By April 17, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Billionaire Versus Thousandaire

I’ve avoided mentioning the latest Harry Potter news–primarily because my fingers fight back when I try to type “J. K. Rowling”–but I must force them to obey. If you haven’t been following it, Rowling and Warner Brothers are suing tiny publisher RDR Books for RDR’s plan to publish Steven Vander Ark’s book, The Harry Potter Lexicon, based on his website of the same name.

RDR claims they’re operating in the long-lived tradition of literary companions, while Rowling calls it “wholesale theft.” RDR says they’ve paid the author a tiny advance for a small print run; Rowling clearly feels it sets a dangerous precedent.

Reasonable people, of course, can disagree on these matters, although reasonable people also might feel that a billionaire author could find some accommodation with a thousandaire publisher and an author who is quite clearly one of the author’s biggest fans. Pottermania would have happened without The Harry Potter Lexicon, of course, but it’s precisely that kind of effort that helped the phenomenon along.

But this besieged billionaire now finds herself forced to leave her castle and defend her very right to earn a living. The stress of fending off earnest lexicographers has forced the juggernaut of youth fantasy fiction to a standstill (“Rowling Testifies against Lexicon Author,” by Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times):

It has been so difficult, she said, that her normal writing life has been all but paralyzed by “stress and heartache.”

“It has really decimated the demands of my creative work for the last month,” she testified, at least once stoically holding back tears as she talked about the Potter books as if they were her children.

“You lose the threads, you worry if you’ll ever be able to pick them up again,” she said.

Really, Ms. Hartocollis, stoically?

And now Ms. Rowling is making Mr. Vander Ark, a former librarian, cry (“Sued by Harry Potter’s Creator, Lexicographer Breaks Down on the Stand,” by Anemona Hartocollis, NYT):

Then he burst out crying. “Sorry,” he said, regaining his composure. “It’s been difficult because there’s been a lot of criticism, obviously, and that was never the intention.”

It was an emotional culmination to three hours of testimony in which Mr. Vander Ark gushed over Ms. Rowling and her work like the devoted fan that he claimed to be, and disarmingly preceded almost every answer to a question with an “Um.”

One of RDR’s lawyers makes a reasonable guess as to why Rowling is really pulling out the hammer and tongs (“Rowling to Testify in Trial Over Potter Lexicon,” by Motoko Rich, NYT):

David Hammer, another lawyer representing RDR Books, said he believed that Ms. Rowling was acting out of vanity. “She wants to be the only one to write this encyclopedia about Harry Potter,” he said. “She’s determined to write it, and she doesn’t want competitors.”

But, personally, based on the following remark, I think it boils down to aesthetics:

She also objected to what she called the book’s “facetious asides,” like a comment about whether Hagrid could fit into a booth at McDonald’s.

“I think it’s dire,” she said. “I think it’s atrocious.”

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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