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Monday, December 3, 2018

Why the name change from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in the UK to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States?



In the book Harry Potter and Philosophy, the editors write in the introductory article The Magic of Philosophy:

Philosophers, both Muggles and non-muggles, love Harry, which is more fitting than one might imagine. When the first Potter book was published in the United States, the subtitle The Philosopher´s Stone was changed to The Sorcerer´s Stone. The rationale was that Americans would be put off by reference to philosophy. Philosophy it was thought, evokes esoteric and daunting images of the ivory tower. This may have been a miscalculation

Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US$105,000, an unusually high sum for a children's book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title and, after some discussion, the American edition was published in September 1998 under the title Rowling suggested, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling later claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time. Philip Nel has pointed out that the change lost the connection with alchemy, and the meaning of some other terms changed in translation, for example from "crumpet" to "muffin".

In the article Why the name change from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in the UK to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States?, the Guardian asked different people why they think this change was demanded. Among others, Simon Blake, Shrewsbury England, says:

"Sorceror" sounds exciting, "philosopher" sounds boring, and nobody in America knows what a philosopher is. Famous title changes to take account of the incredible ignorance of the average American include "Licence Revoked" which became "Licence to Kill" when over 70% of those polled didn't know what "Revoked" means, and "The Madness of King George III", which had to drop the "III" because it was realised that Americans would be uninterested in the film since they'd obviously missed the first two films of the trilogy.

And, M B Drennan, Oxford UK says:

American kids (and parents) are far less likely to have heard of the Philosopher's Stone, since (like most European myths) these are diluted in US education for the very valid reason that American history and myth takes their educational place. They will therefore look at the word without context and it doesn't make sense that way, not in a book about magic. Also the American Hollywood-driven market is producing a generation dependent upon "thrill", and a sorcerer is more compatible with that than a philosopher!

It is no surprise that such changes were demanded in the US. I have several times been attacked by Americans for indicating the importance of philosophy in a spiritual practice. In spirituality, they lecture, you need to give up philosophy! On the other side you can also hear them claim that the American New Age guru, Byron Katie, with her one-sided version of cognitive psychotherapy, displays a modern version of Socrates or Stoic philosophy.

Susan Jacoby's new book The Age of American Unreason might be viewed as a kind of sequel to Richard Hofstadter's 1963 classic, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.” A cultural history of the last forty years, The Age of American Unreason focuses on the convergence of social forces—usually treated as separate entities—that has created a perfect storm of anti-rationalism. These include the upsurge of religious fundamentalism, with more political power today than ever before; the failure of public education to create an informed citizenry; and the triumph of video over print culture. Sparing neither the right nor the left, Jacoby asserts that Americans today have embraced a universe of “junk thought” that makes almost no effort to separate fact from opinion.

The problem is that there is a tendency in the world of accepting anything that comes from America as the new truth. The future of philosophy therefore doesn´t seem bright.


The fact is that The philosopher's stone, or stone of the philosophers (Latin: lapis philosophorum) is a legendary alchemical substance capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gold (chrysopoeia, from the Greek χρυσός khrusos, "gold", and ποιεῖν poiēin, "to make") or silver. It is also called the elixir of life, useful for rejuvenation and for achieving immortality; for many centuries, it was the most sought goal in alchemy. The philosopher's stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest, enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. Efforts to discover the philosopher's stone were known as the Magnum Opus ("Great Work").

In a lot of my writings on pop culture and philosophy, I have always emphasized the battle between the sophists and the philosophers, and I have depicted Friedrich Nietzsche as the dark sophist king himself. Nietzsche was Hitler´s court philosopher, and his philosophy perfectly fits the villains in different pop culture connections, for example Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes, Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, and the Sith lords in Star Wars.

The book Harry Potter and Philosophy claims the same:

What philosophically literate reader doesn´t hear an echo of Nietzsche in Voldemort´s words that there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to use it? Or imagine that, if Aristotle ran Hogwarts, he´d act a lot like Dumbledore? Or see the parallel between Harry´s invisibility cloak and Plato´s Ring of Gyges?

In his book Antisocial Media – How Facebook disconnect Us and Undermines Democracy, Siva Vaidhyanathan claims that Facebook is a story of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit, and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it´s an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic and intellectual culture around the world. Evolutionism and The Californian Ideology have fertilized the ground for the return of the Sophists, and a global spreading anti-intellectual and anti-scientific movement. The problem is much more dangerous than Donald Trump, much larger than the United States. Vaidhyanathan claims that the autocrat, the de-territorialized terrorist organization, the insurgent group, the prankster, and the internet troll share a relationship to the truth: they see it as beside the point. If they can get the rest of us scrambling to find our balance, they have achieved their goals. Those who oppose or dismiss democracy and the deliberation and debate that make democracy possible do not care whether claims are true or false, or even how widely they are accepted as true. What matters is that a loud voice disrupts the flow of discourse, and that all further argument will be centered on the truth of the claim itself rather than on a substantive engagement with facts. Power is all that matters when trust and truth crumble.

But philosophy is not an intellectual ivory tower. This is a myth. Children, for example, are natural philosophers. The book Harry Potter and Philosophy says:

“Philosophy begins in wonder,” Plato said. The mystery and marvel of it all is rarely lost on a child. Youngsters don´t need to be taught philosophical curiosity. It just comes naturally. Nearly as soon as we learn to talk, the world and its mysteries enchant our imagination. Who am I? Why are we here? Who made God? Does the refrigerator light really go off when we close the door? Kids are born philosophers. Usually only the concerted efforts of adults – understandably exasperated at answering “Why?” – can stifle children´s passion to understand.

J.K. Rowling´s Harry Potter series implies a lot of philosophy. Philosophy and literature belong together. They can work like the two lenses of a pair of binoculars. Philosophy argues abstractly. Literature argues too – it persuades, it changes the reader – but concretely. Philosophy says truth, literature shows truth.

We must return to childhood again in order to regain the magic of philosophy. This was what Antoine de Saint Exupéry´s The Little Prince was about, and that´s what Hogwarts is all about; in the concrete Hogwarts is a school for the spiritual awakened, in the abstract it is a school for philosophers.

Related:



Nordic Shamanism and Forest Therapy (in the introduction I explain that my “speciality” is help to people with spiritual awakenings).

Philosophical Counseling in Rold Forest (This is the expanded version of Shamanic Counseling. Here I focus on the necessity of becoming like a child again, when you are learning how to philosophize).

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