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At the Harry Potter Trial, the New York Papers Pile On Steven Vander Ark

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All three major New York newspapers are out in force covering the Trial of the Century in a downtown courthouse. We’re speaking, of course, of J.K. Rowling’s lawsuit against the prospective publisher of a companion volume to the Harry Potter series. Pity poor Steven Vander Ark, the small-town Harry Potter lexicographer who testified yesterday and was immediately subjected to the harsh glare of the New York media spotlight.

Vander Ark burst into tears when asked about his relationship with the Harry Potter online fan community, which has mostly shunned him since Rowling filed a lawsuit against his publisher last fall. And that’s not the worst — the worst was having his haircut made fun of in the New York Times. Which New York paper was the meanest to Steven Vander Ark?

Surprisingly, the Post’s coverage is the least cruel, though they do call Vander Ark an “avid Star Trek fan” and write that he “blubbered” on the stand. The Post does launch a snippy attack in noting that Vander Ark is “now unemployed except for pursuing his passion for Potter”; the guy is writing another book, after all, which we hope is not the same as being unemployed. Still, this is all remarkably subdued, considering the source.

The Daily News comes out with guns a-blazin’, calling Vander Ark a “geeky librarian” before they even write his name. They later make fun of his hair — which they describe as “parted down the middle, ‘70s style.” Worst of all is the paper’s gleeful pairing of photos on the online version of the story — an unflattering head shot of Vander Ark, and a nice medium shot of Rowling complete with the rubbing-it-in caption “J.K. Rowling leaves court happily.”

Holy moley, when did the Times turn so catty? The paper of record makes fun of Vander Ark’s haircut not once but twice, comparing it to Harry Potter’s hairdo and noting later its unfashionable part. They, too, point out his Star Trek fandom and make fun of his name for good measure. On the other hand, the Times’ Anemona Hartocollis is the only reporter among these three papers to recount the saddest, most touching part of yesterday’s testimony, the part that makes this, truly, the perfect lens through which to view fandom in the Internet age:

te>Like a true fan, Mr. Vander Ark treated even Ms. Rowling’s assertions that he had made mistakes as wonderful revelations rather than embarrassments.

When Mr. Hammer told him that Ms. Rowling had testified on Monday about the etymology of “Alohomora,” an unlocking spell, Mr. Vander Ark — who had been sequestered during her testimony — blurted, “Oh, really?”

In her testimony, Ms. Rowling said Mr. Vander Ark’s link between the spell and the Hawaiian “aloha” was “errant nonsense,” explaining that it actually had come from West African dialect.

“That’s exciting stuff for someone like me,” Mr. Vander Ark said from the witness stand. “Did she happen to mention which dialect?”

Harry Potter ‘Lexicon’ writer cries as he tells of flak over J.K. Rowling war [NYDN]
Sued by Harry Potter’s Creator, Lexicographer Breaks Down on the Stand [NYT]

At the Harry Potter Trial, the New York Papers Pile On Steven Vander Ark