Harry Potter Duels Tanya Grotter: The Magic of International Copyright

5 new acquisitions of the Russian Tanya Grotter series.

Maybe you haven’t heard of Tanya Grotter (or her magic double-bass). But J. K. Rowling has, and she isn’t exactly happy about Tanya . . .

Tanya Grotter is the eponymous main character of a series of Russian fantasy novels written by Dmitri Yemets (Дми́трий Емец). Published by the Moscow based publisher Eskmo, the series began in 2002 with Tanya Grotter i Magicheskii Kontrabas (Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double-Bass). The series follows a young girl with magic powers. Orphaned when her parents are killed by an evil sorceress, she receives a distinguishing scar on her nose during the attack. Subsequently, she is poorly treated by her foster family (the Durnevs, her distant relatives) until she leaves home and finds her true place in the world attending the Tibidokh School of Magic. Sound a little too familiar?

Perhaps also suspiciously similar, “Grotter” in this Cyrillic type looks an awful lot like “Potter” with its free standing stylized “Г”. Pictured here the front board of the 2008 edition of Таня Гроттер и исчезающий этаж (Tanya Grotter and the Vanishing Floor).

J.K. Rowling and Time Warner, the producers of the Harry Potter movies, think it does. But that hasn’t stopped Russian audiences from falling in love with the series. During a nine-month period between 2002 and 2003, Russian booksellers sold 600,000 copies of Tanya Grotter books, compared to about 1.5 million copies of Russian translations of the Harry Potter series (which are, I might add, are twice as expensive than Yemets’s series).1

It could be called “Tanya Grotter and the Unnecessarily Risque Outfit”. But this book cover is from the 2007 edition of Таня Гроттер и проклятье некромага (Tanya Grotter and the Curse of the Necromancer).

So in 2003 when the Dutch publisher Byblos was hoping to capitalize on the huge popularity of Emets’ work in Russia by bringing a translation of the work to the Western European book market, the Harry Potter team had a different idea. Byblos’s small edition of 7000 copies was blocked from publication in Dutch court after a short legal battle which turned on a strict interpretation and enforcement of international copyright  and an author’s authority over adaptations of their works.

Rowling is well known for keeping a tight leash on fan fiction and other adaptations of her work, often serving cease and desist letters or bringing piratical publishers to court (of which there are tons!).2 This kind of centralization is easier than one might think since international copyright controls very much favor the “original author”. According to Tim Wu at Slate: “Under the Trade Related International Property treaty [for member of the World Trade Organization], original authors ‘enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing adaptations, arrangements and other alterations of their works'”.3 In other words any work that is derivative of some earlier work (with a current copyright and vigilant author) must be officially authorized by that original author in order to be officially published.

Yet Yemets and his publishers maintain that Tanya Grotter is not an outright piracy. Rather they claim it is a parody of Rowling’s work, a characteristically Russian “cultural response” incorporating much material from Russian folklore and fairy tales.4 The series also seems to borrow from Greek mythology (for some reason) in a way that the Potter series does not.

This 2005 edition of Таня Гроттер и колодец Посейдона (Tanya Grotter and the Well of Poseidon) not only has a theme connected to Greek mythology but features a nod to Russian folklore with this depiction of a very determined and baba yaga like man (wizard?) riding a flying mortar.

Another Greek god in the 2007 cover of Таня Гроттер и локон Афродиты (Tanya Grotter and the Lock of Aphrodite’s Hair).

The whole controversy revolves around where to draw the line between theft of original content and derivation. Satire and parody are necessarily derivative. So how can we tell the difference between bad parody (bad in the sense that the satire isn’t obvious or actually critical) and good piracy (good in the sense that it obviously resembles the work that “inspired” it)? Is there any formal difference between fan fiction, parody, and piracy? Or does it depend, not on the content of the derived works, but simply on the tastes of the authors and gatekeepers of the original work and how they view and judge subsequently related works?

2006 edition of Таня Гроттер и перстень с жемчужиной (Tanya Grotter and the Pearl Ring)

These are philosophical questions, and probably too philosophical given the subject at hand. But perhaps by reading Tanya Grotter you can decide for yourself whether or not the series is a parody or a piracy. In case you don’t (like me) read Russian, there are free (and very unauthorized) translations available in PDF on the web. Uploaded and translated by the enigmatic Jane H. Buckingham, you can find Tanya Grotter (and other Emets titles) in the links below from Scribd.com.

For your scholarly erudition and philosophical contemplation:

Tanya Grotter And The Magic Double Bass

Tanya Grotter And The Vanishing Floor

Thanks to Elena Alexeyeva of Princeton for her generous gift of Potteriana in Russian!

 

Jim Kay’s Wizarding World 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Design of Dementors for the right rear pastedown endpaper of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Azkaban is on an island somewhere in the North Sea, but being unplottable, it cannot be found on a map.  The Minister of Magic officially administers rhe prison, but who takes responsibility for daily operations is a mystery.  No episode in the Harry Potter series is actually set in Azkaban, so it never seems as real as the Chamber of Secrets or the Ministry of Magic.  What readers hear repeated over and over is information everyone in the wizarding world knows about the debilitating aura of the Dementors who guard it.   After a few weeks in their presence, most prisoners perish   Hagrid survived  a two-months’ incarceration in The Chamber of Secrets, but would not (or could not) say anything about his experiences.

Jim Kay makes Azkaban almost as terrifying as Tyrion Lannister’s sky cell in the Eyrie by situating the prison in a somber landscape on the book’s preliminary pages. The front end papers depict a graveyard of ships off a beach outlined by monumental jutting rocks with the prison tower looming behind.  On the half title, heavy seas dash an unmanned ship against the island. The next two double-page spreads zoom in on the tower.  The first shot is a view of the prison entrance from the ship’s deck; the second pans up the prison’s stone walls.  It was not a felicitous design decision to set the list of Rowling’s works, the title page, the extensive copyright information, and dedication on these four pages of sublime drawings. All the type obscures the drawings’ grandeur and the type is largely illegible with the highly textured images as background.  But it is consistent with the greater use of ghosted patterns and figures here than in the first two volumes.  Some like the embossed paper napkin are relatively unobtrusive, others like the chocolate bar wrapper are distracting enough that the words cannot do their work.Thus far Kay has taken advantage of the artistic freedom J. K. Rowling and the publisher have given him.  With the third volume of the set completed, readers can expect certain things.  The Hogwarts faculty picture gallery has been expanded with three portraits, complemented with more informal views of the characters elsewhere in the story.  Professor Trelawney’s huge glasses, strongly marked features, and prominent front teeth are comically exaggerated for having been painted from below.  When she falls into a prophetic trace later in the story, her face appears eerie and mannish.  Greasy locks of hair frame Severus Snape’s unsmiling face and his crossed hands are surprisingly full of tension. Lying near the hand darkened with soot is a sprig of lily of the valley, the emblem of Snape’s love for Harry’s mother.  On the following page,the potions master looks much uglier as he grimaces at Neville’s toad.   A third illustration of Snape in chapter nineteen, which looks down on him as he casts a spell, makes him look quite formidable.  By changing his appearance in every illustration, Kay keeps readers uncertain as to which is the true Snape.  Remus Lupin, shown in his study before leaving Hogwarts in disgrace, looks down at the floor.  It is a startling contrast  to his first appearance in chapter five, with his back to the reader and his startled face reflected in train compartment’s door.

Illustrations of magical creatures are among the delights in Harry Potter’s  first two volumes and Kay provides some more wonderful ones in Prisoner of Azkaban.  Of the “scientific” illustrations, the Grindylow, which supposedly comes from Aquatic Wonders of Yorkshire: A Wizard’s Field Guide, is a gratifying mixture of the scary, gross, and humorous.  Hagrid’s hippogriffs, noble hybrids of eagle and horse, are given three illustrations.  There’s one of the spirited herd crossing the paddock and an endearing one of Buckbeak  asleep on Hagrid’s bed, its head resting on a plate of dead ferrets.  The book’s most important illustrations of magical creatures turn out to be three men who can transform themselves into animals.  All of them belonged to James Potter’s Hogwarts posse and the pictures contain visual clues pointing to their dual natures. The sinister plate of the Werewolf is drawn in the same sepia tones as Remus Lupin’s portrait.  The animage Sirius Black’s thinness, unfathomable dark eyes, and messy, bristly, black hair is unsettling when he is portrayed as a dog, although the gigantic picture of Sirius spread over four pages was an experiment that did not quite work for me.  When Kay finally draws Sirius as a half-starved man with an uncanny resemblance to Rasputin, he makes it difficult for the reader to be sure whose side he is on. Peter Pettigrew presented a somewhat different challenge because the secret that he did not die thirteen years previously must be concealed until late in the story. Throughout Prisoner of Azkaban, Pettigrew is present like Sirius, but not in his human form.  Until Remus spots Pettigrew’s movements on the Marauder’s Map, only Hermione’s cat Crookshanks knows that there is something peculiar about Scabbers, the Weasleys’ mangy, ancient pet rat.  Kay misdirects the reader’s attention by drawing the rat and cat scampering across the pages like a couple of Keystone critters.  Given the fact that the chase was dead serious, perhaps these drawings were a little too cartoony in style.  If Crookshanks had dispatched Scabbers/Pettigrew, imagine how the plot of The Goblet of Fire  would have been altered…  Deep blacks and purples in The Prisoner of Azkaban could be associated with the difficulty of reading character from faces, with treachery, with the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.   Certainly yellow, blue and orange are prominent in illustrations where the future members of Dumbledore’s army are coming into their own, as when Parvati masters the Ridikulous charm or Harry and Hermione fly Buckbeak to the tower where Sirius is being held.  The scene by the lake where Harry is confronted by the Dementor is painted in  impenetrable blacks, but a snaky, Slytherin green similar to the one used in the background of his fight with the basilisk.  Even the unfortunate accident where Harry blows up his hateful Aunt Marge is bright with color, as if to emphasize that the Dursleys, no matter how awful they may be, are not the real enemies.What’s out of balance in The Prisoner of Azkaban is the weight given to the dark, sometimes nearly illegible illustrations of the past represented by James’ circle, and the colorful light-filled ones of the future, represented by Harry and his friends.  The glimpses readers catch of the school days of James, Sirius, Remus, Peter, Severus, and Lily revolved more around competition, cruel tricks, and one upsmanship instead of harmless fun, like visiting the pet store in Diagon Alley.  Nor are readers treated to enough scenes like the one in Madame Rosmerta’s pub, where the drama comes from the interaction between the figures, rather than isolated moments of horror or fear.  Another major disappointment  was the exciting sequence where Hermione takes Harry back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius.  In terms of the number of illustrations the episode was allotted, it ended up being all about Harry’s conjuring of the Patronus, not Hermione proving herself the cleverest witch of her generation as well.For many Potterites and literary critics, The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the set. Will many readers be disappointed that the children did not get the attention they deserved because Kay was rushing to meet the draconian deadline of a volume a year?  I suspect there was added pressure on him to produce enough dazzling drawings for the British Library’s exhibition “Harry Potter: The History of Magic.”  At least the powers- that-be have realized that Kay deserves more time to work his magic on the fourth installment–but we’ll have to wait until 2019 to see the results.