I recall reading and watching news flashes proclaiming that it was all over; that the world as we knew it would never be the same again; and that there was really nothing to look forward to other than an ignominious death. Dystopian visions of the end of civilization and the demise of the earth flash through your mind only to leave you sheepish when you discover that the apocalyptic event so universally discussed pertained to a seven part book and movie series about a bespectacled boy at a boarding school for magic.
I may have read all the books but I am no Harry Potter cultist (evidenced by my lack of interest in watching the two parts of the last movie in the franchise among other things). I admit that the books filled a certain niche and did so effectively. Rowling writes well enough although her characters have the tiniest tendency to annoy with their earnestness and pretension. So the end of the Harry Potter saga was no skin off my back. But, it seems to have afflicted some acolytes with pustules of the compelling variety.
G. Norman Lippert is one such groupie who didn’t want the magic to end, literally. He, consequently, took things into his own hands by crafting his own Potter canon with the subtext “Your father’s battle is over. Yours begins.” When I teach reading lessons, I often ask my students to predict what a text is about before they launch themselves into it using clues such as pictures, titles and subtitles. I won’t ask the same of you because it is so ludicrously simple in this case.
At the beginning of Lippert’s first book, we find ourselves on platform nine and three quarters awaiting the departure of the Hogwarts Express. The adult versions of the characters we know and love (Harry Potter and Ginny Potter né Weasley) bid farewell to their eleven year old son James who embarks on the journey they themselves made a generation before. No prizes for guessing that James becomes best chums with his two muggle-born compartment mates, Ralph and Zane. It’s the latter character who is symbolic of Lippert’s most significant deficiency, his nationality. Yes, dear readers, G. Norman Lippert is an American.
I mean no offence to anyone but you have to admit that a derivative work in a British setting recycling characters from an earlier work by a British writer with a pointedly British voice was bound to throw up some challenges for an outsider. The premise of James Potter and the Hall of Elder’s Crossing is mildly interesting and expectedly so since Lippert attempts to use Rowling’s successful formula of an elephantine conspiracy whose sum parts are exposed through each new installment. He may even have got away with it if he hadn’t pursued (in a bout of jingoism might I add) the American angle. Not only is Zane, one of his protagonists (effectively the Hermione of this series) American, but Lippert also includes a pantheon of American professors on an exchange program (they arrive in flying vintage cars through an inter-dimensional portal from the Yankee equivalent of Hogwarts). We could still exonerate all of these as side-effects of Lippert’s freshman-like enthusiasm, were it not for Zane’s role and Benjamin Franklin. That’s right, old Benji is alive, kickin and teachin magic apparently. Zane on the other hand reveals Lippert’s depth of ungainliness. I perceive this character as the author’s endeavour to write himself into the story and remould the culture of Harry Potter on his own (ergo American) terms. As characters go, Zane is smart, suave and successful to the point that he nearly eclipses James Potter. I am sure this was never Lippert’s intention but his subconscious mind seems to have had other plans.
Nonetheless, considering that the author is a software programmer with zero experience with writing, I would say that James Potter and the Hall of Elder’s Crossing is not bad. In any case, I wasn’t expecting a gratifying reading experience. What persuaded me to read this book is its legal status. The Harry Potter juggernaut has never been shy of taking legal action against perceived infringement of copyright. J K Rowling threatened to sue Lippert but then subsequently dropped the idea after he presented her with the book. You don’t need to be a legal expert to conclude that this book indisputably infringes copyright. He recycles characters, settings and other devices and makes a hash of British regional speech (Hagrid and McGonagall). Why did Rowling decide to be so magnanimous? Is it because Lippert is offering his work to readers for free? Or has Rowling padded her bank account sufficiently to allow her to be high-minded?
Whatever the reason, Lippert is at the vanguard of a revolution in writing and distribution. Books in all forms are claimed to be under threat. But, it’s publishers who are most at risk, not writers. People like Lippert can effectively cutout the middleman and distribute their work directly to readers.You can participate in this movement by visiting Lippert’s site and downloading James Potter and the Hall of Elder’s Crossing and its sequels. It’s no Harry Potter but you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.