J.D. Salinger is taking another fan to court.
The 90-year-old creator of "The Catcher in the Rye," as protective of his work as he is of his privacy, is seeking an injunction against the writer, publishers and distributor of a spinoff of the author's famous novel.
Lawyers for Salinger filed the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, seeking to stop publication of what it says is a copycat book titled "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye," by someone writing under the name John David California. It also seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit said the right to create a sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye" or to use the character "Holden Caulfield" belongs only to Salinger. The lawsuit says Salinger, who has never allowed "Catcher" to be filmed, staged or otherwise adapted, has "decidedly chosen not to exercise that right."
Besides California, identified in the court papers as "John Doe," the lawsuit also cites Windupbird Publishing, an obscure company allegedly based in London; a Swedish publisher, Nicotext; and SCB Distributors, based in Gardena, Calif.
In "60 Years Later," scheduled to be published in Britain this summer and in the United States in the fall, a character very much like Caulfield is 76 years old, an escapee from a retirement home and identified as "Mr. C." The novel is dedicated to Salinger and the author is a character in it, too, wondering whether to continue Caulfield's story.
"The Sequel is not a parody and it does not comment upon or criticize the original," alleged Salinger's lawsuit alleged, which cited numerous similarities in story and in language. "It is a ripoff pure and simple."
The lawsuit presented California as a mysterious, unsavory character, of uncertain name and location. "His precise whereabouts are unknown, despite due investigation," according to the court papers.
Aaron Silverman, the director of SCB Distributors, said that California was a resident of Sweden and provided The Associated Press with a phone number with a Swedish country code. Reached by the AP, a man identifying himself as California said that he lived outside of Goteborg, Sweden. He called the legal action "a little bit insane" and said that Salinger had control over the names of his characters, but not over his style or perspective.
"To me, this is a story about an old man. It's a love story, a story about an author and his character," said California, who added that John David California was his pen name. He declined to give his real name and said that he did not intend "John David" as an homage to Salinger, whose full name is Jerome David Salinger.
"I did not mean to cause him any trouble," California said.
A recluse living in rural New Hampshire, Salinger has not published in a book in decades and has rarely been heard from in public — expect when taking legal action.
In 1982, he sued a man who allegedly tried to sell a fictitious interview with the author to a national magazine. The impostor agreed to desist and Salinger dropped the suit.
Five years later, another Salinger legal action resulted in an important decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court refused to allow publication of an unauthorized biography, by Ian Hamilton, that quoted from the author's unpublished letters. Salinger had copyrighted the letters when he learned about Hamilton's book, which came out in a revised edition in 1988.
In 2003, Salinger stopped the BBC from staging a television production of "Catcher." His court papers state that he has turned down requests from Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein to acquire film rights.
Salinger did not appear in court in those cases and is not expected to for this lawsuit.
"Catcher" is summarized at length in Monday's papers and Salinger's legacy is duly praised. He is identified as "the acclaimed author of numerous works of fiction" and "Catcher in the Rye" is called "one of the all-time classic American novels, achieving phenomenal critical and commercial success."
Caulfield is described as a "precocious" 16 year old with a "slang-peppered vocabulary." He has "no explicit goal" and the plot is "best described as series of incidents" set in New York.
The novel lives on, boast the papers, which note that on Amazon.com it currently outsells such favorites as "The Da Vinci Code," ''To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."