Capitalization, Titles

Q. My colleagues and I are perplexed by the format of film series titles. According to paragraph 8.174, book series are not italicized. Television series, according to 8.185, are italicized. My inclination is to call the Tolkien adaptations “the Lord of the Rings series,” but to call the Rowling adaptations “the Harry Potter series.” One colleague says both series titles should be roman; another wonders whether both should be italicized. And then there’s the pesky matter of the initial article, which I think modifies series in this case and should not be considered part of the title.

A. Paragraph 8.174 refers to titles of series under which a number of more or less related books, often by different authors, have been published. Roman type ensures that the titles of these series will not be mistaken for the title of a book itself.

The Lord of the Rings—in book and movie media—is the name of a single work (often presented in the form of a trilogy), not a series. In the same way, Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet is the name of a quartet, not a series. The Raj Quartet is a book—a book in four books. The Jewel in the Crown is the name of Granada television’s multiepisode adaptation of The Raj Quartet. Phoenix Fiction, on the other hand, comprises a number of books (including The Raj Quartet) published by the series editors for Phoenix Fiction. These books are only loosely related (in this case, they are republications of overlooked or out-of-print novelists), and to italicize Phoenix Fiction might give the false indication of a single, coherent work of some sort.

Harry Potter is both the protagonist and part of each of the seven titles in the series. The name “Harry Potter” characterizes the Harry Potter series. To write “Harry Potter series” would falsely suggest that the work itself is known as Harry Potter.

This is all a long way of saying you are right—even down to the “the”: an initial “the” in an italicized book title can be dropped (or considered to be part of the surrounding text)—but only when it’s grammatically convenient to do so. (See 8.167; cf. 8.168.)