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“Dotar Sojat” does not mean “My Right Hand”

Posted on Thursday, December 1, 2011 in Books, Film, Rant

Okay, the newest John Carter movie trailer is out. As I’ve stated before, I’m a big fan of the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burrough (ERB). When I heard there was finally going to be a movie, I was skeptical but cautiously optimistic. After all, I was very pleased with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and my Tolkien hurdle is much, much higher than my ERB one. That being said, when I heard that Andrew Stanton was directing, my heart sank. I love Pixar and who can argue with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and all the rest. But John Carter? It just didn’t seem to fit.

Well, now that two trailers are out…I’m very cautiously optimistic that the movie won’t stink. How’s that for hedging my bets? The visuals look kind of cool although the tusks on the Green Men seem a little out of place. They’re described as coming from the lower jaw. And I’m a little unsure of Woola’s look. But, I’m willing to give it a shot even with those caveats and the superfluous wardrobe department on the set. If nothing else, maybe it’ll be a rollicking space adventure.

But, as always, this is a conlanging blog, and the bone I have to pick with the film is conlinguistical. First of all, take another look at Tars Tarkas. Take a look at the descriptive paragraph. It’s okay, I’ll wait….Oh, you’re back. Notice that it says, “Tars gives Carter the Thark name Dotar Sojat, which translates to ‘my right hand.'” Uh, no. Dotar and Sojat were the names of the two warriors slain by John Carter upon his arrival on Barsoom. Unless one was named “My Right” and other was named “Hand”, that “translation” doesn’t work. Plus, Dotar Sojat isn’t just a Thark name. All inhabitants of Barsoom speak the same language, so “Tars gives Carter the Barsoomian name” would have at least been more accurate.

But that’s not the worst on the official site. Take a look at these: A Martian “Decoder” and a Martian Translator. Uh, once again, that’s not “translating” that’s what’s called a “code” (or “cipher” if you want to get fancy), Disney. What’s worse, the “Decoder” has every letter of the Roman alphabet! Couldn’t they have even put the letters C and K together or something! This is like something you’d get on the back of a cereal box or inside a Cracker Jack prize. Disney obviously told their art department to come up with some nifty designs, and, oh hey!, there’s 26 of them, let’s call them the “Martian language.” Tah dah!

With the inventiveness of ERB’s Barsoomian naming language, I had hoped there was some effort to pay lip service to the language (no pun intended). I’m still hoping there’s something in the final film, some small scene where Carter has to learn the language of Barsoom and then use English as the stand-in for it (a la The 13th Warrior). If not, it just seems like a lost opportunity. Sigh…