General Question

El_Perseguidor's avatar

Why does the first Harry Potter Book have a different name in the US?

Asked by El_Perseguidor (410points) March 19th, 2011

US name: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer´s stone.
UK name: Harry Potter and the Philosopher´s stone
I notice that my Spanish version use the UK name for the translation: Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal

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25 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

I believe it’s because it was assumed (probably correctly) by the publisher that Americans in general would be ignorant of the meaning and lore of the Philosopher’s Stone.

Taciturnu's avatar

When someone I know read it, it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (I borrowed it.) I don’t know why it would have changed.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Supposedly, it was changed because Scholastic (the American publisher) thought that children wouldn’t want a book with the word “philosopher” in the title.

incendiary_dan's avatar

According to the PBS special I saw, @Jeruba‘s answer strikes close to home. Problem is, Americans also don’t know about it when it’s called “Sorcerer’s Stone”, so it was pointless.

filmfann's avatar

@incendiary_dan true, but American audiences are more attracted to “sorcerer” than “philosopher”.
I don’t understand why they seemed to feel you have to dumb things down for America, but that was the reasoning.

Fieryspoon's avatar

@incendiary_dan Not knowing that the philospher’s stone is something specific though, it makes sense. Americans think of philosophers as thinkers and sorcerers as something magical.

Fieryspoon's avatar

@filmfann it’s not dumbing it down, it’s making it culturally accessible to a wider audience. Nothing is stupid about calling it one arbitrary name over another.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Of course the word sorcerer is more exciting. I mean, c’mon, sorcerer!

Frankly, now I’m wondering why they didn’t just change all of them to that. It’s an exciting word. :)

augustlan's avatar

In America, when we think of ‘philosopher’ we think of a very specific thing, a deep thinker – not a witch, wizard or anything magical at all. It just wouldn’t have made sense in an American context.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I recall reading the first book to a child shortly after it was published and thinking that some of the phrasing was, well, incongruent with what I knew to be idiomatic English English. I happened to read an English version and some phrases in the US version were definitely changed to be more understandable to American kids.

Nullo's avatar

It’s worth noting that while alchemists were thick on the ground in Europe back in the Middle Ages and precedent Classical period (leaving a fair dent in the cultural memory), the United States has no such history.

I personally find localization – beyond translation and cultural/idiomatic notes – offensive. What, did you think that I couldn’t handle the differences?

aprilsimnel's avatar

@Nullo – JK Rowling thought much the same, and bade Scholastic to knock it off after Goblet of Fire. After all, they are British kids, aren’t they?

klutzaroo's avatar

Americans were considered too stupid to understand the original title and how it relates to the legend so it was changed so that they didn’t think it was about that fancy schmancy philosophy thingamajiger.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I’m sure part of the reason is because “Sorcerer’s Stone” sounds more American than “Philosopher’s Stone” but there can also be copyright and contractual issues when books are published in two countries. This is why the first novel of the trilogy “His Dark Materials” is called “Northern Lights” in the UK and “The Golden Compass” in the US.

Jeruba's avatar

I reject the idea that it didn’t make sense in an American context. What’s wrong with a little education? I originally learned about the Philosopher’s Stone because it was the basis of an adventure of Donald Duck and the boys and Uncle Scrooge in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories sometime in the 1950s.

Other stories involved Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Minotaur, the Aztecs, and numerous other figures and ideas out of ancient history and mythology. The comic books were pure entertainment, but the historical elements were sound, and you could absorb a lot of incidental knowledge from them.

Now there seems to be an aversion to exposing kids to something they don’t already know, as if it would threaten their fragile self-esteem. The truth is just the opposite! You can take much more pride and pleasure in increasing your knowledge than in safeguarding your ignorance. Exposing them to things they don’t already know is the bulk of our job.

Anyway, it was probably not out of fear of the kids’ ignorance but out of an apt estimate of the ignorance of those who’d be doing the purchasing—namely, the adults.

@KatawaGrey, I misread your remark—sorry.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Jeruba: I’m confused, what did I say?

filmfann's avatar

@Jeruba The point is that the publishers underrated the Amercians, not that they were correct.
Also, @KatawaGrey is saying Book 1 is called Northern Lights in the UK, not The Golden Compass.

Jeruba's avatar

I think they were correct in their estimation of the audience. But I think they should have let the audience rise to it instead of stooping to the audience.

everephebe's avatar

In 2nd grade I knew what the philosopher’s stone was, I read about it entirely on my own. This was “long” before Harry Potter came out. Oh and I lived in the American Midwest. In a particularly Hicktacular region. And the book I read about it in, was in my school library, in the motherfucking “children’s section,” just sayin’.

However even if I was not aware of the lore, perhaps the book would have been a good opportunity to find out about it?

Bad move, pandering to the lowest common denominator is foolish.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I dunno, I think it was smart – at eleven years old, I didn’t really want to spend my time reading about Socrates (which is what I would have thought it was about). I got enough of that in school – I wanted fun and adventure. I think there’s a big difference between not dumbing it down for adults and making it more appealing to kids (who were the original target demographic).

downtide's avatar

@KatawaGrey regarding the Northern Lights/Golden Compass thing: A book title cannot be copyrighted or trademarked. Although the publisher retains power of veto on a book title and it may be changed on his insistance if it clashes with somethng else. Had the publisher ignored this and chosen to publish under the original title, neither publisher nor author could be sued over it but it might negatiely affect sales if it’s not what the public expects.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@downtide: That makes sense. I knew it was some odd thing like that. Thank you for clarifying!

mattbrowne's avatar

Cultural differences between UK and US audience which marketing takes into account.

Jeruba's avatar

My point in mentioning the Disney comics was that just a few decades ago one of the world’s biggest kid-pleasing machines thought American youngsters could handle the term “Philosopher’s Stone” and the concept that went with it.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

From a site with an interview with J.K. Rowling:

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?
JKR: 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. We discussed several alternative titles and Sorcerer’s Stone was my idea.

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