A World Book Day Muse : Could J K Rowling be the ‘ENRON’ of childrens literature?

It was ‘World Book Day’ http://www.worldbookday.com/ on the 4th March and J K Rowling was once again rolled out to inspire the very young at book reading events. A task she does with admirable enthusiasm and to great effect.

The financial rewards accruing from the Harry Potter septenary has kept her firmly in the public eye and set many would-be and want-to be author’s searching for the alchemy that too could turn their scripts into published solid gold.  Beyond financial success she has also achieved the dubious honour of becoming a household name, and of those one of the few know by initials.

But say, just for one minute, that her work had been melded from a variety of different sources or she had found a missing manuscript under the floor. The betrayal, because of her prominence, and success, would be absolute.

Romantic notations of goodness, fairness and the triumph of good over evil would once again be shown to be fatally flawed predicates. The real world that supported the most errant of catholic priests, the most wanton of bankers, and the Directors of  ENRON, would once again cast its long shadow, and their would be great soul-searching amongst the establishment that has embraced her and the parents that have dutifully read the books, even the painfully turgid ones, to their offspring.

Dazzling successful, brilliant, creative and a money-making machine are all words used to describe both ENRON and J K Rowling, is there any chance that the next batch of less complementary ones, uttered during ENRON’s spectacular demise could be applied to her?

There are certainly many similarities between the books in question but I don’t think this is a deceit on the scale of

Willy was not so Wizard for Adrian Jacobs but was it for JKR?

Willy was not so Wizard for Adrian Jacobs but was it for JKR?

Enron. The plagiarism allegation is opportunistic, brought because the characters in both books –http://www.willythewizard.com/  ‘Willy the Wizard’  and the ‘Goblet of Fire’ – are both child wizards and use similar plot lines and devices – and should shortly be dismissed by court.

However, even if there was  a case to answer, with her wealth in this age of the cult of celebrity underpinned by conspicuous greed it is unlikely that the hearing would get beyond ‘first base’, never mind achieve ‘three falls and a submission’.  My faith in due process and the law having has forever been dented by recent verdicts involving personalities in the UK and US and particularly the standards applied during the ‘Michael Jackson’ abuse trial – guilty or innocent the evidence was just not fully delivered or heard which amplifies doubt.

Probably the real question in this new world of immediate communication and instant cross fertilisation of ideas,  is where does collaborative idea swapping (“crowdsourcing”) end and plagiarism begin? Idea’s expressed on the internet have inspired advertising campaign’s, academic papers, businesses, art, music all taken in the blink of an eye and gratefully accepted for no payment or  accreditation, so why would this not extend to storylines and plot twists.

The area that is frequently overlooked when the primogeniture of idea’s is being considered is the creative outputs of non-english speaking countries.  For instance Natalie Imbruglia’s one real hit ‘Torn’ had already been a Scandinavian hit for Lis Sørensen using new Danish Lyrics  (I love her version) and originally for Anne Preven, in Norwegian, however its Natalie’s version most people think is the original. All worth a listen. So could there be examples of child wizards, or even Witch Doctors, spinning their magic in the literature of other cultures?

So going forward maybe there will be a law suit from a non-english speaking author claiming they inspired one of the J K Rowling, books or someone claiming a comment they made in a blog or email inspired a plot idea. Admittedly its very unlikely as the essence of Englishness and the boarding school tradition (minus the fagging, whacking and…) permeates the Harry Potter stories. Perhaps we should be look to more mainstream sources for the real inspiration behind Harry Porter.

If you put the Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (names of power ( Vold… not spoken! etc), spells, and naming conventions of objects), Lord Of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (amulets, magic creatures, games, jewellery, fire side chats with Trolls, Spiders (especially spiders), and almost everything other worldly), The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner (magic jewels, appointed protectors, old magic, ethereal beings and aged wizards), Moon Of Gomrath, also by Alan Garner, (Errwood Hall, pitched battles in modern context located between good and evil under the noses of the average human) and mix this with any number of British novels about school days, including ‘Just William’ by Richmal Crompton (school fun, ensemble casts), and any Charles Dickens, and many many others put them in a melting pot and you would not be more than one idea, and a lot of sweat, away from any of the a J K Rowling adventures.  Spot the problem? Whilst many have read these books, only a few have spawned new ideas from them and only one has created Harry Potter.

It’s fair to say that many of her ideas were not entirely new. However, this was more to do with that fact she researched mythology, Rome, Greece and the sum of human endeavour, and the canon of literature written for children to develop them, but this clearly cannot be plagiarism.

Hopefully J K Rowling’s work will inspire more works of children’s fiction. I suspect after some good publicity for both authors the plagiarism case will evaporate into the ether and we will once again be free to associate J K Rowling with Ron Weasley and not ENRON Weasels. So it looks like a reputation melt down will be avoided and Harry and Dumbledore (‘not dead yet’ to quote SPAMALOT) and Ron and Hermione can skip off into sunset, that is unless another major institution has its way:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1575618/JK-Rowlings-Harry-Potter-condemned-in-Vatican-newspaper.html . The saga of the young wizard is set to run and run….and fly.

NB: Good review of legal position can be found here:  http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012205.html