kǎ-fú-lǔ ā-yī-tè-áng wò-hè-sī
    Footnote: This line of characters is a secret Daoist charm inscribed on the Mirror of Erised.

    Despite a somewhat mysterious feel, the characters chosen are completely meaningless whether read from left to right or right to left. Rather than try to give them some hidden meaning, the translator adds a footnote explaining that they are a 'secret Daoist charm'. This skirts the problem and adds a certain air of mystery.

    It would be nice to conceal a meaning in the inscription for readers to solve. However, it's not absolutely crucial to the story because we learn of its function later from Dumbledore.

Problem (2): Naming the mirror

    In naming the mirror, the Chinese translator simply takes the first three characters of the inscription, 厄里斯 Èlǐsī. To emphasise its magical properties, she calls it the 厄里斯魔镜 Èlǐsī Mó-jìng, the Magic Mirror of Erised.


Chinese (Taiwan version):

Problem (1)

    The Taiwanese version also takes the reversed English lettering and renders it phonetically.

    Yì-ruō-sī sī-tè-lā è-lǔ ōu-tè wū-bǐ kǎ-fó-lǔ ōu-tè áng wū-xī

    The only really significant difference from the Mainland version is the meaning of the first three characters, 意若思 yì-ruō-sī, namely 'wish seems like thought' or 'desire is what you think', The three characters hint at the nature of the mirror. Apart from this, there is no attempt to hide a special meaning within the characters.

Problem (2)

    The first three characters in the inscription are used to create the mirror's name, 意若思鏡 Yì-ruō-sī Jìng ('Erised Mirror'). Since these characters have been chosen for their meaning ('wish seems like thought'), they form an appropriate name.

Japanese version:

Problem (1)

    The Japanese version comes up with an amost perfect reproduction of the English wordplay. The inscription on the mirror runs:

    すつうを みぞの のろここ のたなあ くなはで おか のたなあ はしたわ
    Sutsuuwo mizono norokoko notanaa kunahade aka notanaa hashitawa

    This is the reverse order of the Japanese:

    わたしは あなたの かお ではなく あなたの こころの のぞみを うつす
    Watashi wa anata no kao de wa naku, anata no kokoro no nozomi o utsusu. ('I reflect not your face but your heart's desire')

    Since hiragana is a syllabic script representing fixed combinations of sounds, putting the letters in reverse yields a different result from what you would get with the Roman alphabet, which represents each sound individually.

    The translator deliberately uses hiragana because it gives only the sound. Using Chinese characters would have given specific meanings.

Problem (2)

    The name of the mirror uses the three letters みぞの mizo no, the reverse of the word のぞみ nozomi meaning 'desire'. In one way the Japanese name actually surpasses the English because みぞの鏡 Mizo no kagami means 'Mirror of the Ditch', suggesting the idea of being trapped in a ditch. This is what befell the many people who were entranced or driven mad by it.

    In another sense, however, the name falls short. Whereas 'Erised' in English has a Druidic or magical feel to it, 'Mirror of the Ditch' is less mysterious.

    Notice again that みぞの mizo no is written in hiragana. If written in Chinese characters as 溝の, the word would be tied down to the single meaning, 'ditch', and the word play would compromised.

Vietnamese version:

Problem (1)

    The Vietnamese version reproduces the English lettering without change. The meaning is treated in a footnote:

    Footnote: This simply represents the English line 'I show not your face but your heart's desire' written backwards. This can be translated backwards, in which case it becomes as follows: Tim trong muốn ước điều soi mà mặt gương soi không tôi.

    In the proper order, the Vietnamese translation should read: Tôi không soi gương mặt mà soi điều ước muốn trong tim. 'I reflect not your face but your heart's desire'. What the translator puts in reverse order is not the individual letters but the syllables of the sentence. The integrity of the syllable overrides individual alphabetic characters.

Problem (2)

    Rather than use the word ERISED, the Vietnamese translator comes up with a different name altogether, one which describes its essential nature. The name is Tấm gương Ảo ảnh or 'Mirror of Illusion' (Ảo ảnh means 'illusion').


Simplified Chinese (China) Passable! - the Daoist inscription and Magic Mirror name are nice touches.

Traditional Chinese (Taiwan) Passable! - the characters chosen for 'Erised' are a saving grace.

Japanese Brilliant! - perfect in just about every way.

Vietnamese Passable! - at least an attempt is made to explain the meaning. It's rather lame putting it in a footnote, though.

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