Have you ever heard of a popular and award-winning fantasy franchise that features a young dark haired sorcerer, a prodigy at a wizard’s school, who has trials and tribulations learning the art of sorcery, gets a scar on his face and survives in a world of mythical beasts on his way to becoming a great wizard?
Then you’ve heard of the Earthsea Trilogy written by famed science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin. The trilogy, consisting of A Wizard of Earthsea, the Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore (which won a national book award in 1973), feature the exploits of the wizard Sparrowhawk. They were published in the early 1970’s.
What’s that? You thought I was referring to another series of books about a dark haired boy attending a wizard’s school? Boy wizard Harry Potter has become a global phenomenon since his first adventure was published in the late 1990’s.
Harry Potter’s famous author, J.K. Rowling, is an interesting person, regardless of your opinion of her work. First publishing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the late 1990’s, single-mom-turned-fantasy-author Rowling saw her Potter franchise explode around the world. It’s now a multi-media franchise including a plethora of novels, movies, companion books, artwork, video games, t-shirts, lunchboxes and much, much more.
Rowling herself has faced numerous lawsuits since her famous creation’s debut. The lawsuits claimed that Rowling plagiarized her dark haired boy in a wizard school idea, and many other ideas, from other authors. As far as I can see her work does have deep similarities to other authors works, including LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy. In fairness, it should be noted every lawsuit filed against Rowling and her famous creation has been thrown out; a number of Rowling defenders state that the lawsuits were simply an attempt to extort money from a very famous and wealthy person. Happens all the time. Oprah Winfrey has stated in the past she regularly gets requests from strangers for $50,000.
But it’s difficult to dismiss entirely the similarity Potter has to other literary creations, especially LeGuin’s that were published about 25 years beforehand. LeGuin herself, who also won the coveted Nebula Award for her science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness, has commented on the fact she feels Rowling got a few too many pats on the back for “originality” in the Potter books, quoted in Dec., 2005 in the Guardian Unlimited that Rowling "could have been more gracious about her predecessors. My incredulity was at the critics who found the first book wonderfully original. (Rowling) has many virtues, but originality isn't one of them."
The issue came to mind again earlier this month with the passing of actor Alan Rickman; a lot of people apparently know him from the Harry Potter movies, although we dinosaurs from the 80’s know him as Hans Gruber, terrorist from the first Die Hard movie.
There’s a false quote circulating on the internet claiming Rickman loved the Harry Potter books so much he looked forward to reading them at 80 years old to his grandkids. Rickman did not, in fact, say that; it’s been revealed that an obsessed Harry Potter fan on Facebook invented the entire thing. As a humorous aside, there’s now an illustration also circulating on the internet that includes a photo of Rickman and the text, “I never said that.” Maybe if the reading-to-the-grandkids quote is repeated enough times, it will cast a spell to make it reality.
Interested in reading more about the similarities between Potter and the Earthsea trilogy? If you’re internet-equipped, do a Google search for “similarities between Harry Potter and Earthsea.” There’s plenty to read.
Stu Salkeld is the new editor of the Leduc/Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.