The book world is sometimes a very weird place. In keeping with that, two news items caught my eye today…
Another Harry Potter Infringement Claim
According to this press release, the estate of children’s author Adrian Jacobs is suing Bloomsbury Publishing, alleging that J. K. Rowling stole the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from Jacobs’ 1987 book The Adventures of Willy the Wizard–No 1–Livid Land, and that Bloomsbury is in copyright violation for printing and selling Goblet. According to the press release,
Both books describe the adventures of a main character, “Willy” in Jacobs’ book and “Harry Potter” in Rowling’s, who are wizards, who compete in a wizard contest which they ultimately win. Both Willy and Harry are required to work out the exact nature of the main task of the contest which they both achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers, in order to discover how to rescue human hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal fantasy creatures, “the merpeople” in Harry Potter. Many other similarities are described in the Claim filed by the Estate, which include the idea of wizards travelling on trains.
Shades of Nancy Stouffer, who in 2000 alleged that Rowling lifted ideas from Stouffer’s 1984 children’s fantasy The Legend of Rah and the Muggles! According to Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, the suit is being “promoted” by “Sydney celebrity publicist Max Markson,” who says that Jacobs’ estate is seeking an injunction to prevent continued sale of Goblet of Fire, and is also seeking a court order against Rowling to determine whether to add her as a defendant in the action. (Which seems odd. If you’re arguing plagiarism, wouldn’t the author be your primary target–especially when the author is as wealthy as Rowling?)
Stouffer’s suit was tossed out of court in 2002. Although much of the press coverage seems to be taking this new lawsuit seriously, I suspect that the Jacobs estate is heading for the same outcome. On investigation, Willy the Wizard proves to be a 36-page illustrated children’s book, somewhat vitiating comparison to Rowling’s 640-page young adult tome.
Also, while the press release prominently alleges that Jacobs “sought the services” of Rowling’s literary agent, Christopher Little–an attempt, presumably, to establish a connection between Jacobs and Rowling–there’s no evidence that Little was ever actually Jacobs’s agent (the recently-created website for Willy the Wizard several times mentions a “literary agent,” but never provides a name). Putting this together with the fact that nearly thirteen years divides the publication of Willy the Wizard from that of Goblet of Fire, I suspect it will be tough for the Jacobs estate to argue that Rowling ever had an opportunity to view Jacobs’s book.
Oh, but she could have found it in a bookstore, you may be thinking? Maybe not. Although I can’t find any specific info on Jacobs’s publisher, Bachman & Turner, the Willy the Wizard website reveals that Jacobs commissioned his own illustrations and was “impatient to publish” and didn’t want to re-write, as his unnamed literary agent apparently advised him to do. Along with the awful title and the rather-less-than-stellar writing, this suggests vanity publishing, to my suspicious mind at least. (Interesting possible parallel: Stouffer’s books were vanity published.)
Writing samples and illustrations (hope Jacobs’s estate got permission for those) can be seen at the Willy the Wizard website, which appears to have been designed with the lawsuit specifically in mind.
Would-Be Book Burners to Civil Authorities: Can We? Please?
What’s the world coming to? Used to be, book burners just went out and burned books. They didn’t bother with any silly stuff, like asking for permission. But in Wisconsin, four purported members of something called the Christian Civil Liberties Union have filed a complaint with the city of West Bend seeking the right to burn or otherwise destroy the West Bend Community Memorial Library’s copy of Francesca Lia Block’s YA novel, Baby Be-Bop.
According to this post from the American Library Association, the complaint describes the novel as “explicitly vulgar, racial, and anti-Christian.” Moreover,
“the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,” specifically because Baby Be-Bop contains the “n” word and derogatory sexual and political epithets that can incite violence and “put one’s life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.”
As opposed to building a bonfire, which might ignite neighboring objects, such as children.
The CCLU’s complaint follows on a challenge by local residents to a number of titles in the library’s YA collection, and a decision by library trustees to leave the collection intact. There’s more coverage in this article from The Guardian.
(A web search on “Christian Civil Liberties Union” turns up plenty of discussion of book burning, but no info on this group. Methinks it was invented for the occasion.)