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SA: against their own succession
Posted on 2009.10.04 at 20:14
where am I: still not feeling all that great in tewksbury
How I feel about it all: bitchygrr
Tags: ,
Anyone want to speculate why the publisher of Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes decided that the title needed to be changed to Someone Knows My Name for its US publication?

I'm so very sick and tired of publishers thinking that Americans don't have brains. It's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone all over again.

Comments:


peacey at 2009-04-11 11:11 (UTC) ()
I may be able to help in this arena. First, I get what you're saying, and agree. However, before you condemn publishing houses great and small to a glowing conflagratory demise, consider first setting the match to Barnes & Noble, Waldonbooks, Borders, and their ilk. They are often (perhaps always?) consulted on titles, and if they so much as pause in their consideration longer than anticipated, the title goes. More than ever, publishing is about the $, and getting the $ when it comes to selling books is more difficult now than ever. For a lot more insight into the process of settling on titles, literary agent Kristin from the Nelson Literary Agency just posted a couple blog entries on this very topic. The first is here, the second, here.
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2009-04-13 14:47 (UTC) ()
I'm not necessarily blaming the publishing houses, more like the zeitgeist that influences them.

The blog posts are interesting as to how titles are picked, but they don't really touch on switching a title that's already decided upon in one country and dumbing it down (IMO) for the US. And I guess I know why--it's about money, like you said. But why change titles ONLY for the US?

Maybe they think that the word "Negroes" is going to turn Americans off as being not PC enough or something? But a simple read of the dustjacket (virtual or otherwise) synopsis and/or reviews and it's obvious that that the Book of Negroes is an actual historical document, and the story is one that celebrates African heritage and history. Also, is the word "Negroes" only a problem in the US? This is a Canadian author, and while Canada and the US are pretty far apart culturally/socially on some things, we share this part of our history, although each country had very different roles to play. *forces self not to launch into a tangent on the history of the Underground Railroad*

Also, while I can see that there would be an "explanation" for this particular title being changed, even though I don't agree with it, I have NEVER understood Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I'd be willing to bet real cash that the popularity of the series wouldn't have been altered if it hadn't been changed to "Sorcerer's Stone." And yaddayaddayadda.
peacey at 2009-04-14 01:14 (UTC) ()
I have NEVER understood Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Well, I never read the book, and I only saw the movie once when it was in theatres, thus I don't remember much about it, but I know that the UK's definition of "philosopher" has an added meaning that isn't really recognized in the US, and it's that definition the title alludes to. When I think "philosopher," I think Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Kant, Heidegger, Descartes, Locke, etc., whereas "sorcerer" conjures images of Merlin, Gandalf, and Samantha Stephens.

I'm not sure that "dumbing it down" is often the case (IMO, of course), and I'm certain that titles aren't changed just for US consumption. The Far East, in particular, is famous for their rather "unique" take on some western book and movie titles. It's all about fitting title to market so the $ will flow.

And I have two words to describe the reaction that would be generated by a book published in this country today with the word "Negroes" in the title: Shit Storm. Wouldn't matter a pair of dingos kidneys what it's about. The shit storm would rage for weeks. Silly as all hell, but it is what it is.
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2009-04-14 05:54 (UTC) ()
I know that the UK's definition of "philosopher" has an added meaning that isn't really recognized in the US, and it's that definition the title alludes to. When I think "philosopher," I think Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Kant, Heidegger, Descartes, Locke, etc., whereas "sorcerer" conjures images of Merlin, Gandalf, and Samantha Stephens."

A philosopher's stone is a legendary artifact which is not exclusive to Great Britain. The term has been used in fantasy tales all over the place, from Hans Christian Andersen to Indiana Jones to Scrooge McDuck (so says Wikipedia--I didn't know it had so many literary sources).

The alchemist Nicholas Flamel, who supposedly was able to create a philosopher's stone, is an offscreen character in the first HP book. In RL he was an actual historical figure who was more of a mystic and an early scientist than a sorcerer, so the title change isn't just silly, it's inaccurate. And anyway, I figure if the readers of Scrooge McDuck (the majority of whom were/are probably Americans, since it's an American comic) can grok the meaning, so can the average American third-grader (or third grade teacher *g*).

The shit storm would rage for weeks. Silly as all hell, but it is what it is.

Oh, I know you're right. And it is, it's damn silly (about on the same level of silly as the very silly idea that Rhode Island's state name is racist), which is why I'm buying the original version. I suppose I could write to the publisher/book dealer and tell them of my plans, but I wonder whether they'd really care. And given the average American's apparent Pavlovian response to words, I wonder why The Wind Done Gone was allowed to stay as a title.

I have all seven HP books, and the hardcover copy of the first one I own is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, because that's the title Rowling gave the book, and also because the American book changed a lot of other things, i.e. sweater/sidewalk/parking lot/trunk/windscreen instead of jumper/pavement/bonnet/windshield (I think those are all in there), for reasons I do understand, btw.

Edited at 2009-04-14 05:55 (UTC)
peacey at 2009-04-14 10:54 (UTC) ()
The term has been used in fantasy tales all over the place...

Considering the fact that I write fantasy (low fantasy though it is), I suppose I should be horrified that I've never read a book that mentioned it. Strictly speaking, I'm not big on "typical" fantasy tales. I don't like odd creatures (griffins, dragons, etc.), or tales that employ magic in liberal doses (because it often becomes a crutch in the hands of a weak author). Mostly I gravitate to Arthurian work that tamps down on the more fantastical elements of the genre, and I honestly believe George R. R. Martin is a god.
try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
primroseburrows at 2009-04-14 12:15 (UTC) ()
Considering the fact that I write fantasy (low fantasy though it is), I suppose I should be horrified that I've never read a book that mentioned it.

I've never read one either, but the concept isn't new or unknown to US readers, which leaves me just as wtf about the whole thing as ever. *shrugs*

I don't like odd creatures (griffins, dragons, etc.), or tales that employ magic in liberal doses (because it often becomes a crutch in the hands of a weak author).

For me it depends on the work. And the author. I'm not a big "creature" fan, either, though. I like my fantasy dark and apocalyptic, generally. HP is a huge exception.

Mostly I gravitate to Arthurian work that tamps down on the more fantastical elements of the genre



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