Grindelwald’s Wand and Other Snapshots from a Busman’s Holiday in England

The allee of wands near Peter’s Hill. There are two young ladies collecting contributions to Lumos, the  international non-governmental charity founded by  Rowling to end the institutionalization of children.

On the walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral via Peter’s Hill towards the Millenium Bridge over to the Tate Modern, I passed through a sculpture installation promoting the next installment of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

A detail of the wand at the head of the left rank.

A detail of the wand’s base.

The visit to the Tate Modern concluded with an obligatory visit to the children’s section in the main museum gift shop.  This political satire masquerading as a Ladybird book caught my eye.  Ladybirds are the British equivalent of Little Golden Books, but they never made it across the pond to America.  The book’s preparation is supposed to have been overseen by Dr Idiculous Bluff, emeritus proponent of Bloviation at the UKIP (the University of Knowledge in Practice).  The authors, J. A. Hazeley, N. S. F. W. and J. P. Morris, O.M.G. also wrote Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar: A Nation Divided–by crisps. 

Exiting the European Union will preserve the tight little island in the North Sea…  Incidentally, all the illustrations were selected from actual Ladybird Books.

Thanks to Brexit, the editors at the Oxford English Dictionary are guaranteed full employment, at least until the terms of leaving are worked out.

Naturally the British ruling classes support the will of the common man expressed via the ballot box.  The lord in the hot pink waistcoat looks as if he was repurposed from a Prince Charming in some Ladybird Cinderella. Never apologize, never explain, because there will always be an England, right?

The selections in the Tate Modern’s gift shop was a lot more edgy than its literature for visitors, which consisted of floor plans and gallery guides.  For something completely different, I had to visit the  Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where I picked up a copy of this guided tour across the University of Oxford’s collections.

With prefatory notes by Stephen Fry and Richard Bruce Parkinson, the twenty-four-page illustrated brochure highlights two objects or creatures that connect LGBTQ+ to their history on display at the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Museum of the History of Science, the Botanic Garden, and the Bate Collection.  The alternative natural histories are especially fascinating in the way they raise ideas about gender and sexual activity.

Harry Potter Duels Tanya Grotter: The Magic of International Copyright

Covers of five volumes in the Russian Tanya Grotter series. Gift of Elena Alexeyeva. Cotsen in process.

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).  Gift of Elena Alexeyeva.   Cotsen in process.

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).   Gift of Elena Alexeyeva.  Cotsen in process. 

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. Gift of Elena Alexeyeva.   Cotsen in process.

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

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?

Witch as cheerleader on the cover of the 2006 edition of Таня Гроттер и перстень с жемчужиной (Tanya Grotter and the Pearl Ring).   Gift of Elena Alexeyeva.  Cotsen in process.

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

Many thanks to Elena Alexeyeva of Princeton

for her generous gift of Potteriana in Russian!