J.K. Rowling and H.P. Lovecraft
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Raise your hand if you've never heard of Harry Potter. OK, nobody. Raise your hand if you've either read at least some of the books or seen one or more of the movies. OK, most of you. The wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling was indeed magical and lured kids (and adults) all over the world back into the pages of books -- a feat few would have predicted before that first offering in 1997.
But did she do it all alone? Rowling suggested that Harry Potter walked into her mind fully formed while she was riding a train. Seven books and eight movies later, she's literally a billionaire -- richer than the queen.
But did Harry Potter walk into her mind without some nudging along the way? The long-deceased H.P. Lovecraft, if he could speak from the grave, might say, "Now wait a minute, Missy!"
Lovecraft, an early science fiction/horror writer, crafted many short stories that kept kids up late, staring into their nightlights. One collection of short stories, "The Shuttered Room," is a modest 166 pages published posthumously in the year of our Lord Valdemort 1959. It brings to light a number of "similarities," to put it mildly, with Rowling's work.
In "Witches' Hollow," the main character, a teacher, relocates to backcountry Massachusetts and encounters a promising student who refuses to study, saying it's his father's wishes that he will obey. The teacher asks around town about the boy's unusual family and is met with an enigmatic glance by one shop owner, who asks, "Never heard of old Wizard Potter?"
Coincidence? Read on.
In this story, the solution seems to be touching a "stone" to the boy's neck to break the spell his daddy has cast upon him. "These stones are among the thousands bearing the...seals of the Elder Gods."
Forget the Elder Wand in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" for a minute and focus on the stones. After the teacher questions the stones as "superstitions," the answer that follows is, "If the stone has no meaning, it has no power. If it has no power, it cannot affect young Potter."
Rowling's first book? "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," aka the Philosopher's Stone in her native England.
Coincidence? Read on, dear reader.
In "The Shadow in the Attic," a nephew inherits his eccentric uncle's gambrel-roofed house. Right off the bat, his uncle is characterized as a feared man. "Who could do more than whisper fearfully of what dark powers were at Uriah Garrison's command?" (For fun, insert Lord Valdemort in place of Uriah Garrison.)
A neighbor sees the coffin, yet doubts that it contains Garrison's body. The nephew retreats to his uncle's library, full of ancient and modern books on sorcery and witchcraft. It is these books, and the annotations made by his mysterious uncle, that lead the nephew to his understanding of his uncle's interest in succubi -- the retention of the "essence" from one existence to another.
This essence, or soul or life force, is very close to what any Harry Potter devotee would recognize as a horcrux: the essence of Lord Valdemort placed in various magically-protected items to be regained after his death. The nephew in this story deduces that perhaps his uncle was attempting to take over a new body by driving out the life force within and substituting his own essence.
Coincidental? Read on.
It is the short story "The Horror of the Middle Span" that provides the final straw that breaks the camel's plagiaristic back. The similarities heretofore were possibly, maybe, truly coincidental. The following, well, this is not coincidence.
In this story, a great-nephew travels to backcountry Massachusetts to lay claim to his great-uncle's abandoned house and property. In the course of his efforts, he finds the townspeople quite unfriendly. His great-uncle was not liked, but feared by the locals. In searching the house, the great-nephew comes upon some correspondence, with one letter in particular arresting his attention. The letter itself is of no interest here, but the letter writer's closing provides the coup de grace.
Only Harry Potter called Lord Valdemort by his self-chosen name. Everybody else quivered in fear, calling him "He Who Shall Not Be Named." In Lovecraft's story, the cryptic letter that the great-nephew finds so interesting concludes with, "I am yours in the Name of Him Who is Not To Be Named."
Artistic license or outright theft? You be the judge.
These examples come from just one small book of Lovecraft's short stories. What other "similarities" might be found if one examined his entire oeuvre?
Either way, should Rowling's fortune be taken from her and the books and movies recalled and destroyed? Absolutely not. She is a far better writer than Lovecraft and did wonders with the stones, horcruxes and characters' monikers.
But maybe a footnote should be added, giving readers the idea that Rowling didn't walk into Diagon Alley alone -- H.P. Lovecraft was a step or two ahead.