01/14/2002

 

Currently Reading: Batman, Year One; Just Like Beauty, Lisa Lerner; High Fidelity, Nicholas Hornsby. And see main entry.

Currently Listening To: I'm on a Nirvana kick. I'm not quite sure I get all the hyperventilation that goes on about this band to this very day, but I picked up a copy of "Nevermind" today and was surprised by how much I like just about every song on there. I had the cassette for a while, but lost it.

Currently Watching: The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, which are especially tension-filled this year because the winners go on to the Olympics next month.

I love Michelle Kwan and Todd Eldredge, so I'm thrilled by the outcome. I'm probably going to need Valium for the actual Olympics next month, though. I get way too emotionally involved in this shit.

 

 

 

Update 6/4/04: Because I still get some happy e-mails about this entry, especially whenever a new Harry Potter development rolls around (Prisoner of Azkaban opens this weekend), some newer information: In September 2002, a New York court found that N.K. Stouffer was a big fat fraud. And a thunderously inept and stupid one at that. Honestly, now -- if you're going to alter story drafts and screenplays to try to make it look like you were using a certain trademarked term, don't alter said documents using technology that wasn't even invented at the time you supposedly published them. And don't give the judge some blarney about how your "art department" must have changed the copy when the judge knows perfectly well that the art department was actually you and some hapless assistant, and that it only existed for a few months before your vanity press operation went bankrupt. And don't forge someone's signature when that person is still around to tell a court he didn't sign those invoices. And don't doctor some old ad copy when the original art exists in New York City within an easy cab ride of the big-money publishers you're battling. Duh. Even the court took notice of what a badly-written piece of crap this book is: "At one point in the story the reader is told that "the average height of a Muggle is about 18 inches tall. Some are smaller, but none are ever taller than 20 inches. (Choe Decl., Exh. 7). Later in the booklet, however, Muggles are seen riding on the backs of ants and bees, an activity that would require the Muggles to be significantly smaller than 18 inches." Snerk.

Back when I wrote this, I had the occasional guilty twinge as I reviewed it. Maybe I was being too mean to a poor luckless soul who had somehow convinced herself that yes, J.K. Rowling really did just happen across "Rah and the Muggles" at some random European toy fair and decide to steal the concept. Maybe that's what a writer perennially bouncing between vanity presses and bankruptcy had to think to convince herself she'd made her mark somewhere after all.

Nah. After reading the above linked court case, I came to two conclusions: 1. As skeptical as I was of Stouffer's story, I was still giving her claims entirely too much credit, and 2. I wasn't nearly nasty enough.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night. (Or: Worst. Book. Ever.)

cover of "Rah and the Muggles."

Up there is a lesson in how easy it is to get some measure of fame in America.

Write an awful book, a book so unbelievably heinous that you have to form your own publishing company to get the wretched thing in print. After it fades away largely unread and unloved, hang on to it for years until by some stroke of luck an author who has more writing talent in one of her nostril hairs than you have in your entire body writes a wildly popular book that just happens to use a term you claim you invented and trademarked. (You did neither, but don't let that stop you. Facts are stupid things, as a beloved president of ours once said.)

Go to the media and cry plagiarism. You'll get in all the major newspapers and you'll be interviewed on TV. Just like a real author! A gullible American media will take your claim at face value and start spreading your story that Rowling took her billion-dollar idea from some book titled "Larry Potter and the Muggles." Some publishing company desperate to make a few quick bucks off a controversial title will publish your godawful book. And idiots like me will buy it to see what the fuss is about.

Nancy "N.K." Stouffer has filed a trademark violation suit against J.K. Rowling (author of the "Harry Potter" books if you've been living under a rock). The actual trademark suit might have merit -- I am not a trademark lawyer and I certainly wouldn't know.

But in her website and in many interviews, she's gone as far as to claim that Rowling stole ideas from this rotten book. And that makes me sick. Accusing any writer of plagiarism is no joke, even if Rowling can probably dig more money out of her sofa cushions than Stouffer sees in a year. It's dirty pool. And it's even more shameless when one knows that Rowling's books are the sole reason that Stouffer's piece of garbage ever saw print. She should be thanking God that Rowling and Harry Potter came along to rescue her from vanity-press obscurity instead of trying to paint herself as some put-upon champion of the little guy.

I can't get my money back b ut I can ridicule the living shit out of this thing in my journal and hope that a future potential buyer, or Stouffer herself, turns up this page in a Google search one day. You probably don't care because you weren't going to buy this thing anyhow, but I am seriously indignant. I blew my spleen all over the Amazon review section, but I'm just not satisfied.

So. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "The Legend of Rah and the Muggles" by N.K. Stouffer, hereby known as the Ed Wood of fantasy writing. (And don't even try giving it back.)

Because there's been some confusion on one point about "Rah and the Muggles," and because Stouffer herself doesn't seem inclined to clear it up, let's settle one thing right at the start: You may have heard that Stouffer also created a character named Larry Potter. Well, you can dub Larry "Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Book." I have one of the Larry books. He isn't a wizard. He isn't English. I'm about 75% of the way to believing that "Larry Potter" never saw the light of day before 2001, but perhaps that's too cynical of me.

(Me? Too cynical?)

"Rah and the Muggles" deals with the lives of twin boys who float into the world of the Muggles, the characters at the core of Stouffer's trademark suit. The beginning of the book, which takes place in the war-torn land of Aura, is perfectly pukey. Catherine, the twins' mother, finds out that she's a widow and gives birth to the babies on the same day, and only a few weeks later she's coming on like gangbusters to one of the family servants: " 'Sir, there is no woman in this room that wouldn't trade dance partners with me right now; I'm not about to give them the chance. If that makes me wicked -- so be it!" she said with a poor attempt at a Shakespearian delivery, and they both laughed. '"

("Shakespearian delivery?" Who in the what now?)

Of course, Catherine believes she's about to die so maybe this is a case of that "Terror Sex" thing Salon wrote about after 9/11 and I should lighten up. But this is supposed to be a childrens' book, folks.

Catherine eventually dumps the babies on a raft and floats them out of her life, believing that she's about to be nuked and that the babies will be perfectly safe on a little raft in the middle of the ocean with no food and with the sun bearing down on them for untold days ...

... hmm. Maybe she saw into the future and knew the babies would grow up to be two dull stereotypes: Rah the noble twin who's good and kind and perfect and nauseating, and Zyn the evil twin who gets jealous of his brother and goes to live with some renegade Muggles in a radioactive tree. I tend to be the type who roots for the villain, but Zyn's so astonishingly stupid that there's not much joy to be had in cheering him on. There's that whole "living in a radioactive tree" thing and then there's the fact that he's literally afraid of his shadow, something that ultimately proves to be his undoing as a Big Bad.

Oh, did I give away the ending? Sorry. Oh wait. No I'm not.

"Well, wha-- wha-- what do you know a-- a-- about dat!" It's the ba-- bah-- bahbies Naddie and Neddie were tal-- talking ah-- ahbout," he stuttered to himself. "We got-- got-- gotta get ya ou-- ou-- out-- a here! There's a st-- stor-- storm ca-- ca-- comin'," he stuttered nervously as he grabbed onto the raft's rope with his mouth and slowly headed towards the Southern Sea of Nu.

Did you get that this character stutters? I for one am glad Stouffer pointed out, twice in two paragraphs, that this character stutters. I never would have guessed from all the half-words. Do you think any child over the age of three would have difficulty with that concept?

One point that Stouffer drives home throughout the book: People with speech and hearing impairments are Funny! The stuttering sea cow is Funny. And much wackiness ensues later in the book when an old and deaf Muggle keeps mishearing what other Muggles are telling him. Ha ha! Funny!

The stuttering sea cow burbles on like that for pages, and it's bloody painful to read. And that first close-quote after "dat"? Not my typo. It's like that in the book. Thurman House, the publishing company that finally brought this book to the mass market, apparently doesn't believe in hiring proofreaders. Or copy editors:

And heard Granny get up and out of her bed.
Mornings with Grandma
were fresh and bright.
Her cheeks shine like cherries in the sunlight.
Her hair done up neatly in a bun of white...

That's part of a poem one of the Muggles reads to the twins. Muggles are kind of like Munchkins, only they're bald and they're post-nuclear mutants and although Stouffer obviously wants us to think they're cute and charming, they're actually really annoying. And creepy.

The poem is about this particular Muggle's grandmother. Keep in mind that we're told early in the book that Stouffer's Muggles don't have hair and never saw or knew about the sun until the twins drifted into their lives and somehow brought the sun with them. (Don't ask. Just don't.) Okay, then: Why did this Muggle's granny have hair? Why does the poem repeatedly mention the sun when Muggles supposedly never saw it before the boys came floating along? Holy continuity error, Batman! Didn't Stouffer, or anyone, say "Hey, wait a minute..."?

Did I mention how long this poem goes on? Try six pages. No kidding. It advances no plot that I can tell and has no particular message other than "Spending time with Granny was really cool," but Stouffer obviously found it vitally important to put the whole thing in the book. Perhaps she wanted to show off her poetic talent. Which is considerable as long as you don't really care about consistent verse structure or meter or silliness like that.

(As the above doggerel shows, Stouffer is also a demon at mixing tenses. Her sentences jump wantonly between past and present tense. It's up to you, dear reader, to try to follow along.)

This next thing isn't a huge deal but it made me laugh anyhow just because it's so stupid:

"''It's actually Bordonian Moss ... it was once used by the Indians to make a medicine that would help people sleep when they were in pain.'"

This doesn't sound so bad until you consider that the story is supposed to be taking place in a completely different world. How the hell did Native Americans show up in Aura? (I'm assuming that's what Stouffer means by "Indians," though "people who were actually from India" wouldn't make much sense either.)

I could go on. Oh yes, I could. But I think you've got the idea. (For an even more gruesome look at the book, read this detailed review. It's damn funny.)

And if you're saying to yourself "Gee, this story seems to have fuckall to do with anything in the 'Harry Potter' books beyond the use of the word 'Muggles,' and as Rowling's Muggles are just ordinary people while Stouffer's Muggles are these freaky mutated radiated baby things, even that's a stretch," you're absolutely correct.

It's intended to be a childrens' book and perhaps children won't be nearly as picky as I am. I think it would have bored me silly back when I was in the target age group. I'm pretty sure I could have written something better myself. Writing something better than "Rah and the Muggles" is no great achievement and any reasonably literate 10-year-old could probably pull it off.

But I feel offended by this book. I'm offended that this woman is trying to make a name for herself off of Rowling's success. I'm offended that she's trying to paint herself as the pitiful victim of a big evil corporation, when the obvious truth is that she's just another rank opportunist. I'm offended that she's trying to pass this crap off as being somehow more suitable for children than "Harry Potter," as if Rowling set out to pervert the minds of innocents everywhere.

It pisses me off that this atrocity will be forever linked to the vastly superior "Harry Potter" books. And it pisses me off more than anything that I fell for it. Don't make the same mistake.

(Well ... if you like to laugh at unbelievably bad things, the way you might laugh at a showing of "Plan 9 From Outer Space," you might get a kick out of "Rah and the Muggles." But borrow it from the library. Please don't give this astonishingly greedy, self-aggrandizing, and shameless woman your money.)

The next entry.

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