Did J.K. Rowling steal the plot and ideas for Harry Potter?
J.K. Rowling has been roped into the plagiarism suit against her U.K. publisher, Bloomsbury, enabling the estate of Adrian Jacobs to crow that it now has a “billion-dollar” case. Only if you win, pal, only if you win. Here’s why I think that won’t happen.
Jacobs’ estate filed suit against Bloomsbury last June, claiming the plot and many of the ideas in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), were lifted from The Adventures of Willy the Wizard–No. 1 Livid Land, published by a small company in 1987.
Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury, says the Jacobs estate first came forward with the claim in 2004, reports the Independent, but “it had been unable to identify any text in the Potter books which had been copied.”
Max Markson, a PR spokesman for the Jacobs estate, says it’s not the words but the plot and the ideas Rowling lifted.
“We believe that she personally plagiarised the Willy the Wizard book,” Markson tells the Guardian. “All of Willy the Wizard is in the Goblet of Fire. We now have a case which is not just against Bloomsbury.”
Rowling was added yesterday, after the Jacobs estate learned the statute of limitations on suing her had not yet expired.
Which is where the billion dollars supposedly will come from. While Jacobs died in 1997, destitute after losing his money in the market crash of 1987, Rowling’s seven-novel Potter series has sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, fostered an equally successful film franchise, been turned into an attraction at Universal’s them park in Orlando, and made her the richest writer in the world, with a personal fortune estimated at more than $500 million.
The points of alleged similarity between the books: A boy wizard, a wizarding school, a train taking wizards between realms, a contest involving a puzzle the hero solves in a bathroom with the help of friends, hostages held by magical creatures.
If that sounds potentially damning, though, consider: Willy the Wizard is a 36-page book, a one-off by a lawyer and accountant, while Rowling’s work is a richly imagined novel of 734 pages.
What’s more, the idea of a fantasy story set in a school for young wizards and witches did not originate with Jacobs, and in fact, is not uncommon. Ursula K. Le Guinn’s Earthsea series (first published in 1968, by the way), is one critically acclaimed and much-loved example. Jane Yolen’s Wizard’s Hall is another.
I have to admire the audacity of the Jacobs’ estate — after all, if they win they get a piece of the most successful literary endeavor in history.
Rowling calls the Jacobs claims “absurd,” and I expect the London courts to agree.
What do you think?