Thursday, September 14, 2006

Scary Harry vs. the TSA?

You'll see this story everywhere today (I just spotted it in this morning's Guardian, and GalleyCat's Sarah Weinman has already picked it up), but I don't believe the account of J.K. Rowling's "almost" not being allowed to carry her latest tip-top-secret, only-copy-anywhere Harry Potter manuscript onto a plane in New York City rings true. Yes, the (U.S.) Transportation Security Administration did issue some new restrictions in August, but they are not preventing people from carrying briefcases, backpacks, and tote bags onto planes. Given the length of her last Harry Potter book, I can easily believe Rowling might have run afoul of airline (not TSA) personnel by exceeding the restrictions (in number or size) for carry-on items. But I just don't believe a stack of manuscript pages would have raised the eyebrows of any TSA employee, which is exactly what is being implied.

Here's what Rowling wrote yesterday on her website:

The heightened security restrictions on the airlines in August made the journey back from New York interesting, as I refused to be parted from the manuscript of book seven (a large part of it is handwritten, and there was no copy of anything I had done while in the US). They let me take it on, thankfully, bound up in elastic bands. I don't know what I would have done if they hadn't; sailed home, probably.

Over at Galleycat, Sarah writes:

This is just what the Transport Security Association needs - bad publicity because they made a boo-boo with regards to a major bestselling author....

JFK airport staff almost stopped her from boarding a flight because she would not put the manuscript and notes for book seven of the Harry Potter series into her checked luggage.

With all due respect to Sarah, I don't see any story here. Did Rowling actually say she was "almost stopped" from boarding with the manuscript? No. It sounds to me as though Rowling was aware there were new security restrictions in place, so she was worried about not being allowed to carry her manuscript on the plane. Some might take "I refused to be parted from the manuscript" to mean that someone attempted to part her from it, but since she gives no details, I believe the words were a mere figure of speech.

U P D A T E, 11:00 a.m.

A thousand thank-yous to Ron Hogan, who has just updated the GalleyCat post and linked here.

U P D A T E: 12:30 p.m.

This non-story just gets better and better. I can't find a single interview with Ms. Rowling or any public statement apart from what she wrote on her website (which I quoted in full) about this "incident". Yet the blogisphere is buzzing and the facts are being hilariously distorted. Take a look at this bit from

‘Harry Potter’ creator JK Rowling persuaded security staff at a New York airport to let her breach baggage restrictions - because she refused to be parted from the manuscript of the final ‘Potter’ book.

The author was given special treatment on her transatlantic flight - where heightened security measures are still in operation following the recent uncovering of a terrorist plot to blow up planes using explosives carried in hand luggage.

Here's another one, from

British author J.K. Rowling says she won an argument with airport security officials in New York to carry the manuscript of the final "Harry Potter" book as carryon baggage.

Had security agents not relented, she said on her Web site, she might not have flown, she said in a posting dated Wednesday.

I predict that by dinnertime today we'll be reading that the manuscript was ripped from the arms of a screaming Ms. Rowling before she was dragged by the hair into a private room by six wild-eyed (male) TSA agents who proceeded to strip-search her, and only after calls to George Bush and Tony Blair (who vouched for her because they're dying to know who gets killed off in Book Seven) was she allowed to board the plane, weeping as she clutched the precious stack of paper to her chest.

Man, I love the internet.

See my follow-up post here.

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Sibylla said...

It's a bizarre story, since, you know, nothing actually happened. But it's not entirely crazy: TSA might not have ruled out briefcases, but there was a week in August in which the British transportation security agency (I don't know what it's actually called) wasn't allowing any carry-on luggage at all for all flights to and from the country. So flying from New York to anywhere else would have been fine, but flying from New York to the UK actually did mean that your carry-on luggage would have become checked luggage.

Brenda Coulter said...

As I understand it, the no-carry-on rule was for flights departing from the U.K., and it just lasted for a few days. But airport security isn't the issue here.

What fascinates me is how news sites and bloggers have jumped to conclusions about Ms. Rowling's airport experience. She did not say she'd had trouble getting her manuscript past the security checkpoint. She mentions no arguments and no bending of rules. The way I read her words, she simply thought getting her manuscript onto the plane might be a problem. It wasn't.

Sibylla said...

I was in England at the time, and the story there was that it was all flights, coming and going. But since they don't directly control security on the incoming flights, anything's possible.

The escalating story itself is funny, though. I hope more authors make off-hand comments about worries they'd had. Think of all the problems that they could have resolved, through pure force of will!

Toni Lea Andrews said...

Dear Gods of Literature:
May I one day be so famous an author that my argument with a TSA employee will make international news.

Bill Ectric said...

The airlines DID actually prevent me from carrying my manuscript onto a plane. Well, you see, I had inscribed the entire book onto the wide blade of a WWII vintage machete with a metal etcher. This was the machete my dad used to hack through vines in the jungles of South America during the Big War.
That wouldn't have been so bad, but they also took my notes. I guess I can't totally blame airport security. It's kind of a funny story, really. I ran out of index cards and was looking around furiously for some notepaper. My brother had left an unopened box of shotgun shells at the house. He's a big hunter, you know. I scribbled various important secret notes on the sides of the box with one of those pens that writes on plastic shrink wrap.
I'm not saying it was the airline's fault.

Bill Ectric said...

p.s. - Sadly, they also took the rough drafts of my forward, preface, introduction, and dedication. I thought they USED ship skin in the old days. They have yet to return the carcass.

Bill Ectric said...

Sheep skin, I mean. To write on. Not "ship skin."

Brenda Coulter said...

The scary thing, Bill, is that I knew exactly what you meant. ;-) Thanks for the laugh.

Traditional Values Spy said...

So you take issue with the "whisper down the lane" phenomenon of bloggers not quite getting their stories straight about the actual quote from J.K. Rowling....yet you'll spew hundreds of pages of fiction celebrating "traditional values"....which are the byproduct of a very old "whisper down the lane, God told me to write this!" book called The Bible. Interesting.

Traditional Values Spy

Brenda Coulter said...

Sounds like somebody missed his nap today.

Lori F said...

Hey, Brenda, you got a mention on "Clicked" again! Oh, to have my own plane... Do they do security searches on private planes? What if you loaded yours up with explosives???? Scary thought.

Brenda Coulter said...

Thanks, Lori. I noticed that just a few minutes ago.

Greetings, CLICKED readers! Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Why does this facinate you? Yoy must not have seen A few weeks ago some perv got days of attention from all the medias a lobster dinner champagne and a free ride home. This should not facinate you.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like that old game we used to play in school where you whispered something to one person then passed it around the room. Generally, the final version was NOTHING like the original. Sounds like a lot of free publicity for the next book though.

Michelle's Writing Space

Brenda Coulter said...

Exactly, Michelle. We called that game "telephone".

Anonymous, I'm fascinated by all sorts of things. A curious mind is a novelist's best friend.