The kind of success J.K. Rowling has seen with the Harry Potter saga comes along maybe once in a generation. Lord of the Rings spawned an entire fantasy movement, Star Wars ushered in a new era of space opera and Harry Potter has brought the concept of magic out of the nerd closet and into the mainstream. Obviously, there will be some people looking to ride those sparkly robetails. Some of them do it a little more gracefully than others, however …
Nancy Stouffer, an unpublished fantasy author from New England, came forward in the year 2000 to claim Rowling stole the idea for Harry Potter. Stouffer was positive that Harry Potter’s appearance and the names of several characters were lifted directly from her children’s storybook Larry Potter and his Best Friend Lilly — which, to be fair, does rhyme.
Rhyming is illegal, right?
Off to Azkaban she goes.
However, Stouffer claimed to have more compelling evidence: She invented the term “muggles” years earlier in her novel Rah, for example, and that book included several similar themes and motifs later used in the Harry Potter series.
For instance, both books contained white males.
Now she had something: Warner Bros., Rowling and the court system all started listening. Before the process, Stouffer repeatedly went to the press, speaking at length about the damning similarities between Harry Potter and her source material, and she had signed contracts, published books, and dated materials to prove it. When it finally came time to reveal her concrete evidence, however, it was … less than compelling: Larry Potter was the story of a little boy coming to terms with the fact that he has to get glasses. His friend Lilly helps to cheer him up. That was the extent of the “damning evidence” — the names sounded kind of similar.
Stouffer was not deterred: She argued that because the names were so similar, both boys wore glasses and both had a character named Lilly, Rowling had stolen Stouffer’s intellectual property. The problem was that the booklet only had one paragraph where the boy is referred to as Larry Potter (the rest of the time it’s just Larry). So Rowling’s lawyers did a little digging, and discovered that though the booklet was supposedly written in 1988, the paragraph with the word “Potter” was typed in a different font from the rest of the document — a font that didn’t exist until 1993.
Woops! Bet you wish you had a time-turner right about now, eh, Nancy? OH, NERD SNAP!
MacGuffins: Never leave home without one.
Needless to say, the case was thrown out. But there was a silver lining for Stouffer, in that her works have now finally been published. Much in keeping with her love of altering original content, she’s since changed key details of the Larry Potter story, and also expanded the title of her other book, Rah, to The Legend of Rah and the Muggles — because she’s still convinced that you can retroactively have an idea first.
No amount of punching can fix what’s wrong with this woman.
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a self-proclaimed wizard, and the founder of the Church of All Worlds. He’s known to his peers as the “father of neo-paganism,” and to everybody else as “get away from my kids, weirdo.” Delighted to see that children were finally getting interested in the magical arts, Ravenheart created the Grey School of Wizardry for aspiring witches and wizards looking for their own Hogwarts. The school was originally intended for ages 11 to 17 , but today there are three times as many adults enrolled as there are children. This surprised Ravenheart, who had obviously never heard of the Internet.
The similarities between The Grey School and Hogwarts are numerous: Once they sign up, students are sorted into one of four houses: gnomes, sylphs, salamanders and undines. Adults are sorted into lodges. The houses compete each year for the House Hat and the Lodge cup. Students of the Grey School can take a wide variety of classes such as Introduction to Herbology, Potions and Brews, and Divination. But unlike Hogwarts, The Grey School does offer a focus in the Dark Arts — you know, just in case you want to use your pretend powers for pretend evil.
Rowling herself even maintains that the magic used in the books is entirely made up. Though she has done extensive research into mythology, history and legend, she admits she doesn’t know the first thing about magic and does not “believe in witchcraft.” But petty concerns like those mean nothing to a man who once tried to create a real unicorn … by surgically grafting a horn onto a goat.
There’s a fine line between magic and animal abuse. Ravenheart pisses on that line.
The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens is a straight-to-DVD classic that combines a child’s love of magic with blatant plagiarism, horrible filmmaking and mild insanity. Here, watch a bit:
Confused? Unsure if this is a children’s movie or a bizarre porn starring bearded hobos? We’re not surprised. Even after watching the whole thing, we’re not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be about, but here’s what we could pin down: Billy Owens is chased by a bully into a pawn shop, where he decides to buy himself a wand for his birthday, because he’s that special kind of neglected that has to buy his own birthday presents, but still has money enough to do so. Later, he discovers that the wand is real and will perform magic, but only for him.
“Look! It shoots PSAs! The moooore you knooooow …”
Billy teams up with his two conspicuously familiar-sounding best friends: A know-it-all girl and a dull but loyal young boy. The owner of the magical pawn shop, Thurgood, a gruff old man with long hair and a beard, reveals that Billy is a wizard who comes from a powerful wizard…ing(?) family. They find out that the Viking God Loki (OK) decided to hide his scepter in the Spirit River (of course) and it’s protected by a river dragon (obviously). The dragon is about to be released (wait … from what? His guard duties?), and Billy is the only one who can stop it. At this point the movie hands the script and a small glossary of fantasy terms over to a group of non-English speaking Koreans and just hopes for the best. The results are not surprising: Something something evil scientist, yadda yadda magical birthdays, blah blah invisible doors to the spirit river.
Not even the actors can feign excitement.
The point is: A young boy prodigy discovers his special destiny and, with the help of his friends — a brilliant young girl and a pure-hearted (if a little dim) young man — saves the day with his trusty handheld magical device. Rowling would probably sue, but really, when you break it down like that, it sounds like she’s stealing her plot from The Wizard in the first place.