How to Spell the Spells: Continuity in Harry Potter How do you keep the details at Hogwarts consistent from one Harry Potter book to the next? Cheryl Klein, continuity editor for the American editions of Harry Potter, talks about how to make sure everything is spelled correctly in Harry's magical world.
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How to Spell the Spells: Continuity in Harry Potter

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NEAL CONAN, host:

If there's someone in your house counting the hours to the release of the last and latest installment of the "Harry Potter" saga, chances are you're harboring a tiny and deadly serious continuity editor. Perhaps, you've yelled Expelliarmus, when you meant to you yell Expecto Patronum; mixed-up mermaids and villains are maybe horror of horrors; you've forgotten the rules of Quidditch. Potterology is no laughing matter. In fact, it's a fulltime job. The task of spelling every flavored bean and every spell correctly falls to Cheryl Klein, the continuity editor at Scholastic for the American version of the Potter books.

And she joins us now by phone from her office. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. CHERYL KLEIN (Continuity Editor, Scholastic Corporation): It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

CONAN: And if you have questions about snitch's spells - but no spoilers - or if you've caught Harry Potter in a continuity error and want to send a howler, give us a call, 800-989-8255. You can also e-mail us talk@npr.org, or comment on our blog npr.org/blogofthenation. And Cheryl Klein, how the world did you get this job?

Ms. KLEIN: I got it through the normal way most people get publishing jobs. I applied to be an editorial assistant to Arthur Levine, who is the editor of the books here in the United States. And this was the summer after I graduated from college in 2000 and I was a huge fan of the books already. I've gone through the release party "Goblet of Fire" in July of 2000, and then I applied for the job with Arthur in August. And it was the right place at the right time.

CONAN: And this is - you understand what weight you've got on your soldiers?

Ms. KLEIN: I do very much. We get the letters from the first-graders who are reading the book, or the fifth-graders, or of a class. So they're just delighted that we misspelled Percy as Perry or something like that. So we're very aware of all the readers out there watching every decision we make.

CONAN: And is there another you, a doppelganger if you will, at the publishing house in Britain?

Ms. KLEIN: Yes, there is. There's a wonderful young lady named Isabel Ford, who's a desk editor, they call it over there. And she and I work together along - the same way that Arthur and Isabel's boss, Emma Matthewson, work together.

CONAN: And what are the kinds of things that you guys are in charge of?

Ms. KLEIN: We usually try to keep track of consistencies throughout the series. And I'm fond to say that I keep track of all the nouns. So I make sure everything is always spelled right, that spells always function in the way they've been described previously, that if Harry has his invisibility cloak in his backpack at one point that he doesn't pull that out of his pocket at another - in like in the next scene, something like that.

CONAN: And continuity editor, I guess we're familiar with that more from movies than from books?

Ms. KLEIN: It's more of a movie title, but this is just such a hugely imagined and huge world that that was the title we figured fit the best.

CONAN: And what kind of mistakes might you catch more often than others?

Ms. KLEIN: Well, it's sort of a lawyer-client confidentiality in the relationship between the editor and the author, I have to say. But, you know, J.K. Rowling have such a huge expansive imagination and her story is just keeps rolling on so much that, you know, we just catch out a little spelling (unintelligible).

CONAN: Is there a continuity book where everything, you know, so and so - the Weasley kids are, their ages are, you know, their hair colors, eye colors and such are?

Ms. KLEIN: We can track of it through our style sheets, which we do for every single book we publish not just not just for Harry's. So for every single novel that we're involved with, we make up a list of all the characters and all the places and everything like that so we can be sure everything is spelled straight. And we do that with Harry as well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. We're talking today with Cheryl Klein, the continuity editor for the American editions of "Harry Potter" at Scholastic. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I know that you've fessed up in print at least to one error, that having to do with the plumbing at Hogwarts.

Ms. KLEIN: Yes. Somebody pointed out that in Book Two, I believe it is -Moaning Myrtle sits in a S-bend, and in Book Four, she sits in a U-bin or I may have that backwards.

CONAN: What are the odds?

Ms. KLEIN: Oh, yes. And so I spent time researching with our library staff here at Scholastic and so on. Well, their toilets in fact do have both S-bends and U-bends. They do, so we decided she could sit in either one as it goes.

CONAN: Aha, so it wasn't really a mistake?

Ms. KLEIN: It wasn't really a mistake, you know. Wherever you want to hang out in the toilet, fair enough.

CONAN: And I assume also for the American edition, one of the things you do is go through and take out Britishisms or at least British spellings.

Ms. KLEIN: We definitely take out all the British spelling and punctuation like, for instance, we use a two quotation mark - two-apostrophe quotation mark and they use a one-apostrophe quotation mark, sort of things. In terms of Britishism, we take that on a case-by-case basis, and every single one is discussed by Arthur with J.K. Rowling, and so they make those decisions together.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we get some callers on the line 800-989-8255. Sammy is with us, Sammy calling from Louisville, Kentucky.

SAMMY (Caller): Hi, how are you.

Ms. KLEIN: Hi.

SAMMY: I have a question that my husband and I have debated since Book Four. In the - when the situation when Harry (unintelligible) Voldemort attacks. And we understood that his father died and his mother died next protecting him, but in Book Four when they have the Priori Incantatem, I think, it's called...

Ms. KLEIN: Yes.

SAMMY: ...when everybody starts coming back, Cedric comes back and I believe it's another character but then his mother - his father comes back, then his mother. And I wondered if that was just overlooked or they thought that's going to have something to do with the plot. We debated that for hours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KLEIN: That was actually - issue that came up in the editing of the book and it was an error in the first printing.

SAMMY: Okay.

Ms. KLEIN: And so it was fixed for later printing for the book.

SAMMY: Okay.

Ms. KLEIN: If you look at the paperback, they come out in the right order. It is a very confusing issue so.

SAMMY: But overall, I mean, you guys do an incredible job. It's such a rich environment. I can't imagine trying to keep track of all that, but you all did a beautiful job.

Ms. KLEIN: Well, thank you so much.

SAMMY: Well, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: And thanks, Sammy, you're not crazy.

SAMMY: I love the books and I've read them all so many times because I think I know there's something hidden and there - a lot of times, there is. And it's wonderful to find those little gems that she hides, so it's great.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

SAMMY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we could squeeze in another one. This is Jeff. And Jeff's with us from Cleveland.

JEFF (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

Ms. KLEIN: Hi.

JEFF: I wanted to - I'll get right to my comment. At the beginning of the "Order of the Phoenix," the students are riding these carriages that seemed to be mysteriously pulled up by some invisible force from the train to the castle. And Harry can now see Thestrals, because only someone who has witnessed someone's death is able to see them.

Ms. KLEIN: Right.

JEFF: At the end of the previous book, the "Goblet of Fire," he has already witnessed Cedric Diggory's death. And at the end of the book, they're being taken back down to the train by the carriages pulled, now, by these invisible force, and at that time, Harry cannot see the Thestrals.

Ms. KLEIN: Do you know, J.K. Rowling addressed this question on her Web site.

JEFF: Oh.

Ms. KLEIN: And she said that somebody pointed out that distinction to her between why can't Harry see the Thestrals at the end of "Goblet of Fire." And she said it was partly - she decided pretty much that Harry would sort of grow into seeing Thestrals as he came to terms of the death. I believe I'm quoting her correctly.

JEFF: What about...

Ms. KLEIN: Also, it's sort of a writerly decision, you know, that she didn't want to introduce these beasts and have to explain them at the end of the fourth book when she was tying up all other threads. I mean, Harry had already been through so much.

JEFF: (Unintelligible) he also had already witnessed his parents' death.

Ms. KLEIN: We don't know that exactly, do we?

JEFF: Oh.

CONAN: Oh, oh, Jeff. You may have hit on something.

JEFF: You got me there. I'd like to make one more comment that have so much to do with (unintelligible).

CONAN: very, very quickly Jeff, please.

JEFF: Okay. In one of the scenes, I believe it's in the last book, the students are - they have an astronomy class on top of the castle and they're looking at the planet Venus at around midnight, and Venus is not visible from Earth at midnight.

Ms. KLEIN: Well, I'm sorry to say I don't - on a number, astronomy amongst my knowledge. I will pass that on to the author and see if she'd like to make her correction about that.

CONAN: All right, Jeff.

JEFF: Okay.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

JEFF: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Cheryl Klein, thanks very much. And you're going to be out of work in a week.

Ms. KLEIN: Oh, I've got plenty of other work to do.

CONAN: All right. Maybe just keep something else more simple-straight like the Constitution.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KLEIN: I look forward to it.

CONAN: Cheryl Klein the continuity editor for the American editions of "Harry Potter" at Scholastic. She joined us from her office in New York.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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