Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Danger of the Dust Jacket

A few weeks ago I posted about Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and noted that one plot summary on the inside cover was somewhat misleading. I interpreted one passage to refer to something completely different than what was intended, and couldn't tell if this was a deliberate trick on Sanderson's part or a misreading on mine. But those, however, are not the only "oh, come on" covers out there.

In Sanderson's stand-alone book, Warbreaker, the inside cover describes different characters while trying to hook us in, ending with "mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker." Vasher, as promised, is introduced in the prologue, but the term "Warbreaker" is not used until the last page of the book. Even then, it doesn't yield any significant plot information (to me, anyway). This being the title of the book itself, it seems like somewhat of a letdown.

Other interesting covers I've come across include a paperback version of Ender's Game. It concludes, "Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat situations? After all, Battleschool is just a game.


My brother suggested that this in itself constituted a major spoiler. If you've read the book, you know what he's alluding to. Then again, if you've read the book, you also know that Battleschool itself really is designed to test and train its students.

And then there's Harry Potter. In a 1999 paperback release of the first book, the cover explains, "[Harry]'s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon." Of course, by the end of the book, much has changed for Harry, and it all begins when the enormous Rubeus Hagrid literally bursts into his life.

In book four, however, we learn that Hagrid is properly deemed a half-giant. As small a point as this might seem, a hardcover release of the first book instead includes the sentence: "[Harry] knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility." Throwing a bone to nitpicking fans? Unfortunately, I can't tell when this particular hardcover version was actually printed, but it certainly seems a possiblity.

Yet another potential sticking point comes from numbering of books in series. A lot of fantasy and SF series range from the obviously sequential (Harry Potter) to nonsequential series that can be read in almost any order (Discworld). It's the cases in between that are controversial. In particular, the Chronicles of Narnia were published out of chronological order, but have been re-released with chronological numberings printed on their bindings. (I'll spare you the entirety of my mother's strongly-worded opinions on the subject, but suffice it to say that she firmly believes that the publication order is better for understanding, or slowly uncovering the full richness of, the series. And switching it around either way just creates more messes for school librarians.)

But my favorite cover I own would have to be an early paperback edition of Mariel of Redwall, by Brian Jacques. Not because of any plot summary, good or bad. I'm just amused by the anachronism; the back cover mistakenly features the villain of the book carrying a gun on his belt!