For author George Norman Lippert, September's highly anticipated release of James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper, comes as just the latest high point in his wholly surprising writing career. His amateur fiction career (Lippert is a leading figure in the Harry Potter fan fiction movement) is already legendary. His work has attracted countless readers and provides the basis for an upcoming film. Lippert's work has even won over Harry Potter fan fiction's toughest critic: J.K. Rowling. The Curse of the Gatekeeper (http://www.gatekeeperscurse.com/) is the subject of wild chat room speculation from dedicated fans, all counting the days until the story is unveiled this fall.
The story of how that anticipation came to be, as befits a noted author working in the tradition of a beloved character, is a great yarn,
It was 2007 and Harry Potter fever was in full swing: tens of thousands of fans had queued up to read the story on the night of its release. The book was featured all across the international news media, with the author being interviewed by the London Times, Canadian National Radio, and Fox News all in the same week. Over a million readers worldwide devoured the story, and subsequently inundated Harry Potter websites with debate and speculation about its significance. This time, however, the topic wasn't J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", which had come out four months earlier. Now it was December, and the furor surrounded a fan-written story called "James Potter and the Hall of Elders' Crossing". The author, George Norman Lippert of St. Louis, Missouri, was almost as surprised as anyone by the vast response to his on-line story.
"It was a total lark," he says. "I was sad to see the story end with the last book, so I decided to write a sequel for myself and my wife and kids." The resulting 350-page novel details the adventures of Harry's firstborn son, James, as he begins his wizarding career in the shadow of his legendary father. "I read the book to my wife, who is my toughest critic," Lippert explains. "She said it was worth sharing, but I certainly didn't expect what happened."
Lippert, 38, is an amateur novelist and computer animator by profession, so when he decided to release his book on-line, he built a custom website for it. The website, (http://www.elderscrossing.com/), became a viral hit because of its professional graphics and intro movie. "People were speculating that it was a test-market tool for a new book series, or a movie, or a video game," Lippert confesses. "I knew some mystery would be to my advantage, but I began to get a little worried when the response got so huge."
Indeed, curiosity about the website became so intense that J. K. Rowling and Warner Bros. became involved, repeatedly denying any connection. The Scotsman newspaper claimed that Ms. Rowling intended to sue Lippert for copyright infringement. Consequently, Lippert communicated with Rowling via her agency, offering an advance copy of his story for her perusal. This was accepted, and shortly thereafter came the announcement that Rowling supported Lippert's story and others like it. Lippert admits it was a huge relief. "I told her I'd have taken down the site if she'd asked me to. It's her world and I respect her desire to control it," he said.
"Still, it was really cool to know the creator of the Harry Potter world reviewed my story," he admits with a grin.
So what does a fledgling writer do with unprecedented and unexpected success? Write a sequel, of course.
"While I was writing ‘Elders' Crossing', I knew it was meant to be a part of a series," Lippert acknowledges. "I just didn't know if I'd write it. Now, though, loads of people do seem to want to hear the rest of the story. What more could a writer ask for?"
In fact, the official James Potter forum has nearly four hundred active members, all debating the upcoming sequel, "James Potter and the Curse of the Gatekeeper", due to be released on-line in September. The sequel's official website (http://www.gatekeeperscurse.com) has garnered over thirty-thousand hits in its first few weeks and is already causing a buzz in the Harry Potter fan community. "I get a lot of emails, but the two big questions I see most are, will these ever be published as books, and will there be a movie," Lippert admits.
Valid questions, considering the current legal ambiguity of Rowling's case against Steve Vander Ark and his Harry Potter Lexicon, as well as the fact that Warner Bros. will soon begin filming the last of its wildly successful Harry Potter films. With Harry Potter fever still in very high gear and no new books or movies forthcoming, Lippert's stories could be poised to fill a very large vacuum.
"The James Potter movie is already being made," Lippert says with a grin. "I shouldn't talk much about it, but I am quite curious to see how it turns out." For now, at least, Lippert isn't talking about an upcoming blockbuster feature film; he is talking about the fan-film being created by a California teenager and his friends, all of whom loved Lippert's story so much that they refused to wait for any official Warner Bros. movie deal. Like the James Potter novels, the film will be released in serial form via YouTube and the teen's website, www.wix.com/thehall/elderscrossingseries. "They consulted me by email about the screenplay and casting," Lippert says, obviously flattered, "but that's about it. It's their creation entirely, and I can't wait to see how the story looks through their eyes."
Strangely, Lippert's story has even spawned its own genre of fan-fiction. "People ask my permission if they can write their own stories based on my James Potter adventures. It feels extremely weird, but I always tell them to go for it and have fun. It's all about the story."
And will Lippert's James Potter novels ever be published in book form? Lippert smiles cryptically. "It's all about the story," he repeats. "Sure, I'd love to see my books printed, since a lot of people won't read novels off of their computers. But I won't make a big legal mess like Vander Ark [writer of the disputed ‘Harry Potter Lexicon'. I'd love to get Ms. Rowling's permission to publish if she thought my stories were worth it. I've told her that I'd split the proceeds with her for charity. But I won't fight her over it. I just want to keep the story going."
Does that mean a James Potter book three? Lippert shrugs. "It already exists. I just haven't written it yet. Let's just wait and see what people think of book two."