(Associated Press, March 16, 2000)
|PHILADELPHIA, March 16 An author is suing the writer and publishers of the Harry Potter books, claiming that plots and characters in the wildly popular childrens series originated with her. Three books about Harry Potter, a young orphaned wizard, have sold 19 million copies in the United States, and a fourth is due for release in July.
THE AUTHOR, J.K. Rowling of Scotland, has become a cult figure among the novels readers. A movie based on the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone is in the works.
"Magical authors go to war on custody of Muggles"
|HARRY POTTER must be wondering what all the Muggles are arguing about. The wildly popular child wizard finds himself at the centre of a legal battle in America between his creator, J.K. Rowling, and an American children's writer who claims the best-selling British author plagiarised her work.
Nancy Stouffer, who published The Legend of Rah and the Muggles in 1984, has filed suit in Pennsylvania accusing Ms Rowling of giving her characters "suspiciously similar" names and even stealing her now-famous term for humans who lack magical powers, Muggles.
"I think coincidences happen, but I still say if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it's a duck," the American author said.
Ms Stouffer dreamt up the name "Muggle" when her then-young son Vance referred to her face as a "muggie". In her 1984 book, Muggles are little people in the Land of Aura who care for two orphan boys, Rah and Zyn, whose arrival magically transforms the war-ravaged land into a place of sunshine and happiness.
Ms Rowling, a former Edinburgh teacher who wrote the books in a coffee shop while her infant daughter slept, insists that she invented the word. "Muggles is a twist on the English word mug, which means easily fooled," she once said. "I made it into 'muggles' because it sounds gentler. Proper, good wizards are quite fond of Muggles and treat them in a kindly way."
Ms Stouffer points to other parallels between the Harry Potter books and her work, and suggests that Ms Rowling might have read her book while on a work-study exchange programme in the Baltimore area in 1987-88.
"Not only do the Harry Potter books appropriate verbatim Stouffer's Muggle and Muggles marks as names for human-like, non-magical characters, the Harry Potter books also feature key character names suspiciously similar to characters in Stouffer's books," the lawsuit says.
Ms Stouffer's Muggles form a group called the Nevils, while other characters are known by the work they do, such as the Keeper of the Gardens, the Keeper of the Children, or the Keeper of the Food. In Ms Rowling's books, there is a half-Muggle character called Neville and another character described as the Keeper of the Keys.
Another book in Ms Stouffer's series, titled "Lilly", includes the characters Larry and Lilly Potter - names that she claims bear an uncanny resemblance to Ms Rowling's Harry Potter and his dead mother Lily Potter.
After the publication of The Legend of Rah and the Muggles, Ms Stouffer created and marketed Muggles knick-knacks such as dolls and refrigerator magnets. Her publisher even promoted them on the Oprah Winfrey TV talk show.. Her publisher's bankruptcy in 1987, however, forced her to stop selling the Muggles merchandise until she regained clear copyright in 1991. In 1993, she successfully opposed the registration of the trade mark Muggle by a Hollywood production company.
Three years ago, she decided to try to republish The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and sent off promotional copies to publishers but was told it was likely to be confused with the Harry Potter books.Ms Rowling's three books - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - have sold 19 million copies in America and fans are clamouring for more.
The anticipation of the next instalment, Harry Potter and Doomspell Tournament, is so great that booksellers have established "Harry Potter Withdrawal" reading circles and one bookshop has converted a millennium count-down clock to measure the days until its release this summer.
The case seems to be heading inexorably towards a trial next year - just after the release of the planned Harry Potter movie.
Spelling out the wizard similarities
Nancy Stouffer's inventions
Muggles: human beings who lack magical powers. Stouffer invented the term when her young son referred to her face as a "muggie"
Nevils: A group of Muggles
Keeper of the Children, Keeper of the Food: Characters known by the type of work they do
Lilly: The title of a "magic" novel by Nancy Stouffer which has characters called Larry and Lilly Potter
J. K. Rowling's characters
Muggles: Non-magical characters who are easily fooled. Rowling says that it is a twist on the English word "mug"
Neville: A half-Muggle character
Keeper of the Keys: A character in the Harry Potter books
Lily Potter: Harry Potter's deceased mother in J. K. Rowling's books