Fieldnote #2: When a Pokémon Master knows 17th-Century French Literature

I’ve recently been playing through the French version of Pokemon Omega Ruby for Nintendo 3DS— partly for the nostalgia/escapism, but also as a means to improving my French reading. 

For those who aren’t familiar, there’s a place called Maison de Combat (“Battle Maison” in the English version, strangely enough), where you can enter 20-round tournaments of battling different Pokémon trainers. Once you reach the end, you face off with the category’s châtelaine, a “lady of the house“ master trainer, if you will.

Upon beating the châtelaine in the Duo Battle Category, she congratulates you by saying the following: 

Monsieur du Dresseur!
Que vous êtes doué! Que vous me semblez fort!
Sans mentir, si votre technique
Se rapporte à votre puissance,
Vous êtes le Ho-Oh des hôtes de ces…
Euh… de cette maison?

(Rough translation):
Mister Trainer! 
How gifted you are! How strong you seem to me!
To tell the truth, if your technique 
relates to your power,
You are the Ho-Oh of hosts of these…
Um… of this house?
Ho-oh is a legendary Pokémon based on the Chinese Phoenix.

Then she goes on to talk about how embarrassed she is, but only because she let you win. Blah blah blah. I beat her team pretty easily tbh.

Now for those of us who started learning French much later in life, you might have assumed these words were an invention of the game designers. But I wouldn’t have known, if not for the French translation course I took last summer, that these lines are actually deeply cultural.  

It turns out that this poem actually alludes to a famous French fable, “Le Corbeau et le Renard”, which is traditionally required memorization for all French schoolchildren. The author of the poem, Jean de la Fontaine, was a 17th-century French writer whose work impacted French literature and communication styles today. His famous Fables, largely inspired by Aesop’s fables, demonstrates his metrical prowess, while incorporating animals as human-like characters in order to convey deeper morals messages as well as social critiques.

The basic message of “The Fox and the Crow” is that you should never let others dupe you by flattery. At the end of the poem, the crow loses his cheese to the fox because the latter convinces him that his singing is just as beautiful as how he looks. Ironically, the châtelaine is the one who ends up losing the battle, even if she symbolically plays the role of the flatterer. 

Given that the game was localized to a French-speaking audience, it’s no surprise that the translators chose to include this cultural reference, knowing full well that French kids who play Pokémon would likely catch on. My question, then, is what type of poem did they use for the English version? I guess I’ll have to play the game all over again to find out…

For a slow reading of the original, click here.

For a richer, more poetic translation of “The Crow and the Fox”, click here.

For the version in verlan (French slang), click here.

And for the rap remix, click here.

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