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Day eight

On the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I am reflecting on how often titles don’t survive through translation.

The original book, in Great Britain, was indeed called that: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

As it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, it became Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone in the US, and, even more confusing, while crossing the Channel it became Harry Potter à l’École des Sorciers in France (Harry Potter at the Sorcerers School translated literally).

Interestingly the Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Portuguese versions all kept the original concept of the Philosopher’s Stone. I wonder if focus groups were involved…

The first three books of the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett are an interesting example of the opposite path: instead of dumbing down the original titles, the French translator (the amazing Patrick Couton) actually added a play on the number eight that was originally absent from the titles:

  • The Colour of Magic became La Huitième Couleur (The Eighth Colour)
  • Light Fantastic became Le Huitème Sortilège (The Eighth Spell)
  • Equal Rites became La Huitième Fille (The Eighth girl)

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