Friday, June 27, 2008

Is J.K. Rowling better than Milton, Shakespeare, William Gibson...?

Has J.K. Rowling lost her perspective on her Harry Potter creation? In a lawsuit heard in April (but yet to be decided at this writing) J.K. sued the author of a "Harry Potter Lexicon" for copyright infringement. The lexicon was to be a guide to the words peculiar to the Harry Potter books--words like Quidditch and Hogwarts. Lots of people took a dim view of Ms Rowling's lawsuit, including this most literary criticism from the Times of London, in an editorial entitled "J.K. Rowling may own Harry's world, but we own her words now."

"A generation has now grown up besotted (©Milton) with Quidditch and Hogwarts. However, it is not astonishing that J.K. Rowling is using a court case to remind the writers of a zany (©Shakespeare) Harry Potter lexicon, now making the jump from cyberspace (©William Gibson) to print, that it is not common property and she did invent it all. She may succeed in persuading the court that her copyright is violated by some parts of the proposed encyclopedia. Indeed, she may have a respectable commercial case, but not much of a cultural one. However, unless she employs a mole (©le CarrĂ©) to oversee our every conversation and written exchange, she should not try to suppress a collection of her invented words. For Voldemort, Muggles, Horcruxes and all Rowling's other serendipitous (©Walpole) coinages are ours now; it would be pig-headed (©Jonson) not to let us use them as we wish.

"English is so full of the neologisms of authors that if we had to credit each one, we would assassinate (©Shakespeare) our prose, and make readers chortle (©Carroll) mightily. Without being didactic (©Milton), Rowling can be assured that she is in good company in contributing words, gratis, to the language. The best she should hope for is that her words become as widely adopted as those of other authors. Perhaps the highest honour has been bestowed on the quark (©Joyce), used as the name for a sub-atomic particle. As there are quarks across the Universe, Joyce may be our most disseminated author. Rowling should be proud if Doxies, Thestrals or Butterbeer make it as far as a lexicon."

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