Saturday, August 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Xenophobia

Note: No Spoilers

Way back in the late nineties, my sister encouraged me to read, and gave me her paperback copy of, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I fell for the book pretty hard, and passed it on to a certain husband, who finished it, looked up at me and said, "Did you know there's going to be six more of these?!?"

Not long after, I learned that there were differences between the "English" version (published by Bloomsbury) and the "American" versions (published by Scholastic) of the text, and, purists that we are, we ordered all subsequent books from the UK.

What are the differences?
The cover art of all 7 books is different for each version, as are things like font size (American is larger), number of pages, and punctuation (for example, in England they use a single quotes around dialogue and don't put a period after words like "Mr." and "Mrs.") There are also some spelling differences (gray/grey, neighbours/neighbors). People with more patience than me went through the entire first book and noted every word change between the British Philosopher's Stone and the Sorcerer's Stone. They are all fairly ridiculous, like changing "trainers" to "sneakers" and "lavatory" to "toilet".

I was quite curious to discover what differences there were between versions of the last book, and ended up reading a friend's American version while a certain husband read the British version. One of my friends joked that they probably just changed every "bloody" to "fucking". "Yeah," I said, "And all the 'snogging' to 'fucking' too!" So, it was with a certain amount of glee that I came across an "effing" in the American version, and scampered off to the British version - would it read "bloody"? No, it said "effing" too. Huh.

I had the patience to compare only the first 5 pages of Deathly Hallows word for word before giving up looking for differences, but, oh, blessed internet, this guy scoured chapter 12 and discovered some silly changes that had him heading for the dictionary.

Lack of faith, Loss of Opportunity
Something I really hate are those annoying jackasses who claim there's British English and then there's American English. No. We're all speaking English. I've got one thing to say to these bloody nitwits who claim I'm speaking a "lower" form of English, all soggy with Americanism: I'm sorry, but I can't talk to you. I don't understand a word you're saying.

The question isn't "What are the changes?" but "WHY are there changes?" Every single word change in the Harry Potters, every extra comma, every added period is an insult. The books were written in English, and Americans read... English! It's simply outrageous that an "American" version exists. Because they are ostensibly children's books, the changes, supposedly made for the good of the children, exhibit an outrageous underestimation of American children's adaptability, and denies them the opportunity to ask a question, pick up a dictionary, and learn something about another culture. And it's not just kids that lose the opportunity, as shown by the adult reader and his dictionary above (Baize Over a Bugerigar, by Frederick Wemyss).

These lingual differences amount to nothing more than xenophobia, sure, not an uncommon phenomenon in the United States, but a curious occurrence in the borderless world of literature. It boggles the mind to think that any book editor would change the language of a book IN ENGLISH for ENGLISH READERS. That they continued to do so, even in the seventh book, reveals a bizarre distrust of Scholastic's readership. It's a dark blotch on an otherwise incredible series that has drawn such a diverse crowd of readers. 8.3 million people bought the Deathly Hallows in the United States during the first 24 hours (source) - they had a lot of faith in Harry, but Scholastic didn't have much faith in them.


Kathy said...

Agreed---can you imagine "American" versions of James Joyce?

kbmulder said...

Amen, sisters! What would our global vocabulary be if we didn't learn all the fun words from different English speaking countries? Or pick up words from other languages, for that matter?

Why didn't they just make an "American" version of the movie, too?

Very good points Kelly!

Kathy said...

kbmulder, you're exactly right. Were you aware at all of Carrie's effort to adopt "holiday" rather than vacation? And Lyman's reaction to that? Very funny. Across the pond, they're so crazy!

Jane said...

Having got here from Google.... do Americans get an "American" version of Shakespeare, too? It always strikes me as odd that some Americans (usually those in some sort of authority) seem to have such a low opinion of American average intelligence. I feel quite insulted on your behalf.