The other day, I went on Yahoo! to check my email and saw a news article featuring J. K. Rowling, well-known author of the Harry Potter books (not to be confused with the lesser known J. K. Rowling who wrote about The Mating Habits of the African Shrew). Of course I had to read the article. I’ll read anything related to the world of fantasy, plus I’m a bit of a snoop that way. This particular article was about a lawsuit between Rowling and a middle school librarian named Steven Vander Ark. Vander Ark recently snagged a book deal to publish the elaborate Harry Potter lexicon he created, via the website the Harry Potter Lexicon (HPL). J. K. Rowling does not want him to publish it, noting that she has plans for publishing a lexicon herself.
Should he be allowed to publish his work, or not? What do you think? Unsure? Don’t care? Not to worry, I’ve got enough opinions for both of us.
Before checking out the HPL site, I started thinking about how I would feel as a writer if someone wanted to do the same thing using my creation (though at the moment, I could only wish for that kind of compliment on my work). My initial, gut reaction is that I don’t think I would like it very much. Why do I feel this way? Heck if I know. I only know that I can’t shut up that loud voice shouting in my head, “I don’t want you to touch it because it’s mine! Mine, I tell you!”
Though perhaps that explains why I don’t have very many friends.
Can you remember as a kid when you hated the idea of sharing something of yours, even if you weren’t all that particularly enamored of it, probably hadn’t actually seen it for months, or even forgotten that it existed? The moment you saw someone else moving in on your territory, something snapped inside you. To other people, this reaction may have seemed unreasonable, but to you, it made perfect sense. It was yours and you didn’t anyone else messing with it.
If you feel that strongly about something you don’t care all that much about, imagine how you’d react when it’s something that’s very important to you. What if you handed over the ‘thing’ and the other person broke it? Or messed it up? Or, in the case of a book, presented your work in a way that you didn’t agree with? I wish I could be a more generous person, but I guess I’m going to have to work on that one. When something is really important to me, I want to protect it and keep it safe. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do the same. As an author, I’d feel very protective of my “baby,” just as I would about my children. I wouldn’t want someone else taking over the parenting reins, why would I want them to do the same thing to my book? My precious, precious book?
I’m actually wringing my hands, Gollum-style, as I write this.
Okay, you say, but J. K. Rowling is not a kid. She should know how to share by now. But still… Do you think you would be okay with someone doing something with your work and making money off it? Really, truly okay? Take some time to answer that… If you’ve decided that you don’t care about such petty things, then you are much farther along the path to enlightenment than I am. Congratulations! You are now an honorary saint.
After coming to the conclusion that I’m immature and quite possibly a greedy guts, I thought I’d check out Vander Ark’s website, see what this lexicon thing is all about (after I looked up lexicon in the dictionary to be sure I knew what it really meant). It was a nice website, quite obviously a labor of love. Rowling has actually referred to the HPL as her “natural home” because she likes to visit it herself. As I puttered around, I came across Vander Ark’s open letter to J. K. Rowling, asking her to elucidate on certain Potter trivia. It was a nice letter, very polite and respectful. Vander Ark does not come across as a jerk or as greedy or manipulative in any way. I rather liked him. In fact, I find it hard to imagine that he himself came up with the idea to publish the lexicon, even though fans have asked him to. I have to believe he was approached by a publishing company, but I could be wrong on that.
So here’s someone who has put a lot of time and effort into creating this website. Now comes the tough question. Should he be rewarded for doing so? For being a great fan? Some have argued that he should. Of course, he’s already making money off Harry Potter by posting advertisements, so that’s something. But, if this was really a labor of love, why does he want to make money from it? Fans do great and amazing things all the time to honor their heroes (getting tattoos come to mind) and don’t get rewarded for them. It kind of goes against the whole “I’m a devoted fan” idea, doesn’t it?
Here’s another tough question: Is J. K. being greedy? She obviously doesn’t need the money, so what’s this about? Personally, I think it’s about creative control. If she gives in on this issue, people are going to really start doing everything they can to make money off Harry Potter (not that they aren’t doing that already). Being the creator, it’s up to her to police this world she’s created. True fans wouldn’t do damage, but we all know that the ones wanting to just make money wouldn’t be so careful and respectful of Rowling’s creation (I’m not at all implying this of Vander Ark, so please don’t freak on me about that – he seems to me to be one of the true fans). Perhaps for J. K. it’s an issue concerning her role as protectorate of the Potter realm, and has nothing to do with money at all.
Life is not black and white, and neither is this issue. Like I said, my gut feeling is that I wouldn’t want someone else moving in on my territory. However, life isn’t always what I want it to be. In this case, I might have to think about the bigger issue. While J. K. Rowling created Harry Potter, the world of Harry Potter wouldn’t be what it is without its fans. Perhaps I would look into a compromise of sorts with Vander Ark. Maybe he and Rowling could collaborate on the lexicon? It would make for a better world, I think.
If you’re still uncertain about the whole issue, maybe you should ask yourself, “What would Harry do?” I imagine he would tell us Muggles to give peace a chance.