Very rarely do books remain the same as they were at their conception.
AND LUCKILY FOR YOU DEAR READER, I have trawled high and low through this here interwebs to bring you the messy and often strange original titles of famous books.
Just goes to show how important it is to have an editor or publisher give feedback before finalising things!!
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Shout out to Book Riot, who inspired me to make this list. 😚
🔴 FIRST IMPRESSIONS ➡ PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Jane Austen’s father submitted an early version of the novel under the name, ‘First Impressions‘ to a publisher, who then rejected it by return of post.
🔵 ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL ➡ WAR & PEACE
Tolstoy had this cheerful title covering the first print of his classic novel in 1805. It was later changed to War & Peace.
🔴 STRANGERS FROM WITHIN ➡ LORD OF THE FLIES
Golding’s first novel was saved from the slush pile at Faber ad Faber by the editor Charles Monteith. He suggested some rewriting and an alteration of the title to the now recognisable, Lord of the Flies.
🔵 TRIMALCHIO ON WEST EGG ➡ THE GREAT GATSBY
F. Scott Fitzgerald played around with many titles for his greatest novel, and although it wasn’t the final choice, this was his favourite. He also favoured, On the Road to West Egg, Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires, Under the Red, White and Blue, Gold-Hatted Gatsby and The High Bouncing Lover.
🔴 CATCH-11 / 18 ➡ CATCH-22
Although not much different from the final product, Joseph Heller first tried Catch-11, but thanks to the original Ocean’s 11 film, it was changed to avoid confusion. He then tried out Catch-18 but Leon Uris had just published his novel Mila 18, and the publishers were afraid that there might be some confusion, so it was changed once again. Catch-22 was finally decided on as it was 11 doubled.
🔵 CANCER ➡ DREAMCATCHER
The original title of Stephen King’s alien invasion novel was chosen as it made the plot a bit more visual as the alien life roots itself as a cancerous fungus within human bodies. However, his wife insisted he change it as she thought it would bring bad luck.
🔴 THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE ➡ 1984
Orwell’s publisher didn’t feel that this original title was too bankable, so it was recommended to use the other title he had thought of – 1984.
🔵 THE STRIKE ➡ ATLAS SHRUGGED
Ayn Rand referred to her magnum opus as The Strike for some time. But in 1956, a year before the book was released, she felt that the title gave too much away. Her husband then suggested Atlas Shrugged, and it stuck.
🔴 THE DEAD UN-DEAD ➡ DRACULA
It’s hard to believe that Stoker thought his original title would be fitting for his Gothic novel. It sounds more like a B-Movie title or a spoof even!!
🔵 FIESTA ➡ THE SUN ALSO RISES
Hemingway’s original title was used for foreign language editions, but then he changed the American English version at the suggestion of his publisher.
🔴 ATTICUS ➡ TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Harper Lee had made a lot of changes on her famous novel, and the recent publication of Go Set a Watchman is proof of that. When she realised that she was going to expand her novel to be less about Atticus, she decided to change the title.
🔵 MISTRESS MARY ➡ THE SECRET GARDEN
The working title was strangely enough, Mistress Mary. I’m glad it was changed as the title would have really changed my attitude on reading it for the first time and I’m not sure if I would have even picked it up…
🔴 DUBLNERS ➡ ULYSSES
Originally Joyce had a book of short stories called Dubliners. It had characters that would later appear in his epic some years later, which was also initially called Ulysses in Dublin.
🔵 HARRY POTTER AND THE SCHOOL OF MAGIC (USA) ➡ HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE
Rowling already had her UK debut and it was known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Her publisher however was convinced that an American audience wouldn’t know what that was and wanted it to have a more accessible title. According to Phillip W. Errington’s book on Rowling’s work, the publisher wanted The School of Magic. Luckily for those across the Atlantic, Jo thought that sounded silly and insisted on something more specific. And so The Sorcerer’s Stone was born.
🔴 SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED ➡ OF MICE AND MEN
It’s not really known why Steinbeck thought Something That Happened was a suitable title and also why he changed it. Possibly it gave too much away? Who knows…
🔵 TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY / MULES IN HORSES’ HARNESS / NOT IN OUR STARS / BUGLES SONG ➡ GONE WITH THE WIND
It’s a good thing that Mitchell’s historical romance was changed to Gone With the Wind as all those previous titles are such a mouthful. Also they give the story such a different feel to it. Especially Mules in Horses’ Harness!!
🔴 THE WAR OF THE RING ➡ THE LORD OF THE RINGS
So everyone and their mother knows about The Lord of the Rings but few people know that it was initially called The War of the Ring, which if you ask me doesn’t NEARLY have the same impact as the final title does.
🔵 ALICE’S ADVENTURES UNDERGROUND / ALICE AMONG THE FAIRIES / ALICE’S GOLDEN HOUR ➡ ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND
Although the working titles are not too different than the one that was published, I’m still glad that the one they went with was the Wonderland one. Although Alice’s Golden Hour isn’t a bad alternative!
🔴 THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA ➡ LOLITA
The novel Lolita comes with a lot of heavy baggage. One being that everyone misinterprets the novel as being one of a romantic nature. Which it really isn’t. I honestly feel that if Nabokov stayed with the original title, or even something similar, he could have avoided a lot of the controversy that he had wanted to avoid..
🔵 PROMETHEUS UNCHAINED ➡ FRANKENSTEIN
Although the subtitle for Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus, her original single title was Prometheus Unchained. The figure of Prometheus giving a parallell with Victor Frankenstein. Prometheus disobeys the gods by stealing the ‘essential fire’ from heaven, so does Frankenstein take on God-like powers to create life itself.
🔴 NOTHING IN THE WEST ➡ ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Nothing New in the West is actually a direct translation of the German title.
🔵 THE HOUSE OF FAITH ➡ BRIDESHEAD REVISITED
Personally, I feel the original title would have worked just as well but the final choice really does reflect the novel much better. Again, the importance of feedback reveals itself!!
🔴 THE ELIOTS ➡ PERSUASION
Possibly the change from a character name to simply a statement was made to seem the book more intriguing? I wouldn’t fault them for that, people still do that all the time now!
🔵 TRAVELS INTO SEVERAL REMOTE NATIONS OF THE WORLD ➡ GULLIVER’S TRAVELS
I’m getting this image of his publishers or even editor yelling, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!!! Because honestly, that original title is too much.
🔴 THE SEA-COOK ➡ TREASURE ISLAND
Hands up who would read a book about a chef on a boat? Now who would rather read about an island full of treasure instead? And there you go.