Friday, April 16, 2010

The Philosopher's Stone

Take a look. Take a good look. Especially if you're reading this from somewhere in the U.S.

Yup. You see it now, don't you. Someone's been mucking about with the title. Everyone knows the first installment of the Harry Potter heptology is called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. What's this Philosopher's Stone business?

Well, I'll tell you. This cover is a British cover--sporting J.K. Rowling's original title. Yup, you heard it here. The ORIGINAL title. (Okay, who am I kidding? You probably know this already, right?) Rowling's title was changed at the request of the U.S. publisher.

Well, excuse me. (Yeah, really, just give me a sec so I can climb up on my high, high horse...)

Alright then: So, if you've been following my posts, you know that I'm a philosopher. And so I have issues with the switch from a philosopher's stone to a sorcerer's stone. I get that some words don't translate well from British to American English. Pretty sure I would have been confused if I'd read that Harry et. al. ate potato jackets for dinner, followed by a dessert of quivering mountains of lime jelly, one peak of which unfortunately toppled and messed up their scarlet and gold wooly jumpers. So, yes, translate away. But, whereas British 'jelly' means American 'Jell-0', we are not dealing with a mere issue of clarifying meaning here. When the Brit's say 'philosopher', they're not referring to what we North Americans are referring to when we say 'sorcerer'.

In case you aren't aware, the Philosophers' Stone is a reference to the as-of-yet-unfinished philosophical/alchemaic project for discovering how to change base metals into gold. (We're just on the brink of a major breakthrough. I swear.) Also: an Elixir of Life, and producer of Immortality. In other words, something Voldemort *shudder* would love to get his scary, claw-like hands on.

The sorcerer's stone? Never heard of it.

So, why did the U.S. publisher want to change the title? Apparently they thought kids wouldn't be interested in a book with the word "philosopher" in the title. So, what we have here is a snub (remember I'm sitting on a very high horse right now. But I'm getting off it. Right... It used to be that after I first started teaching and people asked what I did for work, I'd tell them I was a professor. I'd dread the question I knew was coming next. "Neat," they'd say, all bright-eyed and interested, "and what do you teach?" There'd be a pause, while I clenched and unclenched my jaw. Eventually I'd have to tell them. Invariably, their eyes would lose all their glorious, shiny sparkliness and they would say, "Oh." We'd stare at each other for a minute. They'd realize that their drink needed refilling and they'd wander away. Or they'd say, "I took a philosophy class in college." And then go on to tell me about how it was either their worst class EVER, the worst prof they'd EVER had or the worst grade they'd EVER gotten.

If that were the end of the story, then, yeah, it wouldn't make much sense to put the word philosophy on the cover of a book you wanted to have any parent buy (unless that parent was a philosopher--and you'd be reaching out to pretty small market there.)

But something's changed. Now when I tell people what I do, they smile. They want to know more. They want to know what books I would recommend, who my favorite philosopher is. They tell me they majored in philosophy. Oh my, people seem to really like philosophy.

I'm hoping so anyway. Coz' it works best when you write what you know. And one thing I know something about is philosophy. So philosophy filters through my writing. I've got characters who are inspired by real philosophers. I've got ideas and conflicts that are inspired by philosophers. And I'm hoping that kids and their parents will be open to the word 'philosophy' and come to love my characters, conflicts and ideas as much as I do.

Although, at this stage, I'm mostly just hoping that an agent and then eventually a publisher will be open to the word. But more on that in my next post.

Right now I've got to get back to the philosophy lab. I'm quite confident that next time I'll be posting as the new and improved, *sparkle* Immortal *sparkle* Lisa. No wait, the new and improved, immortal Lisa who has her pockets jam packed with pretty, pretty gold nuggets.

Pretty sure you'll want to be my friend then, huh?


Mark T said...

Lisa-nice post and philosophizing.

Qlaudie said...

Yay Philosophers! I was always irked by that change, because I learned what the Philosopher's Stone was in grade school. They think we Americans R Dum.