An exercise in pattern-finding

Oh my. Money indeed is like blood in the water to some sharky people. The current example comes courtesy of the estate of Adrian Jacobs, and is yet another attempt to find similarities between Harry Potter and some other book, and then cry plagiarism. The book this time is a 36-page pamphlet called The Adventures of Willy the Wizard — No 1 Livid Land (1987), admittedly offered to and rejected by the same agent that later represented Rowling, but the similarities are quite far in the har-har land:

[The lawsuit] added that the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) copied elements of the plot of Willy the Wizard, including a wizard contest, and that the Potter series borrowed the idea of wizards travelling on trains.

“Both Willy and Harry are required to work out the exact nature of the main task of the contest which they both achieve in a bathroom assisted by clues from helpers, in order to discover how to rescue human hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal fantasy creatures,” the estate statement said.

Oh, boy. It seems to me that if you conjure up (pardon the pun) a wizard world, you will need to retain a lot of mundane features in it; and it seems to me trains are old-timey and charming enough (to the British at least) to be a likely candidate.

Same thing with a wizarding contest — some variant of cricket with a dragon as the wicket is a natural outgrowth of our mundane activities, retained to keep the second world comprehensible; and naturally that will be, er, something like cricket with a dragon as the wicket, or something old layered with something really old.

And of course once you have your stalwart main character entering the said contest, it makes for a great increase in dramatic tension if some friend, pal or pet has his, her or its life or dignity on the line. And the easiest and most obvious way is that the said character is not held by nefarious sport-organizers (who will have to have relatively clean hands to offer the trophy with) but rather guarded and menaced by Some X. Creep, which in wizard-fantasy quickly turns to some mythical creature, the great majority of which are n % humans, (100-n) % animals.

As for the bathroom where the great secret is revealed — Thor! The sentences I end up writing for this blog! — well, it would be a weird house that had no bathroom, and “assisted by clues from helpers” is awfully vague. When did you last time read a book of the wizard-clique genre where the main character didn’t have a tangential sympathizer or two?

But since I don’t have that clear a memory of the Goblet of Fire, and haven’t read the Jacobs book — and with a title like The Adventures of Willy the Wizard you’d need a steel-tipped nine-foot deaestheticizer to force me to it — I can’t say anything better; and I quite suspect this game of silly buggers is all there is to this case: nothing more than a greedy version of the same heated game that is occasionally played between the fans of Fantasy Series A and Fantasy Saga B, where those of the older accuse the younger of being a rip-off, and receive intimations of their precious being a copy of a well-known Classic Series C, and make increasingly tedious bullet-point lists of the similarities. Some of these are of the level “OMG! The words ‘murder’ and ‘udder’ both have e after u & no other vowels? Coincidence??? I THINK NOT!!!”

With enough pages, some similarities will inevitably happen; and with similar modes, subjects and sources (Beowulf and Arthur if not Tolkien) the likelihood becomes a certainty, but that isn’t an indication of plagiarism any more than the similarities of two portraits mean one of the painters copied the other. People just look alike — “And look! There’s two ears too! Can you call that coincidence too, Mr. Skeptic? Huh? One nose, two eyes, one mouth, two ears… what does it take to make you believe?” — and once you take a somehow constrained field and churn out enough work, there will be similarities without any intent or knowledge. Thus celebrity lookalikes, thus somewhat familiar tales of fantasy, and as an extremely malicious misapplication of this, the Jacobs brouhaha.

(For more justified scorn, you could do worse than take a look at the seething cauldron of whaddahell churned by more dedicated HP fans. And now, aw dagnabbit it, I have to struggle against the desire to re-read a book or two of the series once again.)

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