Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

A little more measured response....

I sent this letter to a few Harry Potter sites. I plan to send it to some newspapers as well.

I was very disappointed by today's cease-and-desist order against the Dutch translation of Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass, and equally disappointed by the coverage of it as a plagiarism case, especially since the suit was for copyright infringement.

There are many books in this world which share similar setups and comment on each other. David Weber's bestselling Honor Harrington series has been explicitly called "Hornblower in Space" (as was Star Trek, for that matter), and the Hornblower series itself copied the life of Nelson. Calling this sort of time-honored practice "copyright infringement" and allowing one publisher to sue another over it will surely have a chilling effect on publishers in the Netherlands and around the world.

As for the allegations in many articles that author Dimitriy Yemets plagiarized J.K. Rowling in his Tanya books, they are absurd. I've read the whole Harry Potter series many times. I own Russian editions of Harry Potter. I have been slowly reading Tanya Grotter for myself. (The reading level's a bit too high for me without a really good dictionary.) There is no plagiarism of any kind, nor are the plots similar in any but the broadest ways. Yemets doesn't need to plagiarize. He has published over 30 books in Russia, has been writing for many years, and has a beautiful and humorous writing style of his own. He is particularly good at creating interesting characters. To further make my point, let's meet a few....

German Nikitich Durnev: popular member of the Russian Duma and head of the Heartfelt Aid for Children and the Elderly Commission. He hates kids, the elderly, and political campaigns. Perpetually sickly, he looks like a vampire taking bedrest in a cemetery and is a man of 117 bad moods. He dearly loves his nasty, senile dachshund, 1.5 Kilometers.

Ninel Durneva: An enormously fat woman who can't figure out why she never loses weight, though she fasts for half an hour twice a week. She rules the household and keeps up her husband's spirits. She has a horror of germs. Like her husband, she believes in eating only organic food and purified water, none of which is to be served to Tanya. Little does she know that Tanya occasionally tops off the teapot with water from the toilet bowl....

Pipa Durneva: A psychopathic girl who loves to decapitate her dolls and eviscerate her stuffed animals. She has photoalbums full of pictures of herself, a large group of toadies to make Tanya's life hell, and a secret crush on the picture of someone whose initials are "GP" whom she wishes would take her away from all this. (It helps to know that Harry Potter's name is "Garri" in the Russian editions.)

Tanya Grotter: A tiny shy redhead with a smart mouth. She sleeps on a cot on a glassed-in balcony in all but the depths of winter -- and the low temperatures of Russian spring and fall mean ice from her breath covers her thin blanket, while condensation makes her equally thin mattress clammy. After being locked in there for one whole day, she had to go to the hospital with pneumonia for a month; she regarded that month as heaven. Her only real possession is the double bass case in which she was left as a baby at the Durnev's apartment door. In chapter three she manages to summon the magical double bass to her from extradimensional safekeeping. Drawing sound from any string creates unpredictable magical results. It can also fly -- though breaking the speed of sound with it, the instruction manual warns, would have unfortunate results. She is greatly embarrassed by the mole on the
tip of her nose, especially since it tends to change color and size or burn her at unpredictable moments -- and since the Durnevs always tease her about it.

Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov: The world's premier white mage and head of Tibidox, the world's only magic school. Both light and dark mages teach there, and the place is full of monsters, evil ghosts, and baneful architectural features like Statue-Stranglers, the Disappearing Floor and the Ghastly Gate; so it is not safe for the baby Tanya to live there A very short and fat person, he is likely related to the evil dwarf Chernomorov in the legend of Ruslan and Ludmila. When Tanya's father Leopold wrote that he'd managed to create the Talisman of Four Elements, he raced to his side on a rocket-propelled couch, but found Tanya's mother and father dead, Tanya alive in the double bass case, and the whole evil undead army of Chuma del' Torte roaming aimlessly outside their house. Since mages take extended kinship more seriously (they also never divorce or annul marriages, by the way), he figured that a third cousin like German was close enough kin to raise Tanya.

Professor Meduziya Gorgonova: Yes, _that_ Medusa. Sardanapal glued her head back on and turned her back into flesh, fixed her cursed pimples that had been turning people to stone, and taught her how to use her powers for good. When she arrived at Tibidox, the Greek redhead's beauty caused even old Koshchei the Undying to fall in love with her. She has taught at Tibidox for thousands of years, and yes, her hair can hiss, move and bite like snakes. She very nearly dueled with Sardanapal over him sending Tanya to the human world. She rides a flying rocking horse.

Bob-Yagun: Popular commentator of dragonball, the sport in which hungry flaming dragons are both goalie and living goal. He spent several horrifying hours in a dragon's stomach (along with dozens of mages and most of the Vampire and Bald Mountain Witch teams) shortly before meeting Tanya. He ended up with so many bandages she thought he was a mummy. Yep, Baba-Yaga's his grandmother. He dearly loves his little divebomber vacuum cleaner, right down to the air freshener that smells like apricot liqueur.

But there's a lot more I could tell you that isn't in Harry Potter, like the disastrous school field trip to one of the Kremlin's museums, the undead vulture spy, or Mr. Durnev's sudden conviction that he is a rabbit. With Chuma del' Torte gone, light and dark mages maintain a fragile balance of power since each side possesses ten crucial magical items; but there's a twenty-first loose in the world. Meanwhile, Tanya and Mr. Durnev are having horrible visions of a dead old woman whose rotting hands, unattached to her body, reach out to strangle them and make demands.... And I haven't even gotten further than the beginning of chapter 5!

Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass is a very high quality, very funny children's fantasy. I look forward to the day when I can relax and read it in English. ;)


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