Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. 1996, Bloomsbury, 23h20709.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. 1998, A. A. Levine, 39h12127
By now many of you are familiar with the U.S. cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but some (especially those who are not big Harry Potter fans) may not be familiar with the cover of the British version of the same book, titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Obviously there was more than just a cover illustration change but a title change and the replacement of some British words with ones us Yanks would understand. You see in Britain there is a much stronger tradition of the understanding of Alchemy, where the term Philosopher’s Stone is quite common (meaning the ability to turn any metal into gold or, as is portrayed in the book as an elixir of life). However, the Scholastic Corporation did not feel that American children wanted to read anything with the word Philosopher in it and so the title was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. J. K. Rowling would later regret the title change and other changes as well (such as Mum to Mom, and crumpet to muffin). Scholar Philip Nel has stated that without the term Philosopher’s Stone in the American title, the book does lose some connection to alchemy, but Americans were never too big on alchemy most likely because if you practiced it, the Puritans would have had you banished or worse, hung as a witch.
That aside, if you look at the two covers, you will notice a distinct difference. The American cover looks decidedly more magical with Harry zooming through Hogwarts on his Nimbus broom while the British cover emphasizes the train Harry takes to Hogwarts. Although the train on the cover gives no glimpse into the magical world Harry is about to run into (quite literally in order to catch his train!), he does look wide-eyed and innocent, and the Hogwarts train is certainly old-fashioned compared to the other train featured on the cover. Surprisingly, it actually does make sense. They take trains all over the place in Great Britain, and we in America all fly on brooms. I jest, but once you put the term sorcerer in the title, you probably should put something magical and witchy on the cover.
Ironically, the covers are more similar for the third book, and yet the British cover has something more magical and even sinister about it.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. 1999, Bloomsbury, 23h20710
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. 1999. A. A. Levine, 39h12378
In the British cover, you can see Harry’s scar very clearly in red. Also he looks rather angry, poor Hermione looks terrified, and the Hippogriff, which is flying in front of a full moon, looks equally angry and mischievous at the same time. Very witchy Indeed. The American cover, on the other hand, gives one an entirely different impression. Here, Harry and Hermione are happily having fun riding, what readers know can be a very dangerous animal in the wizarding world, a hippogriff (who also looks like he’s having a rather good time).
The importance of covers cannot be underestimated because, for one, people often do judge a book by its cover and will make a decision as to what they believe the book is about based on the cover illustration. Two, covers play an important part in our understanding of the book. Scholastic was right, in a way. American kids have a much clearer understanding of a sorcerer than they do of a philosopher, and we tend to like fun, adventurous books with a darn good story. British kids like that too, but their understanding of the world is different. They take trains! They have a history of alchemy! But what people from both countries love about this series is that it’s about wizards and witches, learning magic and their way through the world all while trying not to die from a chess set, or a troll, or having their soul slowly sucked out of them by a dementor.