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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was renamed in the US because Americans don’t know what a philosopher is

Charlotte Dorans

Published 
| Last updated 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was renamed in the US because Americans don’t know what a philosopher is

For everyone around the world, Harry Potter is now just one of those quintessential parts of UK popular culture.

It's just as British as fish and chips, tea and waiting in queues.

But no one could have predicted what a massive success J.K. Rowling's series of children's books would become when Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone first dropped back in 1997.

But despite the unprecedented reaction, when the time arrived for the book to release in the US of A, they felt it needed a few adjustments.

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Most notably, the title.

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British and American Potter Heads alike might not be aware that the name was changed for readers across the pond as the publisher was worried that US readers would neither know or care what a philosopher is.

As such, they decided to switch to something more overtly magical in order to get those sales pumping.

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Ultimately, they went with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Per their official definitions, a philosopher is a 'learned academic' while a sorcerer is a 'wizard', and so you can see how they came to this conclusion.

That being said, Arthur A. Levine - who previously headed Scholastic, which bought the US publishing rights for Harry Potter - wanted to go with a title that was even more on the nose.

Clearly he didn't have much faith in American kids' comprehension skills, as he originally pitched Harry Potter and the School of Magic.

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Unsurprisingly, he was quickly shut down by Rowling.

For Brits, it's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - but not for Americans. Credit: Christie's/Getty Images
For Brits, it's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - but not for Americans. Credit: Christie's/Getty Images

Writer Philip W. Errington wrote about this exchange in his Rowling bibliography, stating: "Levine noted that he needed a title that said 'magic' more overtly to American readers.

"He [Levine] continued, 'I certainly did not mind Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone but I can see... why a book that is titled Philosopher’s Stone might seem more arcane or something.

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"So the title that I had suggested to me and which I then turned to Jo was Harry Potter and the School of Magic.

"Jo very thoughtfully said, 'No, that doesn’t feel right to me'.

"She went on to say that 'there are objects' she would like before suggesting the Sorcerer’s Stone. And that's exactly what they went with.

One of the key issues with the title is that the Philosopher's Stone is a legit legend, and is the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy.

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The film franchise propelled the series to further fame. Credit: Warner Bros
The film franchise propelled the series to further fame. Credit: Warner Bros

The mythic alchemical substance is said to be capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gold or silver.

In the Middle Ages, people believed the Philosopher's Stone was an elixir that held the key to eternal life.

The Sorcerer’s Stone, on the other hand, is just made up.

As such, Rowling later admitted that she regretted the title change while speaking for BBC Red Nose Day back in 2001 - but by that point it was too late.

"They changed the first title, but with my consent," she said. "To be honest, I wish I hadn't agreed now, but it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy."

Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros

Topics: Harry Potter, TV and Film, JK Rowling

Charlotte Dorans
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