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.
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.
I have just read Joe Cinque’s Consolation by Helen Garner. It is a very interesting insight into a criminal trial, and how a layperson perceives the process of a trial. The book focuses on the impact of the trial on the victim’s parents, with whom the author gradually builds a friendship.
Garner gets drawn into watching a criminal trial in relation to the death of a young man called Joe Cinque, at the hands of his girlfriend, Anu Singh. Singh drugged Cinque with Rohypnol, and later injected him with an overdose of heroin. At the time, she was a law student in her final year at ANU. Bizarre aspects of the case come out during evidence:
- Singh held a number of “farewell” dinner parties where she made it known that she intended to kill herself and drug or kill her boyfriend, but no one did anything to help Cinque;
- Singh was assisted by her best friend, Madhavi Rao, who helped her procure Rohypnol and heroin and knew of her plans to kill Cinque and/or herself;
- Singh’s defence in the trial is diminished responsibility as a result of psychiatric illness.
Singh herself is apparently thinking of making a film on the subject, and regrets refusing to talk to Garner.
I found this book compelling. It deals with some of the issues raised in a previous post on this blog, “The Mad, the Bad and the Sad”.
- Does the interest of the victim and the victim’s family get forgotten in the morass of a criminal trial?
- Is the adversarial system suitable for criminal trials?
- How should people be held responsible for their actions?
- What is the role of mental health and psychiatry in assessing responsibility?
- How can lawyers keep on doing their job, even when it involves defending actions which seem to go against every moral precept?
- How does law match up against morality, and the judgment of a layperson?
- How can the immense pain suffered by the victim’s family be healed (if at all)?
There are no easy answers. In the end, someone has to come to a “judgment” as to what happened and who (if anybody) should be held responsible.
I met a Judge once who told me that he used to lie awake the night before he handed down a criminal sentence and agonise: did he get it right? was it fair? He said that he knew that there was no way everyone would be satisfied or that he could make things right again. Whichever way he decided, he said, he was used to getting hate mail. I realised then that it would be such a difficult job. I didn’t envy him.
I think it is important for all lawyers to think about these issues (and not just criminal lawyers, either). Sometimes one can forget the way a situation looks from a non-legal perspective, and the very great impact that the law can have on people’s lives. Anyway, I recommend this book if you have a moment – it is very readable.