Category Archives: books

Not so much gibberish as derivative and boring

I was rather amused to see that the Judge hearing the J.K. Rowling copyright infringement case has described Rowling’s plotlines as “gibberish”.

To explain briefly, as outlined in this article from The Times, Rowling is asking the Manhattan Federal Court to block publication of The Harry Potter Lexicon, a guide to places and names in the Harry Potter series penned by Stephen Vander Ark. Vander Ark had been compiling the guide on a website when RDR Books persuaded him to publish it as a book. The trial has been very emotional, with Vander Ark breaking down in the witness box, and Rowling saying that her characters were as dear to her as children. I thought it was all rather melodramatic myself.

As I’ve explained in a previous post, I don’t think the plot lines are gibberish, but I find the series rather derivative, and Books 4 and 5 were very long, badly edited and boring. I never bothered to read Books 6 and 7, something which still amazes those who know of my voracious reading habits. Hence I was somewhat amused to see Rowling accusing Vander Ark of being derivative: her work is just a clever patchwork of motifs from other much better fantasy works.

I wonder if a better course of action for all would have been for Rowling to broker a deal whereby she collaborated with Vander Ark and fixed the bits of the Lexicon that she found to be offensive and derivative. I’ve noticed that where guides to a fantasy book deal are produced, they are often the product of collaboration between the author and a third party. A third party seems to be able to provide some perspective. But I don’t know what Rowling’s contract with her publishers is: perhaps that wouldn’t be possible. Still, it all seems unnecessarily confrontational.

Update

Further news and sensible commentary in this Guardian article, which asks how can Rowling talk about debasement when she is agreeing to the construction of a Harry Potter theme park in the US?

Although I have to confess that my sister and I went to Parc Asterix in Paris when we were young, and that was quite fun and not overly commercial from memory. We chose Parc Asterix over Eurodisney…after all, we had read our Asterix books all over France, and visited the site of Vercingetorix’s defeat in Alesia.

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Filed under books, copyright, Harry Potter, law, literature, reading, society

Property law and the One Ring

Can it really be true? Yes, it is true. The blog Law is Cool features an essay about Lord of the Rings from a property law perspective! Here is a brief extract:

Consider the following facts which seem ripped from a first year property law exam:

  1. Sauron holds ownership in the Ring through accession, by working one thing (base metals) into a new thing (a ring of power)
  2. He is dispossessed by Isildur, who now holds possession in the Ring.
  3. Isildur loses the Ring (he has a manifest intent to exclude others but no physical control) when it slips off his finger as he was swimming in the Anduin river to escape from Orcs.
  4. Déagol finds the Ring.
  5. He is dispossessed by Sméagol (a.k.a. Gollum).
  6. Gollum loses the Ring and it is finally found by Bilbo.
  7. Bilbo gifts the Ring to Frodo. Later, Aragorn (the heir of Isildur) tells Frodo to carry the ring to Mordor, making Frodo his bailee.
  8. Sam, assuming that Frodo is dead, takes the Ring according to instructions to help Frodo with the Ring in grave circumstances. Sam is acting here as a (fictional) bailee and he returns possession to Frodo after finding him still alive.
  9. At the end of the book, Gollum restores his possession of the ring. Seconds later, he and the Ring are both destroyed. At this point all property held in the Ring disappears.

Gee, I wish I’d thought of that. It is just too cool for words. My favourite part is where the priorities battle between the various parties is described. Perhaps I will use it as an example in future classes.

I have a number of thoughts on the matter, but I’ll have to wait until I’m more awake to develop them.

(via The Volokh Conspiracy)

P.S. check out the comments at both Law is Cool and the Volokh Conspiracy – hilarious.

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Through the looking glass darkly?

After the rather serious and contentious nature of my previous post, I thought I might move to less serious material (hat tip to Dave Bath for sharing this with me).

Comparative Law Blog notes that Lewis Carroll’s books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are the most widely quoted children’s books in judgments. I loved those books when I was little.

The passage which is most cited in judicial statements is an interchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. Humpty tries to convince Alice that “un-birthdays” are better than birthdays because there is only one birthday, but 364 “un-birthdays” in a year.

‘…As I was saying, that seems to be done right—though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now—and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents—’

‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t— till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master— that’s all.’

The last three sentences are cited in those cases where a party is trying to argue that it can unilaterally determine the meaning of a word which has multiple meanings. As the Comparative Law Blogger says, this is problematic because:

…the speaker gets to unilaterally determine the meaning of his words precludes all form of communication when applied to ordinary life, but leads to absolute power when applied to legal commands. It is not mere retroactivity, therefore, that is objectionable; it is the absolute power that comes with being both legislator and judge.

The problem is that someone who is supposed to follow the law does not know what the law is (until the other side tells them they have breached it). This quote was famously used by Lord Atkin in dissent in Liversedge v Anderson [1941] UKHL 1; (1942) AC 206, and has subsequently been used in Australian cases, including:

  • Anteden Pty Ltd v Glen Eira City Council [2000] VSC 366 at [30];
  • Klason v Australian Capital Territory [2003] ACTSC 104 at [88] (in which the delightful neologism “Humptyspeak” is also coined in para [89]);
  • Opal Group Holdings (Aust) Pty Ltd v Franklins Ltd [2002] NSWCA 196 at [41];
  • Re Franklin Mint Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation [1993] FCA 28 at [44];
  • Minister for Immigration v Yusuf [2001] HCA 30 at [112] – [113];
  • Gary Ian Smoker v The Pharmacy Restructuring Authority [1994] FCA 1487 at [7];
  • Re Slavko Nikac; Rifat Hassan Gogebakan and Alexander Sorenson v Minister for Immigration [1988] FCA 400 at [41]
  • Austral Constructions Pty Ltd; Re Austral Construction Pty Ltd Certified Agreement 2003 PR941051 [2003] AIRC 1467 at [1]; and
  • Coomera Land Development Corporation Pty Ltd v Urban Land Development Pty Ltd [2006] QDC 365 at [1].

However, Humpty is not the only Carroll character to have featured in judgments.

The Cheshire Cat has also featured in an New South Wales Supreme Court judgment, Jennings v Credit Corp Australia Pty Ltd [2000] NSWSC 210 at [40]:

 I would prefer to test the matter by analysing the nature of the defect in the Respondent’s Statement of Liquidated Claim and then determining its consequences for the status of that claim in the context of the relevant rules as applicable to a Local Court dealing with a civil claim. It is only by so doing that one can answer the question whether, in the events that happened, “an action is brought on the cause of action” within the meaning of s63(2) of the Limitation Act 1969 (NSW), so as to be protected from extinguishment as statute barred. The analysis therefore requires consideration of the status of the equitable assignee’s writ or claim. This is in circumstances where the debtor had not at any time moved to set the writ aside or stay the action, such that it might be said to be voidable but not void, as in the case of judicial review setting aside a determination for breach of rules of natural justice. In that analogous context, courts now generally favour a “relative” concept of invalidity. This allows courts to hold that a decision is “void ab initio”, as if it had never been made, but only once a competent court declares that it was so made in breach of rules of natural justice. But even after avoidance the cases confirm that such a decision has practical and even legal effect, like the smile on the cheshire cat, lingering after the cat has vanished. See Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Ch 6: “I’ve often seen a cat without a grin”, says Alice. “But a grin without a cat, that’s the most curious thing I’ve ever seen in all my life.”; see Aronson & Dyer “Judicial Review of Administrative Action” (LBC, 1996) at 485 and for a good example of such judicial treatment Forbes v Trotting Club (NSW) [1979] HCA 27; (1979) 143 CLR 242 at 277. The present case is stronger; there never was any setting aside nor even an application to do so on this ground before the legal estate was got in. There was simply resistance to the Plaintiff’s substitution application when made after the legal estate was acquired and after a further assignment.

There is a reference to the Walrus and the Carpenter in Re Richard Bateman and Georgina Gay Bateman v Barbara Jean Slayter [1987] FCA 58 at [18]:

Having regard to these matters, as well as to the matters I have already discussed in relation to the cash flow projections, I am satisfied that the directors had no basis for the assertion that there was no risk of loss or the prediction that all loans obtained to set up the business would be repaid within one year or, if the statement that the concept was proven be regarded as merely a matter of opinion, for the assertion of such an opinion. I am satisfied that all three of them must have known the situation. What had been “proven” was that the concept of franchising was capable of returning large sums to the franchisor. In the circumstances, to invite persons to join the company as franchisees upon the basis that they would get the benefit of a proven concept was akin to the invitation to join in a treat which the Walrus and the Carpenter extended to the oysters in Through the Looking Glass.

The Hunting of the Snark has featured in a Queensland judgment, R v Robinson [1998] QCA 50:

It is well known that lay people often wrongly conclude that because a person has repeatedly said that something has occurred, therefore it must for that reason be true. They are often inclined to the view that mere assertion, particularly if repeated, necessarily means that what is asserted is true. Lewis Carroll ‘s statement in Hunting of the Snark that “What I tell you 3 times is true”, is quite incorrect. Merely saying something does not necessarily make it so. There are several references to statements made by the complainant in ex.1 and in his oral evidence. The first was in 1994 to his 18 year old neighbour. Then there was the statement to his mother and his further reference of statements made to his mother, father, grandmother and various other persons above referred to.

The Snark also gets a guernsey in Uniquema Pty Ltd v Commissioner of State Revenue [2002] VSC 157 at [3]: ‘Goodwill can be an elusive concept and as difficult to hunt as a snark.’

The poem Jabberwocky gets a reference in Re Johnson & Johnson Australia Pty Ltd v Sterling Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd [1991] FCA 310 at paras [8] – [9] of the judgment of Burchett J, where the nature of the word “caplet” is considered:

Not every word is a blank disc upon which any recognizable significance can only be moulded by usage; some words have a currency from the moment they are minted, bearing a perceptible, even if previously unfamiliar image. A brilliant example of sustained use of new-coined words to convey an imprecise, but yet vivid, descriptive meaning is to be found in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

“Caplets” is not only more prosaic than this; it conveys, at any rate in the context of the illustrations upon the packet and the actual articles within it, not to say the accompanying repetition in ordinary language, a plain and direct meaning. No one looking at the packet could doubt that the product was sold under the name Tylenol, that the company concerned in its sale was Johnson and Johnson, and that it had been made up in the form of the stated number of caplets. If a person, who had not seen the product before, had any doubt about the exact form of the drug which was a caplet, that doubt could not have survived the briefest examination of the packet and its contents.

Even the Queen of Hearts gets a mention in South Australia v O’Shea [1987] HCA 39 at [10]:

… It was said, on behalf of the State, that the diverse considerations which might have influenced different members of Cabinet “are not the sorts of matters on which one would expect a person to have a right to be heard simply because the right to be heard on matters like that is, with respect, a somewhat empty right”. To echo the rhetoric of Lord Atkin in Liversidge v Anderson (at p 245), I know of only one authority which supports such an approach to the right to be heard in relation to matters founding an effective decision that indefinite incarceration should be imposed or continued otherwise than as punishment for a specific proven offence. “‘No, no,’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards'” (Alice in Wonderland, ch.xii). I reject that approach. 

I wonder what Carroll would have thought if he had know his works would have been so popular with judges? Probably it’s best that some quotes aren’t used, I think I’d get worried if a judge started quoting the Queen’s shout: Off with her head!

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I want to be a hobbit

When I was in Grade 2, we had to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wrote something to the effect that I wanted to be a hobbit, and if I couldn’t achieve that, I’d like to be a fairy with wings. There was nothing about being a lawyer. I don’t think I even knew what one was.

I first read Lord of the Rings when I was 7 years old, with my father. Since then I don’t know how many times I’ve reread it. Say 50 times? Seriously. Once I read the whole thing in 2 days, when I was 10 years old. That messes with your mind a bit. However, I couldn’t find Book 1 (The Fellowship of the Ring) after I moved out of home, so I hadn’t read it for about 5 years. I think that must be a record for me.

Fortunately, I found Book 1 again the other day, and I’ve started re-reading the whole lot yet again. I do enjoy it. I haven’t grown up to be a hobbit, although I do like mushrooms, and have three cookbooks devoted to the topic.

I’m looking forward to re-reading Lord of the Rings aloud with my daughter. Of course I’ll have to wait until she’s ready. Only another 5 and a half years to go.

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Marrying Libraries

Unfortunately, the poor baby has been very sick with a terrible cold since Thursday. Her nose has been streaming, her eyes are watering, she’s had a temperature and developed a terrible cough. So we have had a very quiet long weekend, looking after the poor girl.

This afternoon, while she was asleep, I decided that I would rearrange the bookshelf in the spare room. I should confess that I have a passion for arranging bookshelves. When I was in primary school, I arranged my books according to the Dewey Decimal System, and made my own spine labels for them. Sad, but oh so true. If only the rest of my life had some order to it.

My rearranging reminded me of this account of marrying libraries in Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman:

A few months ago, my husband and I decided to mix our books together. We had known each other for ten years, lived together for six, been married for five. Our mismatched coffee mugs cohabited amicably; we wore each other’s T-shirts and, in a pinch, socks; our record collections had long ago miscegenated without incident, my Josquin Desprez motets cozying up to George’s Worst of Jefferson Airplane, to the enrichment, we believed, of both. But our libraries had remained separate, mine mostly at the north end of our loft, his at the south. We agreed that it made no sense for my Billy Budd to languish forty feet from his Moby Dick, yet neither of us had lifted a finger to bring them together.

We had been married in this loft, in full view of our mutually quarantined Melvilles. Promising to love each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health — even promising to forsake all others — had been no problem, but it was a good thing the Book of Common Prayer didn’t say anything about marrying our libraries and throwing out the duplicates. That would have been a far more solemn vow, one that would probably have caused the wedding to grind to a mortifying halt.

I did laugh when I read this. My husband and I didn’t marry our book collections until we’d been married for some years. In fact, I think it only happened just before I had our girl. I had the nesting instinct very badly, and rearranged the spare room and the bookshelves at least four times in those months before the girl was born. By contrast, I think our CD collection got mixed up right from the beginning, and is happily blended in our lounge room to this day.

My husband likes novels of gritty realism: Irving Welsh and the like. He also has a great many books on how to listen to music. He has a taste for the controversial. I like Middle English poetry, we both have Shakespeare, then there’s all those Thomas Hardy novels from my Hardy phase in late adolescence. How to arrange the books? Should The Prisoner of Zenda go before or after Dickens? Should poetry go together? Rather strangely, the main areas in which my husband’s and my collections overlap is Shakespeare and Kafka. What does that say about us? I haven’t culled any from either collection. We have mostly married our books, but those gritty realism ones are off on a shelf of their own next to my husband’s desk. In terms of later literature, I have decided that books with a similar “feel” should go together – books about travel, books about Japan, books with a post-modernist flavour. That way, if I’m feeling in the mood for a book by an Australian author, I’ll be able to go to that section and select one.

It is a nice feeling sorting through one’s books. Each has its own individual flavour. Sometimes I think I am a devourer of books. As I sorted them, I remember which ones I enjoyed and found a few that I’ve always intended to read. I also think I should have another go at some books which I never finished. And my husband has a few interesting ones which I never would have purchased myself but which I think I would enjoy reading.

Do you think it’s just totally over the top if I put labels on the shelf indicating themes for anyone who happens to be browsing? Hmm, maybe don’t answer that question.

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Old fat spider spinning in a tree…

Anyone who knows me will know that I love Tolkien. And anyone who is a fellow Tolkien fan might find the title of this post reminiscent.

Do you remember the song Bilbo sang to the spiders in Mirkwood forest in The Hobbit?

Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can’t see me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Won’t you stop,
Stop your spinning and look for me!

I found this delightful explanation of the word “attercop“. I always presumed it was made up; but no, it is still in use as a Yorkshire dialect word.  I think I like the word “attercoppaphobia” better than “arachnophobia”. Perhaps I shall try to introduce it to the English language.

(Via World Wide Words)

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Dolly and Ferris

“Dolly clasped Ferris to her ample bosom. ‘Promise you’ll never leave me,’ she said, tears welling in her eyes.”

If I ever write a novel, I have decided that I will steal names from the wonderful people who send me spam. Dolly Burroughs and Ferris Kasper are two of those people. I’ve decided that they are characters from a Mills & Boon style novel. Hence the sentence above.

I have also received spam from:

  • Reed Wu
  • Allan Grimm
  • Zion Powell
  • Octavio Duncan
  • Mable (sic) Dodge
  • Frieda Lacey
  • Elbert Griffin
  • Lincoln Cline
  • Tammara (sic) Garnet
  • Giacopo Jeana
  • Cameron Perez
  • Maribel Roy

How can you go past names like those?

Isn’t it nice to know that you are loved by someone? Even if it’s just “Reed Wu” trying to sell you Adobe Suite 3 Design.

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