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So you think you've read
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?

Maybe Not...
By Clio

    I looked forward to the night of Friday, June 21st, chatting with friends as I waited in line for the midnight purchase of the Order of the Phoenix (OOP).  I bought the CDs as well as the book so I could listen (and stay awake) to the first chapters as I began the two hour long journey back to my ranch. I spent the larger part of that weekend reading, as slowly as I could, Jo Rowling’s carefully chosen prose, red herrings, imagery, and superb story telling.  But, did I?  A week later my UK edition of OOP finally came and it was, well, quite different aside from the cover illustration. (The gorgeous adult edition dust jacket has to be seen to be appreciated.) In several instances I was jarred by differences that at first amused, bewildered and then alarmed me.  Scholastic’s American edition does not merely make a few cultural changes in usage, such as “sweater” for “jumper,” or punctuation like single quotation marks instead of double marks (which I don’t count as the type of change I mean.) Scholastic makes a huge number of changes some of which make absolutely no sense and dim the freshness of Jo Rowling’s work.  Some editing changes occlude Jo Rowling’s fair play when she gives the clues to solving the novel’s and septology’s mysteries.  If you have only read the Scholastic version, you have not really read Order of the Phoenix as J. K. Rowling wrote it and you have been cheated of a grand adventure.

    While waiting for OOP to come out, I read all sorts of things including, in September 2002, the wonderful Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter by Galadriel Waters and Astre Mithrandir of Wizarding World Press (WWP).  I got a copy of the uncorrected proof (yellow cover) and thoroughly enjoyed their detailed analysis of many secrets of the Harry Potter series which I had overlooked.  During Christmas 2002 I came across their corrected and widely available first edition (blue cover). While flipping though it I found an added entry about the Prisoner of Azkaban wherein WWP explains how Sirius paid for Harry’s Firebolt from his Gringotts vault, number 711, which is next to Dumbledore’s vault, 713, that contained the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s) Stone. On page 222 of the Guide, WWP explained that US readers might have missed this since it was not in the US version.  Intrigued, I decided to order Books 1-4 of the United Kingdom or British (UK) version and read along with the Guide to see what else I might have missed.  The answer is that the US version is as clear as the murky figures in Moody’s foe glass.  I got an entirely different picture in my mind of Hogwarts, Harry, the professors and the entire story line after reading the UK version.

    First of all, the UK versions have no chapter illustrations. I found myself paying much more attention to the images that Jo Rowling evokes from her words rather than from Mary Grandpre’s impressive illustrations that tend to sum up each chapter.  Without the distraction of the artwork, I really became much more involved in the actual story. I more fully appreciated Jo Rowling’s prose and writing craft to evoke in a few words a mental picture of the adventure.  And then, with a clunk, as I read the UK version of Order of the Phoenix, I ran into something I knew had to have been changed in the US edition.

    As a high school history teacher, I know how much work high school students have and should do to master their studies. George explained how they had kept from getting discouraged when they had had all the fifth year work to prepare for OWLs.  “Fred and I managed to keep our spirits up somehow.” This can be found in Chapter 12 page 227 of the US edition.  But in the UK edition of Chapter 12 page 205, I was jarred and then amused as I read a quite different, very vulgar, in American usage, of this not so innocent sentence. (If you want to know what it is, get a UK copy of the book and read for yourself.) Ah, well, I thought, this is a children’s book so I can see why Scholastic changed a word.  But that was not the only clue that all was not kosher in the US version.

    Snape’s Potions class is a nightmare.  But not even Snape would tolerate an impossible situation.  In the UK version of Chapter 12, page 210, Jo Rowling wrote “Seamus was feverishly prodding the flames at the base of his cauldron with the tip of his wand, as they seemed to be going out.”  Anyone who has gone camping has probably had the experience of trying to get a dying fire to improve and stay aflame.  But in the US version, page 233, Seamus seems to have gotten stuck in an impossible time warp as the sentence has been changed to “Seamus was feverishly prodding the flames at the base of his cauldron with the tip of his wand, as they had gone out.”  How could he prod flames that in the same sentence are not there?  Is this Twilight Zone or time turner residue in control?  Or is this just bad (and useless) editing?

    I decided to listen to my CD’s of the US version and read along with the UK version and mark what I thought would be just a few changes.  To my astonishment there are hundreds of changes, many of which as far as I can tell are not only useless grammatically but actually dull the entire story.  One of many strange changes I found was the tendency to add “–ly” to words to make adverbs (something that Stephen King noted in his review for Entertainment Weekly, though he attributed it to Jo Rowling’s writing style.) Others were: the gratuitous insertion of “that;” rearranging words in sentences, often making the sense less clear; and even changing Fred for George in one instance. To date I’ve only gotten up to page 305 using this method (it’s a lot slower than my normal reading speed) but I estimate that from pages 1 through 305 alone there are over a thousand changes to Jo Rowling’s story.

    I really became concerned when I was reading the UK version for the first time and came across another word that I knew I had not read in the US edition.  And this TIME the change was significant as it occluded what Jo Rowling had to have planted as a clue to the entire seven book story.  In Chapter 15, page 293 of the UK version, Harry is yelling at Hermione and Ron about why he ought not to teach the secret Defense Against the Dark Arts class.  Part of what he says includes this lengthy sentence:

    "The whole time you’re sure you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own – your own brain or guts or whatever – like you can think straight when you know you’re about a nanosecond from being murdered or tortured, or watching your friends die – they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that – and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up – you just don’t get it, that could just as easily have been me, it would have been if Voldemort hadn’t needed me-"

    In the US version this is on page 328 and only has one small but incredibly significant change.  The word “nanosecond” is shortened to “second.” From the time Harry meets Hagrid in Book One, Chapter 4, it is clear that wizards eschew science (though not mechanical engineering) for magic.  So, why, WHY does Harry, who has no scientific training or inclination, use the term “nanosecond?”  “Nanosecond” is a scientific term for one billionth (US numeric usage) or ten to the negative nine of a second.  Is Harry using hyperbole?  I don’t think so in light of the events in Chapter 35 concerning the Death Eater and the bell jar. So why did Jo Rowling use nanosecond?  I think that she was giving a clue to the importance of time.  If she had just used the word, “second”, it would have been rather obscure and not very significant as it is a common expression.  But for a wizard to use the term nanosecond, she draws attention to the importance of time.

    She also, in this highly significant sentence, foreshadows the rest of OPP’s plot:  indeed Harry is not taught by any adult how to think straight when his friends are threatened. He has to teach himself and his friends.  And the tragic consequence of that lack of training (and here I would cite Dumbledore at fault since it is his responsibility as headmaster to ensure this training, not Snape) is the death of Sirius. At the end of Book 5 the entire sequence involves a very long series of events, chases and time changes, and choices (and choices are related to the scientific concepts of Quantum Theory which involves, among other things, time.) One time change involves the Death Eater and the bell jar. But perhaps this is to make us think more about Harry’s origins.  Beyond the apparently straight forward events, there is the tie between the events in Godric’s Hollow and in Book 5.  And why does Bellatrix Lestrange taunt Harry with baby talk?  This is really strange and so might be significant in relation to time.  In Book 3 time of ten minutes was important.  We all ought to re-visit Book 3 and the time turner’s vital uses in that plot. Perhaps in Book 7, time fragments as little as a nanosecond will be crucial to resolve the story. When Scholastic edited Jo Rowling’s work and cut nanosecond to second, this vital clue to the story and perhaps Harry’s origins and his ultimate fate are obscured.

    So, have you really read Jo Rowling’s Order of the Phoenix? Students are urged to learn a foreign language to understand a different culture.  It has been said that England and the US are fraternal cultures divided by a common language. Only in one instance was I completely at sea by one word Jo Rowling used.  When Harry and company visited St. Mungo’s (UK edition page 447) they encountered a witch with a “satsuma” stuck up her left nostril (for the mis-translation of that minor mystery see page 506 of the US version. Then go on-line and find out what a satsuma really is).   When we read Virgil or Caesar in translation, we miss some vivid insights into the minds of the authors that are clear when read in the original Latin. We would not change Shakespeare, Dickens or Joyce’s words (at least I hope I have read those authors in their original words!). Jo Rowling’s works are of great significance and deserve to be read world wide, at least in English, as she intended them.

    Scholastic takes a truly brilliant story and edits it to a shadow of what Jo Rowling intended.  Many changes are unnecessary to the story and in fact only seem to be put in to make work for some editor at Scholastic.  Some changes actually change the intent of Jo Rowling and diminish the pleasure of the reader.  I hope Jo Rowling will take firmer control of her written work in the future. Meanwhile, as we are waiting for Book 6, I urge Harry Potter fans to get a copy of the UK version and read for the first time, the true story of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When Book 6 is finally up for sale, I’ll stand in line with my friends at midnight, enjoy the ambience of the night’s events, and buy the book and CD’s. But I will wait for my UK edition for my first actual read of Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts.

Copyright 2003 by Clio Muse
Harry Potter copyright 2003 by JK Rowling

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