So as you know, I’ve been reading through Order of the Phoenix for the, I don’t know, maybe fortieth time, and that doesn’t include the dozen times I’ve listened to the audio version. The sentences feel wonderfully familiar and honestly, it’s like spending time with a dear friend. I guess that’s why it really caught me by surprise when I read this:
‘I wonder if Hermione’s seen this yet?’ Harry said, looking round at the door to the girls’ dormitories.
‘Let’s go and tell her,’ said Ron. He bounded forwards, pulled open the door and set off up the spiral staircase.
He was on the sixth stair when there was a loud, wailing, klaxon-like sound and the steps melted together to make a long, smooth stone slide like a helter-skelter.
If you’re an American reader, you might have had the same reaction that I did at that point. I stopped and read it over. Sure enough, it said “helter-skelter.” Why did I never notice that before? And what the heck does it mean, anyway?
For this read through, I had picked up the Raincoast paperback from 2004. I’m not sure why I went with the paperback, since it’s not as convenient for reading at my desk, and since I’m reading this time through with the intention of writing about what I find, I have been mostly sitting in my office rather than taking up my usual position of sprawled in my cozy leather reading chair. The Raincoast editions are from Canada and they use the Bloomsbury version of the text. So I was reading the British version of Order of the Phoenix. And the British version clearly says “like a helter-skelter.”
British fans hearing this will say, yeah, so what? A helter-skelter is just a spiral slide ride at a fair or amusement park, built around the outside of a whimsical tower. But you see, we don’t have those kinds of rides in the US, and a lot of Americans only think of one thing when they hear that term: an extremely gruesome series of murders carried out by followers of Charles Manson back in 1969. So it’s no wonder that I was taken aback by the reference to “helter-skelter” in the midst of a Harry Potter novel.
So of course I looked it up on the Lexicon website. Yep, there is it on the “Differences In the Text” entry for Order of the Phoenix. I guess I’d just never noticed it before. And it makes me wonder if for any of those forty-plus reads I’d used one of my British editions of the book.
There aren’t many major differences between the Scholastic and Bloomsbury versions. The editors changed less and less as the series went on — most of the differences are obvious changes from British phrases and terms to American ones. But this change came as a big surprise.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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