Ms. Rowling in the United States! Troll attack! What Does Harry’s Name Mean? Whence ‘Harry’?

by John on April 13, 2008

My friend in Hollywood tells me it’s not a trip to Disney World she’s after…

Yes, I know I have a no-comment no-posting policy on the copyright case pending. No, I haven’t changed my mind regarding the indisputable fact that we won’t know what is going to happen until the trial is over and the case decided (even then, I doubt that we’ll know what happened and what it means; that will take several years). Speculation and fuming about whose right and wrong in the matter and “what is certainly going to happen” is at least as silly as our guesses last year pre-Deathly Hallows, nowhere near as much fun, and not at all edifying. Plus, I know one of the principals. HogPro is not going to be a place to vent and fume about anything other than reading Ms. Rowling’s books seriously.

So why do I bring this subject up here, besides it being the Headline you’ll be reading in newspapers and hearing about everywhere on Monday? Because it seems Warner Brothers has got another lawsuit brewing against a man who can prove he made the first Harry Potter movie, a movie, that is, with a lead character named Harry Potter, albeit not from a book by Ms. Rowling, way back in 1986!

The story from London (PTI):

Legal battle over who first thought of Harry Potter

London (PTI): Movie giant Warner Bros has initiated a legal battle with a director who claims he devised an earlier version of the Harry Potter character.

John Buechler was behind a little known film called Troll, released in 1986, which featured a young boy called Harry Potter Jnr.

Now, 49-year-old Buechler says he intends to create a 20 million pound remake but lawyers for Warner Bros have warned him they will defend their rights to J K Rowling’s character.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Buechler is beginning a search for a boy to star in his remake.

His partner, Hollywood producer Peter Davy, said “In John’s opinion, he created the first Harry Potter. J K Rowling says the idea just came to her, John doesn’t think so. There are a lot of similarities between the theme of her books and the original Troll. John was shocked when she came out with Harry Potter.”

But Rowling has always vigorously defended any suggestion that her Harry Potter was not an original creation and she maintains that she has never seen Troll.

Warner Bros spokesman Scott Rowe said “If these producers intend to remake Troll they’d better tread carefully not to infringe on our rights.” End of article.

I discussed this in a footnote to the chapter on Names, believe it or not, in Looking for God in Harry Potter. I wrote:

When Book magazine , a publication of Barnes & Noble, featured a mug shot of Rowling on their June 2003 cover to herald the arrival of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, they had no trouble finding five American men named Harry Potter, all of whom told the same tale of crank calls and new friends delighted to “meet the man himself.” Rowling was sued in New Jersey by a children’s book author whose story featured a hero named Harry Potter. Better than these examples, Netflix released two mock-horror, B-movie gems, Troll (1986) and Troll 2 (1992), in which the family resisting Torok the troll’s attempt to take over the world is led by a dad and son both named Harry Potter. Harry Potter, Sr., and Harry Potter, Jr., were all over the movie and HBO screens for two or three years: how meaningful was that? (Not very.) Thanks to Dan Rees of Joplin, Missouri, for Harry’s first encounter with Trolls.

My favorite instance of Harry sightings pre-Rowling comes from Monty Python. In a send-up strangely echoing the beginning of Philosopher’s Stone, we hear Harry is about to be attacked:

“It was a day like any other and Mr. and Mrs. Brainsample were a perfectly ordinary couple, leading perfectly ordinary lives — the sort of people to whom nothing extraordinary ever happened, and not the kind of people to be the centre of one of the most astounding incidents in the history of mankind…. So let’s forget about them and follow instead the destiny of this man…. (Camera pans off them; they both look disappointed; camera picks up instead a smart little business man, in bowler, briefcase and pinstripes)…. Harold Potter, gardener, and tax official, first victim of Creatures from another Planet.” ( I learned of this early Python sketch from Kia, a friend of Linda McCabes’s.) (LGHP, pages 231-232)

It turns out neither Troll 2 or Troll 3 feature the Harry Potters, but calling them “little known films” isn’t fair, either. These are cult films not unlike Rocky Horror Picture Show, so bad (and intentionally bad in large part) that they are considered essential viewing among Horror movie lovers.

I find the whole “whence the name Harry Potter?” question worth discussing because my critics and my supporters all roll their eyeballs at my interpretation of Harry’s name (Heir-y Potter or Heir of the Potter), also discussed in Looking for God. Richard Bane-of-Critical-Thinking has made this point his fulcrum-reason for rejecting everything I have ever written about Ms. Rowling and her books; he argues that because Ms. Rowling says there was a family in the neighborhood where she grew up named Potter we know the name has no meaning. Prof. Terry Mattingly inevitably brings up Harry’s name when discussing how much he admires my books, if only to say even smart guys can go off the rails. I confess that after the last book in the series I thought more people would find my interpretation of the name more compelling. I was wrong. Not about the meaning of the name. I was wrong in thinking that Harry’s doing the Heir of the Potter dance in Deathly Hallows would make folks complete the circuit between name and meaning.

Didn’t happen.

I think the problem is folks think that for a name to have a meaning it has to have been “invented” deliberately and logically, the way you might write computer software or invent a better paper-clip. When I argue that Harry Potter has the meaning that it does, that is not how I believe she came up with it. Let’s consider three possibilities for how Ms. Rowling could have thought of Harry’s name:

(1) a concerted, conscious effort to find the name that worked for the hero of her epic story, a name with a meaning that tells you who this character is supposed to be;

(2) a borrowing from another book, movie, or teevee program; and

(3) a subconscious combination of possibilities 1 & 2.

We’ve discussed here before the power of subliminal suggestion both in advertising and literature. I put it to you that Ms. Rowling, in search of a name for the boy wizard destined to save her magical sub-creation, found the name in her sub-conscious memories of neighborhood children, Monty Python skits, and scripture readings, and, this is her genius or daimon, both constructed and recognized the match when it occurred to her as inspiration. Insane? Watch this Darren Brown demonstration of how the creative mind can be shaped deliberately by planting images in the subconscious mind.

I still hold that Harry’s name, as with most of the major characters, is meaningful, and that my interpretation of it as a pointer to “Christian Everyman” has been largely confirmed by the events of Deathly Hallows. I understand that most people disagree (to say the least!). As the big players with the bankroll large enough to have lawyers standing by to squish any use of the Name — which, of course, has significance in almost every revealed tradition, especially Christianity and Islam) — are making name-use an issue, I thought this was as good a time as any to raise the subject of what Harry’s name means and how Ms. Rowling could have come up with it.

I’d love to read anything you have to say about the Troll movies, Warner Brothers’ litigation reflex, the name Harry Potter, and what you think the mechanics of literary inspiration are. Anything about the RDR/Scholastic court case will be deleted (fair warning!).

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