Originally, huge Harry Potter fan Steve Vander Ark wrote a fan's guide to all things Harry Potter. It was titled "The Harry Potter Lexicon."
J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, popped Vander Ark's balloon (and his reputation with many HP fans) by suing him and his publisher for copyright infringement: using excerpts from Rowling's books too freely. Rowling got a New York court to enjoin publication, ruling her rights would be infringed by the proposed book.
Judge Patterson limited his decision, however. Books based on the Harry Potter novels would be OK as long as they comply with some basic rules. Most importantly, such books would have to include "substantial original commentary."
He wrote, "While the 'Lexicon,' in its current state, is not a fair use of the Harry Potter works, reference works that share the Lexicon's purpose of aiding readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled."
Vander Ark writes, "After the trial in April 2008 I worked to create a new, different book with a new focus and purpose, mindful of the guidelines of the court. That's the book I am proud to be placing in your hands now."
Last week, RDR Books published his book, re-edited, rewritten and renamed "The Lexicon," subtitled "An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials."
You'd imagine a book that undertakes to cover every last character, from "Grindylow" to "Erumpent" and "Spungen," even characters that didn't make it into the books, to explain "dungbomb" and "portable swamp," list magic spells such as "Entrail-Expelling Curse" and "Dissendium," lay out the Quidditch teams and maneuvers such as the Porskoff Ploy, and so forth, might run to multiple volumes. But no, the entire paperback is a nice, compact 345 pages with a rather steep price: $24.95.
It clearly has been compiled by experts. Vander Ark runs one of the top Harry Potter fan sites, and he had help with this book from three listed editors, plus a legion of volunteers.
Even for someone who read the first Harry Potter novel out loud to a classroom of third graders but never finished reading the series, even for a person such as myself this new "Lexicon" is fun to browse.
If J. K. Rowling utters an inconsistency, Vander Ark and friends catch it.
For example: "Michael Corner was listed as a Hufflepuff on J.K. Rowling's list of students in Harry's year (see Harry Potter and Me, a BBC Christmas Special, December 2001) but became a Ravenclaw in the books."
The Lexicon is saved from excessive pedantry because the overall subject is so much fun. After all, in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" students hurled the Conjunctivitis Curse at each other. When everyone's walking around with magical red eye, how serious can you be?
J.K. Rowling, while not approving the new book, has let it be known she's relieved and happy that the lawsuit is settled and her rights protected. Vander Ark has said at various book signings he also is happy it's over, and happy to have his book finally published.
As for the core audience of serious Harry Potter fans, the reaction is mixed. Some readers thought no one should make J.K. unhappy for any reason. Others are grateful to have a complete guide to the books.
One fan calling herself I Love Harry Potter wrote, "I don't think that they have the right to do this it is so stupid how could they do this to jk rowling."
Adeline posted "JK Rowling is writing an encyclopedia including additional material that is not available anywhere. I’ll save my money and buy the book written by the person who created the world."
Other readers posted statements like this: "Oh give it a break! I love that this book is finally getting its day! I can’t wait to buy it! All the rules have been followed and there is no reason to deny that this work is a wonderful compilation of Steve’s work!
"The Lexicon, An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials" by Steve Vander Ark. RDR Books paperback $24.95. ISBN 9781571431745.
Steve Vander Ark's original fan site: http://www.hp-lexicon.org/
Visit RDR Books and publisher Roger Rappoport at www.rdrbooks.com
Fan comments above were posted at the Christian Science Monitor, here: http://features.csmonitor.com/books/2009/01/02/harry-potter-encyclopedia-finally-goes-on-sale/
I wrote a column about the trial in April, 2008: http://www.gallerybookshop.com/bkm/wob080420.html