Move over Voldemort, there’s a new sorceress in town who’s quickly earning the title of “She Who Must Not Be Named.” J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter universe, seems to be getting swept up in the commercialized trappings of franchise management as she took the stand in Manhattan’s U.S. District Court on April 14th. Her quarry: possibly one of her biggest fans, a former middle school librarian who ironically bears some semblance to the popular boy wizard featured in her novels.
Since hearing of RDR Books’ intent to convert Stephen Vander Ark’s “Harry Potter Lexicon” website into a traditional print tome, Rowling and film partner WB have been on the war path to prove copyright infringement in legal court. Over last week’s three-day trial the billionaire author was pitted against Roger Rapoport, RDR’s managing editor, to tackle the weighted concepts of creative transformation and the right of Fair Use.
A small, Michigan-based publishing house versus the might of Warner Brothers and a woman who’s now wealthier than the Queen of England doesn’t sound like much of a fight. But Anthony Falzone, the head of Stanford University Law School’s Fair Use Project, evened the playing field by offering his defense services to RDR Books in a pro bono case that will have long-reaching ramifications in the publishing and media industries.
The events leading up to the trial are pretty simple, but the intricacies of the case itself are an altogether different matter. Vander Ark founded Lexicon in 2000 to organize the vast wealth of Harry Potter information for the series’ millions of fans. By categorizing spells, family trees, magic theory and other HP-centered tidbits Vander Ark created an accessible store of fictional knowledge that referenced the appropriate page, chapter and novel from Rowling’s works. Yet RDR’s decision to translate Vander Ark’s cyberspace compendium into a print novel changed the author’s stance on the fan site and its creator. You can guess the pivotal factor that has since fueled all of the legal friction: the Almighty Dollar.
Rowling’s lawyers maintain that the trade release of the “Harry Potter Lexicon” could damage sales of J.K.’s own Potter encyclopedia that she plans on releasing in the next couple years. “If I had known she would object, I never would have written the book,” explains Vander Ark, who would still love to meet the author. The stress of the lawsuit on the small town educator surfaced in the second day of the trail, when he broke down in tears after being asked if he still considered himself part of the Potter fan community. “I did,” he replied at first, adding later “I do.”
And yet Rowling does have a strong argument in the case. One of the “Lexicon” manuscript’s major criticisms was the lack of original insight that would serve to illuminate “additional layers of meaning” in the Harry Potter texts. Many could argue that the planned reference guide is just a re-ordering of Rowling’s own ideas, a re-ordering that mixes the series’ fictional ‘facts’ and jumbles the original story’s continuity. Despite her vast success with the Potter novels, Rowling poignantly asked in her closing argument, “Somehow because my work is successful, I’ve weakened my own right to copyright?”
What can’t be condoned in the high-powered trial, however, is the rather blatant slandering and defacement of Vander Ark’s work. The manuscript’s content, which had earned Vander Ark praise from Rowling herself as well as an official endorsement in previous years, is now being called “poor,” “lazy” and a “travesty” to the source material…although Rowling has admitted to using Vander Ark’s site as a quick reference tool to the annals of her own work. I can understand that proving Lexicon’s sub-par status may be integral to winning the court trial, but it is also one hell of a class-less approach to deal with a group of fans you’ve already bestowed accolades upon.
The heart of the court trial lies in defining the terms of Fair Use, a definition that may be too slippery of a slope even for presiding Judge Patterson to tackle. After three days of trial the Judge is still urging both parties to reach their own agreement outside of the court. If no resolution is found between RDR Books and J.K. Rowling a ruling will be handed down sometime after the court paperwork deadline of May 9th. What Rowling needs to ask herself in the meantime is: Will Stephen Vander Ark’s unofficial reference guide really have an impact on the sales of my own encyclopedia? And, if it does, is the scant loss in royalties really worth alienating a portion of my own fan base?
Regardless of her answers, in the end Rowling may not really have a say. Though she did create the Harry Potter universe out of thin air, it is a universe that, for all intensive purposes, has already grown beyond the scope of her control. Ms. Rowling you’ve given the world a marvelous story…and the world may not want to give it back.
New in Hardcover:
Jarvis: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Jesper Ejsing (Fantasy Flight Games)
Jarvis the Sorcerer's Apprentice tells the tale of Jarvis as he quests through a fantasy world facing unknown dangers and growing up along the way.
Six million years ago, at the very dawn of the starfaring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones: the shatterlings. Sent out into the galaxy, these shatterlings have stood aloof as they document the rise and fall of countless human empires. They meet every two hundred thousand years, to exchange news and memories of their travels with their siblings. Campion and Purslane are not only late for their thirty-second reunion, but they have brought along an amnesiac golden robot for a guest. But the wayward shatterlings get more than the scolding they expect: they face the discovery that someone has a very serious grudge against the Gentian line, and there is a very real possibility of traitors in their midst. The surviving shatterlings have to dodge exotic weapons while they regroup to try to solve the mystery of who is persecuting them, and why - before their ancient line is wiped out of existence, forever.
After a long journey across the ages, Jack Churchill has returned to the modern world, only to find it in the grip of a terrible, dark force. The population is unaware, mesmerized by the Mundane Spell that keeps them in thrall. With a small group of trusted allies, Jack sets out to find the two 'keys' that can shatter the spell. But the keys are people - one with the power of creation, one the power of destruction - and they are hidden somewhere among the world's billions. As the search fans out across the globe, ancient powers begin to stir. In the bleak North, in Egypt, in Greece, in all the Great Dominions, the old gods are returning to stake their claim. The odds appear insurmountable, the need desperate…This is a time for heroes.
New in Paperback:
The Bromeliad, Terry Pratchett (Corgi)
In a world whose seasons are defined by Christmas sales and Spring Fashions, hundreds of tiny nomes live in the corners and crannies of a human-run department store. They have made their homes beneath the floorboards for generations and no longer remember -- or even believe in -- life beyond the Store walls. Until the day a small band of nomes arrives at the Store from the Outside. Led by a young nome named Masklin, the Outsiders carry a mysterious black box (called the Thing), and they deliver devastating news: In twenty-one days, the Store will be destroyed. Now all the nomes must learn to work together, and they must learn to think -- and to think BIG. Part satire, part parable, and part adventure story par excellence, master storyteller Terry Pratchett's engaging trilogy traces the nomes' flight and search for safety, a search that leads them to discover their own astonishing origins and takes them beyond their wildest dreams.
Lonely Werewolf Girl, Martin Millar (Soft Skull Press)
While teenage werewolf Kalix MacRinnalch is being pursued through the streets of London by murderous hunters, her sister, the Werewolf Enchantress, is busy designing clothes for the Fire Queen. Meanwhile, in the Scottish Highlands, the MacRinnalch Clan is plotting and feuding after the head of the clan suddenly dies intestate. As the court intrigue threatens to blow up into all-out civil war, the competing factions determine that Kalix is the swing vote necessary to assume leadership of the clan. Unfortunately, Kalix isn’t really into clan politics — laudanum’s more her thing. Even more unfortunately, Kalix is the reason the head of the clan ended up dead, which is why she’s now on the lam in London…This expansive tale of werewolves in the modern world — friendly werewolves, fashionista werewolves, troubled teenage werewolves, cross-dressing werewolves, werewolves of every sort — is hard-edged, hilarious, and utterly believable.
The Ninth Circle, Alex Bell (Gollancz)
This is The Bourne Identity…as if Neil Gaiman had written it… A man comes round on the floor of a shabby flat in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There's a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is.
He can do extraordinary things - speak any number of languages fluently, go three days without food or sleep, and fight with extraordinary prowess. But without a name, without a past, he's isolated from the rest of the world; a stranger to everyone, including himself - until a chance encounter with a young scholar leads to his first friendship, and his first hint that someone out there knows more about him than he does. Someone is sending him clues about his past. Photographs hidden in books and crates of wine. Cryptic clues pointing towards a murdered woman. And clear warnings against Stephomi, his only friend. But that's not all; Gabriel Antaeus is seeing strange, impossible things: a burning man is stalking his dreams and haunting his mirrors, his dreams are filled with violence from the past, and his pregnant young neighbor is surrounded by an extraordinary golden aura. Something dark and violent in Gabriel's past is trying to resurface. And as he pieces the clues together, everything points towards an astounding war between angels and demons…and a battle not just for the future of the world, but for the minds and souls of everyone in it.
Can the future of the past be saved today? The lives of three seventh graders are forever changed when a hostile military force from the future takes them hostage during an attack on Stoney Hill Middle School. On the eve of his first mission, everything has gone awry for Secret Agent Social Studies teacher Peregrine Rustam. With little time remaining, Agent Rustam must now travel to the future to complete his mission, but not without rescuing his students first.
Check back next Monday for all the latest info on current sci-fi, fantasy, and horror book releases. Questions or comments? Hit me up at Pferrara.firstname.lastname@example.org.