When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone hit our bookshelves in 1997, it proved to be the perfect formula for success. J. K. Rowling's narrative about a young boy wizard catapulted her to stratospheric fame and sparked off one of the most influential book and movie series in history.
Yet seven years earlier in 1990, another author had already been playing around with similar ideas. His name was Neil Gaiman and he was writing storylines for DC Comics' Vertigo imprint about a British boy with magical powers.
Published by DC Comics, the four-issue English-language didn't just outline the history of magic in a fictional DC universe, but also introduced to the world it's main protagonist -- Tim Hunter. Here was a boy who was Harry Potter before there even was a Harry Potter -- check out some of the obvious similarities between the two:
1. Tim Hunter is also a skinny schoolboy with black hair and spectacles
2. He is also destined to become a powerful magician
3. He also has an affinity with owls
Yep, if Tim in Books of Magic isn't a dead ringer for Harry Potter on a very shallow level, then I don't know what is.
So why did Gaiman's work not become the success that Rowling's narrative went on to be?
Well, one reason is that the series was merely "an exercise in esoteric geek knowledge," as The Atlantic put it. Instead of having a focus on a titular character, it served as a way to introduce a unique magical world to the DC universe -- for example, characters such as Spectre, Zatanna, Zatara, Dr. Fate, Dr. Occult or Amethyst Princess of Gemworld (yes, really!) were introduced via their interactions with Tim.
As a result, Books of Magic became almost an encyclopedia of this world, rather than a linear plot-line that provided the character depth and plot twists of Rowling's wizarding world. The fact of the matter is, Gaiman's work serves merely as a magical mystery tour of the DC universe rather a in-depth exploration of it.
What is more, the author is adamant that in no way did J. K. steal his ideas. In fact, his actual words were:
"Back in November I was tracked down by a Scotsman journalist who had noticed the similarities between my Tim Hunter character and Harry Potter, and wanted a story. I disappointed him by explaining that, no, I certainly didn’t believe that Rowling had ripped off Books of Magic, that I doubted she’d read it and that it wouldn’t matter if she had: I wasn’t the first writer to create a young magician with potential, nor was Rowling the first to send one to school."
Isn't it good to know that for once there's no bad blood surrounding a fictional universe that we all know and love, don't you think?
Are you familiar with 'Books of Magic?'