Interview: Susan Rennie on translating Tintin into Scots

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

This week I was lucky enough to speak to Susan Rennie about her Scots translation of Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s L’Île Noire titled, Tintin and the Derk Isle.

Susan Rennie

With this translation Susan Rennie has brought new warmth and humour to this classic tale of kidnappings, counterfeiters and hairy monsters…

And I promise you won’t need a Scots dictionary to enjoy this adventure of Tintin and his faithful wee dug Tarrie!


Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

How did translating from the French affect Tintin and the Derk Isle?

“I think it helped me to come up with a unique tone and a style for it. The English translation is brilliant but I knew this was going to be very different. It also meant I could create original character names and catch phrases. There are a few cases where the phrasing is much closer to the French than the English.”

I imagine translating the names of the characters was pretty tough?

“Yes, I had quite a bit of discussion about that. In the original Milou is a conflation of Marie-Louise. She was actually Hergé’s girlfriend. I thought about Tammie as in Tam o’ Shanter but decided on Tarrie because it’s a Scots word for terrier.

“And Nisbet and Nesbit was quite a nice one to do. It had to be a surname that is confusable because of the spelling. Every year when I’m writing Christmas cards I have to check the spelling of our friends’ surname. So yes it’s a common problem not knowing whether your friends are Nisbets or Nesbits.  It was nothing to do with Rab C Nesbit.”

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Talking of translating characters was the name Hairy Etin translated directly from the French?

“No, that is Scots. Etin is a Scots word for a giant and it comes from Old Norse. There’s a Scottish legend of the Red Etin whose colour comes from the blood of his victims. I loved that he has a rhyme too, a bit like ‘fee fie fo fum’ it goes, ‘Snowk but, snowk ben, I smell the bluid o earthly men’.”

The old man in the pub calls him an ‘Onbeast’. Where does that word come from?

“An Onbeast is a literary Scots word for a monster. In French he is just called ‘La Bête’ or ‘the beast’. I wanted to use very accessible language in this translation, but sometimes the people in the older generation like Nisbet and Nesbit speak slightly more old fashioned Scots.”

Were there any words that you couldn’t find a Scots equivalent for?

“There is an issue with how much you leave as English. But because a lot of words are shared between Scots and English it’s not really using English words as much as words that are the same.

“I tried to use Scots idioms and Scots grammatical phrasing. For example, ‘pit his gas at a peep’ (take the wind out of his sails). I had a favourite uncle who used to say that all the time so that one was kind of a tribute to him.

“Some translations into Scots can be a bit literal but unless you are using the idioms and the phrasing you miss some of the flavour of the language. So I really wanted to try to get some into this story which is very much based on dialogue.”

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

Image: Copyright Hergé/Casterman

I notice that every part of this book is in Scots is that unusual?

“Well, I have to say, that’s actually down to the publisher. They are used to doing Tintin in Welsh and they always translate every part so they just naturally asked for the same thing for Scots. I don’t know if having the imprint page in Scots has ever been done before.”

Will there be any more Scots Tintin translations?

“Yes, I am working on two this year. The next one is going to be Les Cigares du pharaon. The Scots title will be The Merk o the Pharaoh.

“And then towards the end of the year it’s going to be The Partan wi the Gowden Taes which is originally Le Crabe aux pinces d’or. That’s the one when Captain Haddock is introduced so it’s going to be so much fun to translate.”

Are there any in-jokes in the translation for eagle-eyed readers?

“Yes, there are a few little things. I changed the names of the policemen at the end of the story to Murray, Craigie, Grant and Jamieson. They are four famous Scottish lexicographers. I am a lexicographer so that was a nice little thing for me to get in there.

“Also the newspaper on the final page was made to look like a generic British newspaper in the French version. We’ve changed it to The Northern Looking Glass which was a comic magazine printed in Glasgow in the 1820s. It is thought to be the world’s first published comic.”

Tintin and the Derk Isle is now published by Dalen Alba (original publication was a partnership between Taigh na Teud and Dalen Alba) and you can buy it from all good high street and online booksellers (or it is available in Edinburgh Public Libraries) and you can find lots more information on the language and characters at