The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter by Steve Vander Ark

This is the second time Steve Vander Ark has produced a Harry Potter Lexicon, which is an encyclopaedia of the characters, spells, object and places from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series with reference to the chapter and book in which they are mentioned.

Vander Ark runs the Harry Potter Lexicon fan site and this is a book version of the material available online. As I say, this is his second offering, the first Lexicon he produced became the subject of a lawsuit brought by Warner Bros. and JK Rowling, who objected to the level of material taken from the Potter books, saying it was ‘in direct contravention to Ms Rowling’s repeated stated intention to publish her own companion books to the series’. Subsequently, the Lexicon was cut down and published in 2009, carrying hefty disclaimers both on the front and back covers claiming no affiliation with those who hold the copyrights.

JK Rowling said it was nothing more than a rearrangement of her own material, and this is where the problem lies. It is just a list of people, places and things from Harry Potter and its related publications. For example, the Dark Force Defence League has the explanation of being ‘An organisation which fights against the Dark Arts’. If you are a Harry Potter fan you are already going to know this, and if you are not, you are not going to be bothered. Sometimes some interesting facts are included, such as the original word in Latin a spell may have come from or the historical context of a name used for a character but this is not enough to make it worth buying this book.

The Lexicon has clearly been put together by people who really love Harry Potter, and whether or not Vander Ark should profit from using another author’s material is a wide-ranging debate, but personally I have not found any artistic merit in this book that makes its production worthwhile. Unless you write fan fiction for example, why are you going to need to know where Rabastan Lestrange first appears? On the back cover it says that Vander Ark ‘frequently keynotes academic conferences on the Harry Potter novels’. I do not know what he lectures on at these conferences, but it has to be more than listing things from Harry Potter, so why has he not produced a work expanding on this?

With Christmas approaching I can see its appeal as a gift for a serious Harry Potter fan who would like a reference guide to the world of Harry Potter, and there is some astonishing attention to detail included – for example in the entry under ‘firewhisky’ it mentions that there is one occasion in the books where it is spelt ‘firewhiskey’ – which could well appeal to people who love these sort of facts. However, for the majority of more casual Harry Potter fans I cannot really see what this would give them apart from an occasional historical fact about the real world origin of a name or item, which is not enough to justify the original price tag of $24.95. Unfortunately I think this book holds more interest as an example in the debate of copyright law than as a publication in itself and the only person who would do an encyclopaedia of Harry Potter justice would be JK Rowling herself, who could then expand upon the world she has already created.

3/10 The only person who would do an encyclopaedia of Harry Potter justice would be JK Rowling herself.

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