In 2002, Potterheads everywhere were treated to the second film in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. At some point after the film’s release, Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently decided that one of the secrets referenced in the title was that one of its new characters was based on him. Now, in light of recent events, fans are remembering how Harry Potter made Putin think that its CGI-rendered Dobby the House-Elf was based on him, and so planned to sue the pants — or perhaps, the socks — off Warner Bros.
As remembered by Koimoi, in 2003 news surfaced from a Russian newspaper that a group of lawyers was planning to file suit against Warner Bros. The lawyers reportedly claimed they could prove in a court of law that Dobby — a scrawny, floppy-eared slave of the sinister Malfoys who refers to himself in the third person — was based on Putin. As reported by the Guardian at the time, most experts believed the case didn’t have much of a chance. A representative from the Russian lawyer’s guild told Radio Free Europe, “Similar suits have taken place. But it’s very difficult for courts to rule on them; lots of experts have to be called in. It’s doubtful if it has a chance.” As predicted, an actual lawsuit never came forward.
But while it may seem silly to think the Harry Potter elf was based on Putin — after all, the novel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published in 1998, a year before Putin became Russian Premiere — the fact is that a lot of people who aren’t Putin’s lawyers see the resemblance. In recent days, Potterheads have taken to twitter to remind everyone of what they see as a striking resemblance. You can see some of those tweets below.
Back in 2003, it wasn’t just in Russia where some thought there was a resemblance either. The Guardian pointed out that the BBC ran a poll on their children’s website CBBC, asking visitors if they thought Dobby of Harry Potter and Putin had been separated at birth. A little over half, 54%, responded in the affirmative.
Comparing presidents to fantasy creatures can mean serious consequences if you do it in certain countries, even if it has nothing to do with Harry Potter or Putin. In 2015, for example, Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci was accused of breaking a law forbidding the denigration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after posting a meme that compared Erdogan with Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Filmmaker Peter Jackson even got involved, making a statement in which he pointed out all the images used were actually of Gollum’s original persona Smeagol, who isn’t evil. Ciftci was acquitted in 2017. Rifat Cetin was not as lucky. In 2016, for posting a similar image to Facebook, Cetin was sentenced to one year of prison, suspended for five years, and his parental custody rights were revoked.
The chances that the Harry Potter franchise may have used Putin as inspiration for Dobby seem slim, especially since the elf is such a beloved character. However, it does provoke two questions. First, could we stop all this insanity if someone mails Putin a sock? Second, if the sock doesn’t work, does anyone have contact info for Helena Bonham Carter?