6 Baffling Attempts to Ride Harry Potter's Coattails
The kind of success J.K. Rowling has seen with the Harry Potter saga comes along maybe once in a generation. Lord of the Rings spawned an entire fantasy movement, Star Wars ushered in a new era of space opera and Harry Potter has brought the concept of magic out of the nerd closet and into the mainstream. Obviously, there will be some people looking to ride those sparkly robetails. Some of them do it a little more gracefully than others, however ...
Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly
Nancy Stouffer, an unpublished fantasy author from New England, came forward in the year 2000 to claim Rowling stole the idea for Harry Potter. Stouffer was positive that Harry Potter's appearance and the names of several characters were lifted directly from her children's storybook Larry Potter and his Best Friend Lilly -- which, to be fair, does rhyme.
Rhyming is illegal, right?
Off to Azkaban she goes.
However, Stouffer claimed to have more compelling evidence: She invented the term "muggles" years earlier in her novel Rah, for example, and that book included several similar themes and motifs later used in the Harry Potter series.
For instance, both books contained white males.
Now she had something: Warner Bros., Rowling and the court system all started listening. Before the process, Stouffer repeatedly went to the press, speaking at length about the damning similarities between Harry Potter and her source material, and she had signed contracts, published books, and dated materials to prove it. When it finally came time to reveal her concrete evidence, however, it was ... less than compelling: Larry Potter was the story of a little boy coming to terms with the fact that he has to get glasses. His friend Lilly helps to cheer him up. That was the extent of the "damning evidence" -- the names sounded kind of similar.
Stouffer was not deterred: She argued that because the names were so similar, both boys wore glasses and both had a character named Lilly, Rowling had stolen Stouffer's intellectual property. The problem was that the booklet only had one paragraph where the boy is referred to as Larry Potter (the rest of the time it's just Larry). So Rowling's lawyers did a little digging, and discovered that though the booklet was supposedly written in 1988, the paragraph with the word "Potter" was typed in a different font from the rest of the document -- a font that didn't exist until 1993.
Woops! Bet you wish you had a time-turner right about now, eh, Nancy? OH, NERD SNAP!
MacGuffins: Never leave home without one.
Needless to say, the case was thrown out. But there was a silver lining for Stouffer, in that her works have now finally been published. Much in keeping with her love of altering original content, she's since changed key details of the Larry Potter story, and also expanded the title of her other book, Rah, to The Legend of Rah and the Muggles -- because she's still convinced that you can retroactively have an idea first.
No amount of punching can fix what's wrong with this woman.
The Grey School of Wizardry
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a self-proclaimed wizard, and the founder of the Church of All Worlds. He's known to his peers as the "father of neo-paganism," and to everybody else as "get away from my kids, weirdo." Delighted to see that children were finally getting interested in the magical arts, Ravenheart created the Grey School of Wizardry for aspiring witches and wizards looking for their own Hogwarts. The school was originally intended for ages 11 to 17 , but today there are three times as many adults enrolled as there are children. This surprised Ravenheart, who had obviously never heard of the Internet.
The similarities between The Grey School and Hogwarts are numerous: Once they sign up, students are sorted into one of four houses: gnomes, sylphs, salamanders and undines. Adults are sorted into lodges. The houses compete each year for the House Hat and the Lodge cup. Students of the Grey School can take a wide variety of classes such as Introduction to Herbology, Potions and Brews, and Divination. But unlike Hogwarts, The Grey School does offer a focus in the Dark Arts -- you know, just in case you want to use your pretend powers for pretend evil.
Rowling herself even maintains that the magic used in the books is entirely made up. Though she has done extensive research into mythology, history and legend, she admits she doesn't know the first thing about magic and does not "believe in witchcraft." But petty concerns like those mean nothing to a man who once tried to create a real unicorn ... by surgically grafting a horn onto a goat.
There's a fine line between magic and animal abuse. Ravenheart pisses on that line.
The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens
The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens is a straight-to-DVD classic that combines a child's love of magic with blatant plagiarism, horrible filmmaking and mild insanity. Here, watch a bit:
Confused? Unsure if this is a children's movie or a bizarre porn starring bearded hobos? We're not surprised. Even after watching the whole thing, we're not exactly sure what it's supposed to be about, but here's what we could pin down: Billy Owens is chased by a bully into a pawn shop, where he decides to buy himself a wand for his birthday, because he's that special kind of neglected that has to buy his own birthday presents, but still has money enough to do so. Later, he discovers that the wand is real and will perform magic, but only for him.
"Look! It shoots PSAs! The moooore you knooooow ..."
Billy teams up with his two conspicuously familiar-sounding best friends: A know-it-all girl and a dull but loyal young boy. The owner of the magical pawn shop, Thurgood, a gruff old man with long hair and a beard, reveals that Billy is a wizard who comes from a powerful wizard...ing(?) family. They find out that the Viking God Loki (OK) decided to hide his scepter in the Spirit River (of course) and it's protected by a river dragon (obviously). The dragon is about to be released (wait ... from what? His guard duties?), and Billy is the only one who can stop it. At this point the movie hands the script and a small glossary of fantasy terms over to a group of non-English speaking Koreans and just hopes for the best. The results are not surprising: Something something evil scientist, yadda yadda magical birthdays, blah blah invisible doors to the spirit river.
Not even the actors can feign excitement.
The point is: A young boy prodigy discovers his special destiny and, with the help of his friends -- a brilliant young girl and a pure-hearted (if a little dim) young man --- saves the day with his trusty handheld magical device. Rowling would probably sue, but really, when you break it down like that, it sounds like she's stealing her plot from The Wizard in the first place.
Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone
Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone is exactly what you'd expect from a publication called Cannabis Culture -- which is to say, something that seems funny while high, and embarrassing when (or if) you sober up the next day. It tells the story of a young boy who is rescued from his boring life on Mainstream Ave. and told that he is in fact a "weedster."
More like Ron Weedsley. Oh dear Lord, writing that felt awful.
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. Do we really have to type the rest of this out? How much do we get paid again? Whoa, how much? Really? All right, here goes:
Lucky Hairy gets to go to Hempwards School of Herbcraft and Weedery, where he learns from his teachers Professor McGanjagal and Alwaze Duinthedope. He discovers he has a talent for a game called Qanabbi and fuck you, that's enough. If you make us type one more drug-themed pun, we will quit and burn this website to the ground.
Don't test us, matches are cheap.
Really, a pot-themed Potter parody was almost as inevitable as a porn-themed one; nobody loves their terrible puns more than dudes with temporary brain damage and girls that have had two or more dicks in them at the same time. No one would have batted an eye if it wasn't for the book's author, Dana Larsen: At the time the novel was published, Larsen was running for office in Canada, and hoped the book would help him to gain popularity.
Want to take a guess how that worked out?
No, politics in Canada are not "just that chill." Larsen was one of the founding members of the Marijuana Party of Canada, whose sole aim is to end the prohibition on marijuana. Larsen eventually left the party in 2003 and joined the New Democratic Party instead. In 2008, the NDP made Larsen its candidate for Parliament in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast. Then, in a shocking turn of events, Larsen was forced to resign his candidacy when it became apparent that he *GASP* did a lot of drugs.
Not the esteemed author of Hairy Pothead! Who could have known?!
It's awful having a famous relative: Always showing up at family functions, acting superior and trying to buy your love. The only thing worse is when they refuse to pay up. Such is the logic of Ben Rowling, who for years has claimed to be the "real Harry Potter." Ben is first cousin to J.K. Rowling and they often played together as children. So when he picked up Harry Potter for the first time, decades later, he was shocked to find that Harry had many of the same characteristics that he did as a boy:
- They both had dark hair
- They both had glasses
- They both attended a boarding school
- They both rode on trains at one point
- They're both human beings with fingers
Ben contacted his cousin, who by this time had made a fortune off of the first Harry Potter film, and presented his undeniable evidence. Of course, J.K. publicly announced that Ben was in fact her inspiration and offered him half of her royalties just for living through childhood.
Wait, she didn't?! Madness!
Instead, J.K. politely dismissed the idea and decided not to pay her cousin for wearing glasses and being a kid annoying enough to warrant boarding school. Ben immediately went to the press, stating that, though the cousins hadn't spoken since they were teenagers, he was now overcome with a sense of betrayal: "She knows I'm broke and yet she hasn't reached out a finger to help."
J.K. finally commented publicly on the issue, once again denying that she was inspired by her cousin. She also pointed out the futility of the argument, saying that given the set of criteria that he based his claims on, she herself could be the "real Harry Potter." With nothing to lose except all human dignity, Ben decided to go on the show Lie Detector to prove ... something? It was unclear what. The show's most damning evidence was pictures of Ben as a teenager:
Look! It's the same uniform that everybody wears at every boarding school! That's what the word "uniform" means!
For Ben, vindication came in the form of a polygraph test that proved he was "telling the truth" when he claimed to be J.K.'s inspiration. That is to say, he truly believes deep down in his heart that he is the real Harry Potter. Just like every 11-year-old boy on Earth.
Harry Potter and Bao Zoulong
You can imagine the excitement readers in China felt when they finally got their hands on the fifth Harry Potter book several months early -- finally something goes right!
Everything's comin' up China!
After standing in line and purchasing their copies, fans eagerly pored over their new books and journeyed through the enchanting tale of Harry Potter and Bao Zoulong, where Harry turns into a hobbit, discovers a magic ring and ... battles a dragon.
That's because, in what may have been the most ridiculous act of plagiarism ever, Bashu Publishing House printed thousands of books claiming to be the Rowling's next masterpiece that were not in fact Rowling's. An anonymous "author" took a word-for-word translation of The Hobbit and changed the names to those of Harry Potter and his friends (with the exception of Gandalf, who is apparently so unlike Dumbledore that any comparison would just be silly). He also added a chapter at the beginning, explaining how Harry was turned into a hobbit while taking a bath one day, and a few paragraphs at the end describing how he became human again.
Actually, yeah, we can kind of see that.
You know, so as not to break continuity (he's a barely literate plagiarist, not a monster).
The fraud was discovered pretty quickly, but Bashu Publishing managed to sell thousands of copies before the injunction, and only fined about $3,500, so they came out well ahead. Due to its fame and rarity, the book might actually be a bit of a collector's item these days. If you're looking for one, you can recognize it by the entirely appropriate cover art: A composite of some Warner Bros. sketches from The Sorcerer's Stone fighting the dragon from Disney's Sleeping Beauty.
In this case, J.K. stands for "Just Kidding."
For more stolen concepts, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs and 9 Foreign Rip-Offs Cooler Than The Hollywood Originals.