The legal history of Steve Vander Ark's The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials invades the book's cover like a grumpy garden gnome. Under the title is an 89-word disclaimer assuring readers that this work of reference to the massively popular fantasy series was "not written, approved, prepared or licensed" by a long list of interested parties — with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. listed first, and author J.K. Rowling last.
These parties have made well-publicized attempts to bar publication of the book, which is based on the also massively popular, award-winning Web site the Harry Potter Lexicon (www.hp-lexicon.org), run since 2000 by Vander Ark, a librarian and dedicated Potter fan. Vander Ark and RDR Books came to an agreement with the parties that sued them to rewrite the book "with a new focus and purpose, mindful of the guidelines of the court," as the author's introduction notes (the first introduction I've read that also thanks the Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project).
The result is a useful but basic reference book. The Lexicon Web site groups entries (Magical Beings, Hogwarts, Spells), but the print Lexicon simply gathers all its brief entries alphabetically, with "dandelion juice" next to "Dark Arts." Brief is the word: Where the Web site's entry for Fawkes, the phoenix, is nine paragraphs long, including details about how Fawkes saved Harry's life on several occasions, the book offers a single paragraph and a note on the origin of Fawkes' name.
Missing entirely from the print version are the Web site's invaluable timelines, which Rowling herself has said she consults — and which Vander Ark's publisher claimed Warner Bros. filched for DVD extras. The "new focus and purpose" of the rewrite seems to be to avoid giving away any plot points — as if Harry's fans could somehow substitute cobbling together encyclopedia entries for the rich experience of reading the books.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.