The Bench: Fan Feud

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News Media Commentary
Title: The Bench: Fan Feud
Commentator: Tim Wu
Date(s): May 12, 2008
Venue: The New Yorker
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: Fan Feud - The New Yorker, Archived version
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The Bench: Fan Feud is a short article by Tim Wu that appeared in the May 12, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. Wu provides a brief description of the Harry Potter Lexicon trial and quotes Steve Vander Ark, the defendant. He also interviews another HP fan, Melissa Anelli.[1]

Correction

On May 5, 2008, The Leaky Cauldron re-posted the text of the article and added an Editor's Note:

Editor’s Note: In the above-mentioned article, Mr. Wu attributed several statements made during a recent PotterCast (number 148) to Melissa Anelli (“He is vilified now”, “He has ruined his good standing.”). These remarks were instead made by Leaky Editor Sue Upton, who was commenting on the impact the decision to publish the book has made upon Vander Ark’s reputation.[2]

Excerpts from the Article

Once upon a time, a talented weaver named Arachne declared herself superior in skill to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who also invented weaving. Whether Arachne was actually better we’ll never know, for Athena, in a jealous rage, destroyed her rival’s tapestry and turned her into a spider. Last summer, at a “Harry Potter” convention in Toronto, a fan named Steve Vander Ark made a similar mistake when he dared to compare himself to Joanne (J. K.) Rowling. “It is amazing where we have taken ‘Harry Potter,’ “ he said to a crowd of dedicated “Potter” fans. Many readers islike the epilogue in the final book; Vander Ark urged them to disregard it entirely, and even invented his own spell to do so (“expelliepilogus”). “Jo’s quit, she’s done,” he told the audience. “We’re taking over now.”

Comparing yourself to a living god can be risky, and Vander Ark has suffered cruel fates, in court and in the world of “Potter” fandom. A few weeks ago, in a crowded Manhattan courtroom, Rowling’s lawyers put Vander Ark through a lengthy interrogation, as part of a lawsuit provoked by his plans to publish “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” a comprehensive guide to “Harry Potter,” which Rowling believes infringes on her copyright. (The ruling should come sometime after May 9th.) From the witness stand, Vander Ark directed beseeching glances toward Rowling, who was sitting a few yards away, but she slowly shook her head. After several hours of intense questioning in front of his idol, Vander Ark broke down and cried.

“I really wish we had had a different kind of meeting,” he said later. “There were a couple times I kind of gave her a half-smile. She didn’t smile back.”

In 2000, Vander Ark, who considers himself a Ravenclaw, turned his obsessive notes into a Web site, The Harry Potter Lexicon. Soon, he was a celebrity in the “Potter” community. But when he decided to turn his Web site into a book Rowling sued his publisher, effectively exiling him from the wizard community.

One of his former cohorts, Melissa Anelli, sat at the back of the courtroom for much of the testimony. A twenty-eight-year-old Gryffindor from Brooklyn, she is the Webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, a leading “Potter” Web site. Although she and Vander Ark had collaborated on podcasts (she’d referred to him as a “guru”) and had even linked their Web sites together in the “Floo network,” she was not at the trial to cheer him on but, as she said, “to support Jo.” “It’s her world,” Annelli said. “She lets us play.” As for Vander Ark, “he is vilified now,” she said on a recent Leaky Cauldron podcast. “He has ruined his good standing.” (“It’s the same thing as if a family member were to go and break the law, and do something horrible,” John Noe, the site’s creative director, said. “There is no room for sympathy.”)

Anelli is writing her own “Potter” book, with Rowling’s blessing, and during a break in the trial Rowling sought her out and gave her a warm embrace, a moment that might have been as difficult for Vander Ark as any part of the legal proceedings.

“Melissa has done more to hurt me than Rowling,” Vander Ark said during a recess. “I can’t blame her for liking her status.” After all, he said, Rowling “is God and Melissa is her prophet.” He went on, “I am an outcast now. But I still consider myself a ‘Harry Potter’ fan.”

References

  1. Wu, Tim. "The Bench: Fan Feud". The New Yorker (May 12, 2008). Accessed October 5, 2008.
  2. Kristin. JKR/WB vs. RDR Books Trial: "Fan Feud", from The New Yorker [post]. The Leaky Cauldron. May 05, 2008, 08:55 PM. Accessed October 5, 2008; Fan Feud, Archived version