In defence of Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca

Proponiamo, a beneficio dei lettori esteri, la traduzione inglese, curata da Greta Bertani, dell’articolo di Giuseppe Scattolini In difesa di Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca, già apparso tra i nostri pezzi a suo tempo.

Let’s bring some confusion to a too clear world:

The Princess and the Professor

In the best fairy-stories of all time, beauty springs from the presence of two special characters who attract the attention, keep it alive, and rise up to the heroic deeds they must undertake. For example, the story of Beren and Lúthien was instilled in Tolkien by such a moment with his wife at the end of the Great War, when they were young. In the same way, the history of the translation of Tolkien’s volumes in Italy could inspire a poem as great as this. Once more, the main characters rise up to the heroic task they must undertake: princess a Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca and the professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

Cover of “The Fellowship of the Ring” edited by Astrolabio

Once upon a time… there was a deeply cultured 16-year-old princess looking for a challenging translation, who in 1966 found a publisher―Astrolabio―in the Yellow Pages; they offered her a text titled The Lord of the Rings. Two Italian translators had previously failed this venture and were refused by the author―a nit-picking linguist and writer in contact with the major scholars of that time—who wanted the translation of his texts to be accurate (see letter 188).
The material that the princess went to pick up from Astrolabio’s reception to try to convince this pedantic Professor of her experience and goodwill was made up of a part of the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings, a nomenclature and an appendix regarding names the author had just finished. She did it.
She knew absolutely nothing about the Professor. She ignored his works, his job, his invented languages. She knew nothing. But she had a quality people nowadays only have in fairy-stories: respect. Mario Ubaldini (at time owner of the publishing house Astrolabio) was very surprised when he saw such a young girl willing to undertake such a venture and with flying colours. The princess was only able to succeed in her task because she understood the values that inspired the Professor and what he required of her: “He saw a wrecked world […], his main ambition was to preserve  beauty”, she says ¹.

The purpose of that man was not to make a war; on the contrary, he had no love for war. He was extremely frightened by such a future for mankind”. He “shows us a path, a way, to avoid them: this is fundamental. The Fellowship of the Ring is a company of people, of beings of different sorts and types, and each one has its own characteristics. They cooperate without any abuse of power; they do not try to change each other. They cooperate to restore a multipolar world, a world where tradition, ancient lore and epic stories can survive, upon which a new future can be built. This is his goal, and he tells us his goal, he has told us about it by means of an extraordinary creation he loved very much […].” That’s why the translation must be readily understood: “because his message is to mankind, not only to the British”: “this path he has shown us and this story of old he is telling us belongs to each of us. Each of us means Italian, Japanese, German, Dutch people, that is, each one of us and each in his own way, just like the Fellowship of the Ring: they must come together to change the world, not in a subversive way, but in an anti-subversive way”. Tolkien wanted to convey this by means of The Lord of the Rings, and a translation had to respect it. But did it do this? And how does this wonderful fairy-story go on? And most of all: how is it going to end”

¹  I refer to the words of princess Vittoria Alliata di Villafranca during a conference held at the Italian Senate on the 17 January 2019. I was there and was inspired to write this article by the words of the princess and by the kind request of my friend Oronzo Cilli, in whose book Tolkien e l’Italia (Tolkien and Italy) I have found all the information regarding the publication of the Lord of the Rings in Italy.