While millions await the upcoming film version of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," life has not been kind to author N.K. Stouffer, who has sued J.K. Rowling for allegedly stealing her ideas.
"I can handle it," Stouffer says. "I'm in this all the way."
Last spring, Stouffer was getting as much publicity as Rowling herself. She had found a publisher to reissue "The Legend of Rah and the Muggles," from which she claims Rowling got her idea for the Muggles in "Harry Potter." Also to be released were four
"Larry Potter" children's books, written in the 1980s, before Rowling's first novel came out.
But so far, the public clearly prefers Harry over Larry and Rowling's Muggles over Stouffer's. "Rah and the Muggles," released in April by an affiliate of the Baltimore-based Ottenheimer Publishers Inc., has yet to sell out a first printing of 7,000. Ottenheimer president Allan T. Hirsh III also said that sales have been "slow" for the four Larry Potter books published this fall.
Any decision on Stouffer's lawsuit is at least months away. A hearing in New York was postponed to January: Its scheduled date was Sept. 11, the day of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Stouffer's attorney, Kevin Casey, has dropped her as a client. He cited "a host of factors," although the strength of the case was not among them, he said. Stouffer, who hopes to hire a new lawyer, is currently representing herself and has set up a legal defense fund.
Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc., has called Stouffer's allegations "absurd."
Few critics have written about "Rah and the Muggles." One review was by The Associated Press, which called it an "excruciating mix of cliche, preachiness and just poor writing." Meanwhile, the country's leading superstore chains, Borders and
Barnes & Noble, declined to stock Stouffer's work.
"Our buyer looked at the books and said they're really not very good," said Bob Wietrak, vice president of merchandising for Barnes & Noble.
"The decision not to carry her had nothing to do with the lawsuit," said Borders spokeswoman Ann Binkley. "Our buyer for children's books was not impressed with the illustrations; they were not of the quality we look for in a children's book. And the writing itself was not what she would deem up to par."
Hirsh had hoped that all the publicity would lead not only to big sales in the United States, but to deals around the world. However, he said, so far foreign rights have only been agreed to in South Korea and the Czech Republic.
Stouffer has moved from her home in Camp Hill, Pa., because, she said, she was shot at a few weeks ago; she also said that a hornet's nest was mailed to her. She now lives in an undisclosed location in rural Pennsylvania.
The author self-published her books back in the mid-1980s. The words "Muggle" and "Muggles" are trademarks hat Stouffer says she has been using since 1987 on merchandise such as decorative magnets, toys and buttons. She says she filed to register the trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last year, but a registration has not yet been granted.
Rowling uses the word "Muggles" to refer to ordinary humans without magical powers. In Stouffer's world, Muggles are bald, mutated, nuclear holocaust survivors. The word, she says, was inspired by her teen-age son, Vance, who called his mother's face a
"muggie" when he was little.
Other Stouffer books feature Larry Potter, who wears glasses and has dark hair like Rowling's Harry Potter, although he lacks magical powers and the lightning-bolt scar etched on Harry's forehead.
The two Muggle worlds collided in 1999 when Stouffer got calls from friends and relatives who thought they noticed similarities between "Rah and the Muggles" and Rowling's first novel, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
After settlement talks failed, Scholastic filed a lawsuit in November 1999, along with Rowling and Time Warner Entertainment Co., which owns the film rights to two Harry Potter books. They are asking a judge to rule that Rowling's books do not violate
Stouffer's trademark and copyright.
Stouffer filed a countersuit in March 2000, alleging trademark and copyright infringement.
By Hillel Italie
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