I can only assume that it's executive meddling, but has there ever been a reason stated for the re-titling of the first harry potter book for US Markets?

  • 16
    -1 - A simple Google would have answered this question. – user46509 Oct 26 '15 at 14:31
  • 23
    @AncalagonTheBlack but that is true for 85%ish of the questions here... – Cherubel Oct 26 '15 at 14:57
  • 51
    @AncalagonTheBlack A simple Google search just garnered many results, all with differing reasons on the subject, and none from great sources anyway. +1 from me. – Dave Johnson Oct 26 '15 at 15:35
  • 57
    "Wand Boy and the Magic Rock" – user11521 Oct 26 '15 at 19:09
  • 22
    @AncalagonTheBlack a good number of google searches these days direct us to threads where someone asks a question and the only answer is "A simple Google would have answered this question" – Darth Hunterix Oct 27 '15 at 21:16

Q: What kind of manuscript changes had to be made to make the U.S. version more understandable to American readers? Specific things, like the title change of the first Harry Potter book? (The original British title is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.)

A: Very few changes have been made in the manuscript. Arthur Levine, my American editor, and I decided that words should be altered only where we felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader. I have had some criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they'd better go and learn English. The title change was Arthur's idea initially, because he felt that the British title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. In England, we discussed several alternative titles and "Sorcerer's Stone" was my idea.

(src: JKR eToys interview, etoys.com, Fall 2000)

  • 6
    This isn't actually a very good answer - what was "misleading" about the title? Neither "philosopher" nor "sorcerer" are particularly unknown or difficult words in either country, so this is really only half a reason. – Nagora Oct 28 '15 at 10:26
  • 4
    @Nagora I hope you were referring to JKR's interview answer and not my StackExchange asnwer (which merely quotes, y'know, the book author :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 28 '15 at 15:00
  • 5
    @Nagora There was a very long chain of comments that were deleted from this answer - Essentially stating that the "Philosopher's Stone" is not as widely heard of in the U.S. - (backed up by a Google N-gram) - leading to the view that "Philsopher's Stone" might be taken too literally and could potentially be misleading to American consumers in a negative way, who might get the view that the book would contain a bunch of long-winded philosophy or philosophers. The word "philosopher's", at the least, is not "exciting" to most American children. All the "maybe's" are why its controversial. – DoubleDouble Oct 28 '15 at 17:47

Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US$105,000, an unusually high sum for a children's book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title and, after some discussion, the American edition was published in September 1998 under the title Rowling suggested, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user1027 Oct 26 '15 at 21:00

For English Children's Lit trying to sell in America, the translation process is almost a given - just as translations to any other language are. Because yes, there are enough differences between American English and the UK English to be treated that way - ESPECIALLY with learning readers and especially if you want it to succeed.

People who want to lose themselves in a book need to be able to do so fairly seamlessly without having to consult a UK-to-American dictionary to figure out why someone lit a fire to check inside their vehicle's footwear in search of... ???? when reading "He pulled out his torch to look in the boot for the wayward spanner"

And we can all giggle about the differences in language, but this is about selling books. And - probably rightfully - the attraction of a title that seemed pedantic rather than mystical in the US was questioned.

  • 3
    You give pre-teens too little credit. I think many of them know that "lighting a torch to look in the boot after a spanner" means "using a flashlight to check the trunk for a wrench". In fact, teaching them how to understand missing words by dictionary and/or context is an important lesson. Along with the secondary lesson that UK and US have different meanings for words. BTW, I get torch and spanner, sort of, but how in the hell did a car's trunk become a boot? – Xalorous Oct 27 '15 at 23:14
  • 9
    @Xalorous You mean "How the heck did a car's boot become a trunk? A storage compartment at the back of a vehicle is the least trunk-like thing I can imagine. "Look, kids! This part of the car is named after your torso! Or possibly part of an elephant." (Seriously, though, etymology usually only makes sense by accident. Just run with it.) – user867 Oct 27 '15 at 23:46
  • 2
    Well, in the US, a trunk is a big solid box, mainly associated with travelling by steamship. AND old timey cars used to have one where the back bumper would be. Check here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_trunk, see the Model A picture. – Xalorous Oct 28 '15 at 0:15
  • 3
    This doesn't actually explain this particular title change. – curiousdannii Oct 28 '15 at 3:23
  • 6
    The American English expression for "Philosopher's Stone" is "Philosopher's Stone" so this doesn't really apply. – Jon Hanna Oct 28 '15 at 10:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.