Saturday, April 19, 2008

Muggle judge says Harry Potter "gibberish"

At first blush, this kind of statement seems like something that will not enhance the reputation of the American judiciary -- but think it through before speaking ill of the court.

You may have noticed that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter heptalogy, testified this week in a New York Federal court in a suit to prevent Steven Vander Ark from publishing The Harry Potter Lexicon, an encyclopedia of places, characters, creatures and spells from the novels.

It was one thing when Vander Ark's encyclopedia was just a website. Larry Neumeister's April 13 story for the AP says Rowling was a fan of the website, stating in a May 2004 post on her own site, "This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an Internet cafe while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing). A web site for the dangerously obsessive; my natural home."

Fast forward now to this week and a story that appeared yesterday in the London Times: U.S. District Court Judge Robert Patterson Jr. "said that he had read the first half of the first Harry Potter novel to his grandchildren, but found the 'magical world hard to follow, filled with strange names and words that would be gibberish in any other context.'"

Gibberish? Hard to follow? Compared to what? The New York lawyers who appear before the learned Judge Patterson must be marvelous writers indeed.

But, believe it or not, this post on something called the Gryffindor Gazette suggests a more plausible explanation: Judge Patterson has urged the parties to settle the case.

Testimony in the bench trial has closed. Judge Patterson has taken the case under advisement -- and, as the Times article notes, "It will be weeks before lawyers finish filing documents, and possibly longer before a verdict is given."

This interval gives the parties an opportunity to settle. Telling Ms. Rowling that her books are hard to follow -- and that a reference encyclopedia might be useful -- gives her and her lawyers some possible motive to do just that.


Anonymous said...

I think that Rowling already knows there's a need for a guide; she told the judge that she'd been working on a guide of her own, using material that hadn't made it into the books. She claims that Vander Ark's work discouraged her from continuing, the poor dear.

I doubt she'll settle. She seems to be quite fixated on the idea of dictating exactly how her characters and concepts can be used. Which is understandable to a point, but I think she goes a bit too far. The way she's trying to use her copyright as a cudgel has unsettling implications for all kinds of other reference works, including Cliffs Notes.

Shelby said...

the poor dear indeed.. hard to have much pity for her.

I can visualize the judge rolling his eyes. Over and over.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Judges always seem difficult to understand things. They used to say in the 1960's things like "Who are the Beatles?"