''Potter'' author J.K. Rowling announces delivery date. Will her baby arrive before the long-awaited fifth ''Harry Potter'' novel does?

By Gary Susman
September 20, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
J.K. Rowling: Reuters/Newscom

J.K. Rowling is laboring to produce two major deliveries. One is the fifth volume of the ”Harry Potter” series, which hasn’t seen a new book published in three years. The other, she announced yesterday, is a baby, her first child by second husband Neil Murray. (She has a daughter, Jessica, from her first marriage.) Rowling told Reuters she would deliver the baby next spring, but she refused to say when she might deliver the much-delayed ”Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

Rowling had hinted earlier this year that the book might be published by Christmas. That would have pleased Warner Bros., which would love to have a new book as a promotional tie-in to the Nov. 15 release of the second ”Potter” movie, ”Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Now, however, her spokeswoman tells Reuters that there is ”no fixed date” for her to hand in the manuscript to Bloomsbury, her British publisher.

One cause of the delay has been a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Rowling that was dismissed on Tuesday. The suit, filed by author Nancy Stouffer, claimed Rowling had plagiarized her own children’s books, including one called ”The Legend of Rah and the Muggles” and stories about boy named Larry Potter. U.S. District Judge Allen G. Schwartz ruled that the similarities were minimal. In Stouffer’s ”Rah,” muggles are not non-wizards but ”Omega Man”-like post-apocalyptic mutants who find redemption caring for a pair of orphaned twins. Moreover, Schwartz ruled, documents Stouffer submitted as evidence (including sales invoices and print ads) appeared to have been doctored. ”The court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that Stouffer has perpetuated a fraud… through her submission of fraudulent documents as well as through her untruthful testimony,” the Associated Press quoted the ruling as saying. Stouffer was fined $50,000.

In a BBC interview Thursday, Rowling expressed relief that the lawsuit would no longer be a distraction. ”Anyone who’s been involved in a court case will know that it’s time consuming, it plays on your mind,” she said. ”There have been times when I’ve been writing and that’s been uppermost in my mind, whereas what should have been uppermost in my mind is what’s going on with Harry and Co.”

Still, she added, the book was mostly finished. ”I will say that I have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You could read it all the way through, and I know a lot of Harry Potter fans will say, ‘Just to give it to us.’ But I’m a perfectionist and I want a bit more of a tweak.”