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The time the US editors screwed up a Harry Potter book

Way back in the late 90s, the Harry Potter books came out in Britain first, long before the US editions. In fact, it took a whole year for Philosopher’s Stone to be Transfigured into Sorcerer’s Stone. During that year, the editors at Scholastic changed a lot more than the title. They replaced a lot of British terms which they assumed would confuse American readers.

In some cases, I guess they were probably right. Many Americans would have no idea what a “bobble hat” or a “packet of crisps” was, and in the U.S. a “jumper” is a kind of dress instead of a “sweater.” Okay, that makes sense. There are quite a few of these, actually: “cooker” instead of “stove,” “rounders” instead of “baseball,” “nobbled” instead of “clobbered,” and “revision” instead of “studying.” Older American readers find these differences fascinating. However, I can understand that younger readers would find them confusing.

Other changes are just differences of phraseology or other minor variations. Again, I understand that young readers might find these a bit confusing, but in most cases I prefer the British turn of the phrase. I don’t find them particularly challenging, and I don’t think a decent third grade reader would either, if they were given a heads-up before they started that they might have to switch their brains on. It’s not that hard to work out that “disused” is synonymous with “unused,” “sweet-boxes” means “candy boxes,” and a “changing room” would be the same as a “locker room.”

As the years went by and the books became staggeringly popular, the editing process changed. No longer did the British version come first. Now the editors worked together, simultaneously creating the two English-language editions. The editing teams at Bloomsbury and at Scholastic, along with Rowling, worked through the manuscript and agreed on all the changes made. Many more British phrases and terms were left intact, much to the delight of American fans. The changes now focused on minor differences in word use, such as “brimful of confidence” becoming “brimming with confidence.”

c27-the-lightning-struck.towerIn each case, regardless of the book or the editing process, the substance of the book remained the same. There might be an extra tidbit of information in one version or the other, such as the US edition’s mention of Dean Thomas as being “a Black boy even taller than Ron,” but that was it. The editions were essentially identical.

Except for that one bit in book six.

Rowling’s original version of the scene atop the Astronomy Tower between Draco and Dumbledore was written a little differently. In that original version, Dumbledore promises Draco that the Order will not only protect him but will also hide his mother and make it look like the Order had killed her. Here’s how the original text read:

“He cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Nobody would be surprised that you had died in your attempt to kill me — forgive me, but Lord Voldemort probably expects it. Nor would the Death Eaters be surprised that we had captured and killed your mother — it is what they would do themselves, after all. Your father is safe at the moment in Azkaban…when the time comes, we can protect him too. Come over to the right side, Draco…you are not a killer…”

The editors and Rowling together agreed that Dumbledore was too honorable to have said this and the reputation of the Order of the Phoenix was such that no one would actually believe that they had executed someone to further their cause. So everyone decided that the section would be edited to remove the reference to making it look like the Order had killed Narcissa. This sentence would be removed: “Nor would the Death Eaters be surprised that we had captured and killed your mother — it is what they would do themselves, after all.”

narcissa2-mkExcept the editors at Scholastic forget to take it out.

After the book came out, it didn’t take fans long to notice that there was a very big difference in the two scenes. Emails flashed back and forth between friends on either side of the Atlantic. I was in Britain shortly after book six came out and I remember being asked repeatedly about it. Was there really a missing sentence in the UK edition that cast a whole new light on the characters of Dumbledore and the Order? How did this happen? Which version is correct?

Repeated emails to Scholastic and Bloomsbury went unanswered for months. Finally, after quite some time and plenty of fan discussion, Scholastic admitted that they had screwed up, that they had failed to remove a sentence which should have been edited out. Fans said “Oh, that explains it” and went on to discussing other things.

But apparently, this mistake was taken a lot more seriously behind the scenes than we fans realized. I learned first hand just how touchy the editors at Scholastic were on this subject when I made an off-hand comment to them about it during the Lumos convention in Las Vegas. They were, shall we say, not amused. Clearly I had touched a nerve. I can still remember the icy response I got to my good-natured comment. I guess it’s a good thing none of them knew how to cast a Cruciatus Curse. These were the same editors who had sent me a nice note right after book six came out, thanking me for the Lexicon’s help during the editing process. Oh well.

The real question still remains: which version is correct? Rowling did originally write the sentence which ultimately was to be removed, so it’s canon, right? However, fans tend to consider the British versions to be more “correct,” and that version doesn’t include the sentence. Also, Rowling did agree to the change. Then again, she agreed to changing the title of the first book to “Sorcerer’s Stone,” a change which no true fan accepts as canon. So what do you think? Did Dumbledore suggest that the Death Eaters would assume that the Order would kill Narcissa or not?

 

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  • https://www.facebook.com/toddabbottpainting Todd Abbott

    The Death Eaters as a whole just do not look into the Order with the detail that the Order looks into them with the exception of maybe Voldemort… and even he tends to have problems with what might be considered “normal emotions”… as this has gotten him into a lot of trouble before. So I honestly do think the Death Eaters would think the Order would handle things that way.

    • http://www.hp-lexicon.org Steve Vander Ark

      I completely agree. The Death Eaters would just assume that the Order would use what they consider to be normal tactics. However, I think the point that the editors were making is that Dumbledore was so honorable that wouldn’t have suggested it. Personally, I think the Dumbledore we finally see in book seven was a lot more ruthless than we thought.

      • Joe Cutroni

        I agree with Steve, that book seven reveals a bit more of the ruthless side of Dumbledore and exposes some of his thoughts that hadn’t been really revealed anytime during the series. I also agree with the editors’ thought of Dumbledore being too honorable to have suggested the Order kill Narcissa…

        I was a bit taken back when I read that dialogue.

  • ColdCountry

    Yes, I think he’d suggest that. I did’t find Dumbledore to extraordinarily honorable. While he obviously liked Harry, he was clearly using him – and a lot of other people, as we learned. Maybe he didn’t lie, or cheat, or steal, but he didn’t seem to mind sacrificing people for the “greater good.” As for the honor of the Order, Mundungus was a member, for heaven’s sake! I think any reputation of honor that the order had came as much from the honor of the individual members as from the association with Dumbledore.

    As for other editing changes, I wish they’d left the British versions alone. Maybe if the British terms appeared in every sentence, or a few times a page, it would be difficult for the younger readers, however, you learn new words by encountering new words, and it doesn’t hurt to learn, early on, that just because someone speaks the same language, it doesn’t mean the words all mean the same things.

    There wasn’t more than a word or two in the British versions that I’ve read that were unfamiliar to me. Granted, I’m an adult, but the words were familiar because I have read unedited British books since grade school. In fact, I was annoyed that they edited the books that way as I wanted to learn more, and like you, I enjoy the British turn of phrase.

  • TFB

    “It’s not that hard to work out that “disused” is synonymous with “unused,”

    - but you’d be wrong to do so, of course! In English, “disused” means once used but abandoned and no longer in use (as in a “disused factory”) whereas “unused” means never used (as in “the building was intended as a factory but remained unused because the firm went bankrupt before it could be opened.”)

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