Philosophers and Sorcerers: Was it really a prudent move to change the name?
The only thing that infuriates me about the Harry Potter series is the – slightly delicate – situation of “the title change”; namely, the change from the British title “Philosopher’s Stone” to the American “Sorcerer’s Stone” for the US printed books. In this article I hope to point out some reasons why this change shouldn’t have happened. Please note, I mean no offense, particularly to the Americans who are reading this.
Point #1: The decision to change Philosopher to Sorcerer was made because, in the U.S., a philosopher connotes a scholar of philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields. Philosopher does not typically connote an alchemist or magician, and magic is essential to the Harry Potter books. Consequently, the publisher suggested using another word with a more magical connotation, and Sorcerer was suggested as an alternate word.
Indeed, this is true. However, throughout the novel we find out exactly who Nicholas Flamel is and what he does, as seen below:
“Nicholas Flamel’, she whispered dramatically, "is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone!" - Hermione Granger, Chapter 13, page 161, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, British paperback
“There have been many reports of the Philosopher’s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicholas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera-lover.” - Chapter 13, page 161, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, British paperback
The first quote proves that Nicholas Flamel is indeed an alchemist, not a philosopher. In this respect, without the indication that Flamel was an alchemist, American readers would in fact remain rather confused.
However, the second quote proves that the name of the Stone may not refer to the creator but to the properties that it has.
According to various dictionaries, a Philosopher is a person who studies, amongst other things, metaphysics – that being cosmology, epistemology and ontology; in short, life and time. Keeping in mind that the Philosopher’s Stone produces the Elixir of Life, making the drinker immortal, this therefore indicates that the Stone contains properties discovered by a philosopher. So the name of the Stone does not refer to the creator, but to the philosophical properties discovered and provided to the alchemist by a philosopher. In short, the name “philosopher’s Stone” does not mean “Stone made by a philosopher” but in fact means “Stone made by alchemist but discovered by philosopher”. If we keep in mind that the philosopher discovered all the components that make up the Stone, we realise that, though the Stone was physically made by an alchemist, the alchemist was really only the vessel to complete a task that the philosopher was not trained to do.
If you require more proof, the second quote also indicates that the Philosopher’s Stone was so named before the discovery that Mr Flamel was in possession of one. His is not the Philosopher’s Stone – since the quote indicates that more were rumoured to be in existence before Flamel’s.
The quote also indicates that the Stone was not originally created by Mr Flamel, but that he had made one. If this is true, and Mr Flamel is not the original creator of a/the Stone, then it could very well have been created by a philosopher, which we know is someone who studies life and time.
If either of these are true, then the meaning of “Philosopher” would still stand true for the Americans, since these definitions are based on the American meaning for the word. It is according to American dictionaries that philosophers study life and time; therefore, the confusion shouldn’t be there, and the name change is unnecessary.
Point #2: JK Rowling admits to regretting the decision to agree with the name change.
At first, you may ask why this can help with pointing out why the name change should never have occurred. But, you will find that the consent given was barely consent after all.
It was consent in word but not in heart. She (JK Rowling) later claimed that “as a fledgling author she wasn’t in a strong enough position to fight it at the time”.
Clearly, JK Rowling gave her word of consent but only because she felt – for whatever reasons she had – that she couldn’t fight against it. In truth, it would appear that the change was never her hearts choice, and she has regretting allowing it to happen ever since.
Even if this doesn’t indicate that the change shouldn’t have gone ahead in the first place, surely it indicates that the title should be reverted?
Point #3: Scholastic thought that a child would hesitate to buy a book with the word “philosopher” in its title, and would be more obliged to buy a book with the word “sorcerer” instead.
The book was released in America a full year after its release in the UK. Yet it received many awards, including the “Smarties” award. Sounds odd, I know, but this award is voted for by children. The book received this award within 6 months of publication, making it well-known by the time it had been out for half a year.
This is with the original British title; Philosopher’s Stone. Not even out for a year – and not yet published in the US – the book’s title was no setback. So why would it be in America, having already been out for a year in Britain with so much publicity?
As it were, their tactical sale move made little difference. Many in America were already aware of the British title and in fact owned copies of the originally-named book – due to the excessive time gap between releases in the two countries, many from America had elected to purchase the book online from British bookstores.
The major book reviewers in America gave the novel little consideration immediately after the release in their country, passing it instead to library publications and book trade, where it was only examined by their entertainment-oriented criteria of children’s fiction. It is clear that the book’s publicity was brought about majorly because of the fantastic job done in England – with, yes, the original title – that was done so well that many Americans were also aware of it, and some owned it, before its release in America. The book as they know it (named Sorcerer’s Stone) in fact received very little publicity. The name change did not appear to assist in any way the sales of the book, and though I’m sure it is just a coincidence, one has to wonder whether the change of the name had the opposite effect to the desired one, being less attractive to young readers rather than more.
Point #4: Originally a British book, it only fits that it keeps its British name, regardless of how “dull” the average American (who – quoted – “don’t like philosophers”) may find it.
I have seen various quotes over the Internet of Americans openly admitting that in their nation they generally don’t like philosophers. This is no reason to change the name. The book isn’t theirs and I see no reason for them to have the right to change it simply because “they don’t like philosophers”.
As a general point, the book is British, not American. Countries all over the world have different names for philosophers. Yet there are only two versions. Why, when the other countries made no change, should America do so?
Personally, I feel that the move to change the name of the book was less than prudent, with weak evidence to support the idea. Whilst they claim that “philosopher” is a term that doesn’t make sense to the American reader when considering the context, this is in fact untrue since the American definition of the word indicates someone who studies metaphysics – life and time. Supposably the change is supported by the author, yet JK Rowling never “really” gave her consent. Consent is agreement, and it would appear that she never agreed. Their tactical sale move never worked, and though they claim that children would find “sorcerer” more appealing than “philosopher”, the word never really seemed to sway the reader’s decision to purchase the book – making the claim seem more like an excuse. Not to mention the fact that the book is British and needs a British title.
All in all, I think the change should never have happened.