the take

There’s a New J.K. Rowling Book! And No, You Can’t Read It

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

J.K. Rowling is in the news again this week, with two stories breaking simultaneously. Rowling is suing the publisher of a book derived from a Harry Potter fan site, and she is auctioning off a handwritten book of folktales from Harry Potter’s magical world, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, to benefit charity. It’s awfully easy to excoriate Rowling for her greedy lawsuit while praising her for her charity auction. Easy, and wrong — fans should be supporting Rowling in her legal action, and bitterly criticizing her decision to sell Beedle the Bard for charity.

Despite the howls of protest from the publisher of the Harry Potter Lexicon, the reference book adapted from the popular (and Rowling-approved) Website of the same name, Rowling asserting her copyright in her characters and stories is not a First Amendment matter. For starters, people, J.K. Rowling isn’t the government, so she’s not “censoring” you. Rowling plans to write a similar book about her characters and inventions and has every right to stop someone else from writing the exact same book, which clearly is not the same things as a critical study of the work.

What is objectionable, though, is Rowling’s charity auction — or, rather, her stated decision never to publish The Tales of Beedle the Bard. (“She owns the copyright,” says a BBC video report on the book.) As fans, we of course want to read the book and think it’s a little bit outrageous that the only people who will get to read it are six of Rowling’s close friends, and one outrageously rich Sotheby’s bidder. If the handwritten books were made, as Rowling claims, to thank “those most intimately involved with the phenomenally successful series,” couldn’t she have saved a copy for those most to thank for the series’ success — the fans?

We don’t begrudge Rowling’s worthy charity the money, but surely she would make more money for charity if she published the Tales as a stand-alone book and donated all her royalties. As it stands, the only way for ordinary fans to even get a look at some of the book’s pages is to buy the $16 catalogue from Sotheby’s — who, we suspect, will not be giving their proceeds to charity.

There’s a New J.K. Rowling Book! And No, You Can’t Read It