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Why is Trelawney’s name different between the US and UK editions?

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Why is Trelawney’s name different between the US and UK editions?

Many fans never even noticed that there was a difference. But it’s true. In the Bloomsbury version, Trelawney’s first name is Sybill. In the US, it’s Sibyll. Note the switching of the ‘y’ there. So what’s up with that?

For years, I just noted the difference on the Lexicon and left it at that. Then on Pottermore, Rowling actually addressed the issue, revealing that the American editor had made the change. Here’s what she said:

“I preferred my version, because while it keeps the reference to the august clairvoyants of old, it is really no more than a variant the unfashionable female name ‘Sybil’. Professor Trelawney, I felt, did not really qualify as a ‘Sibyl’.” (Pm).

Rowling’s version was Sybill. In ancient times a Sibyl was a prophetess who, in a state of ecstasy and under influence of Apollo, prophesied without being consulted. So Rowling intentionally decided NOT to follow the spelling of the ancient seer because her character is more of a “wanna-be” seer. The US editors changed it, though, presumably because they wanted the name to fit the spelling of the ancient prophetesses.

So does that strike anyone else as oddly as it does me? Why were the US editors allowed to change something like that? This was a specific, intentional artistic choice by Rowling. This is the kind of thing which makes Rowling’s writing as rich and interesting as it is. But she let them change things. It’s either that the US editors were too pushy or that Rowling was too easily pushed. While it’s probably a combination of both, I think this is a clear example of how Rowling works with other creatives. And it’s an important concept for fans to understand.

Rowling does not look at canon the way we do. She doesn’t come at things with the idea that she has the last word or that everything has to be the way she conceived it. She has no problem with changes to her world instigated by others. Not just any “others, of course, just certain ones, like the book editors and the film makers. This explains why she didn’t step in and correct so many things in the films, such as the pronunciation of the name “Voldemort.” She’s more than happy to be a team player and just go with it. Let them do their creative thing. Unfortunately, the literature, the depth, the richness is sacrificed.

Sadly, it might explain why, in her new writing about Ilvermorny, she describes the death of Gormlaith as being just the way that Quirrell, Bellatrix, and Voldemort all died in the films — breaking up into millions of little pieces. That wasn’t canon at all before now — it was the filmmakers’ way of making things more visually exciting. In fact, the utterly mundane way in which Voldemort died was precisely the point! He’s not superhuman, he’s nothing but a craven, evil, remorseless old man. But now she’s “canonized” the way they did things in the films. Is that a problem? In some ways no — she’s just helping things to stay cohesive. But on other ways, it’s a huge problem. She’s willing to throw out the subtlety and nuance and, in my opinion, the beauty of the literature for the “bangs and smells magic” of today’s unsubtle, short-attention-span, media-saturated world. And I mourn the loss.


Pensieve (Comments)

  • The thing that was always strange to me is that as a member of that American audience, Sybill is much easier for my brain to comprehend how to pronounce than Sibyll. This of course being mostly because the first name that comes to mind when I think of how to pronounce the name is the close “Cybill” of which there is a famed actress to compare with (Shepherd).

    When I first read Sibyll, I mentally pronounced it with a hard “i” and a hard “y” like “Sibe Yill” and to this day I have a hard time writing or typing her name when referring to her (and therefore just call her Trelawney)

  • I’m surprised how long it took me to even notice that there were two spellings!

  • Mary Hochberg

    It’s hard to tell the difference when you listen to the audio books more than read the printed versions! I do agree, however, with your point about Voldemort’s death. The book version of Voldemort’s death had incredible impact (especially Jim Dale’s reading of it).

  • I think they’d probably be pronounced the same, actually. Rowling was using the spelling to make a subtle point about the character.

Tags: inconsistencies names Rowling's writing