Thursday, February 19, 2009

Poor Old Christopher

I should probably say 'young' Christopher, seeing as he's 22, and I can only dimly remember being that age. I am of course talking about Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance series (Eragon, Brisinger, SomethingelseIcan'trememberProbablyEndsInEr).

Now and again, when I feel that perhaps I'm not up to speed as an author (which is most days lately) I read negative reviews of fantasy books on Amazon. The reason is to see how many people can say outrageously horrible things about somebody's novel, condemning it (and usually its author) to each of the seven pits of hell - while at the same time an equal or greater number of people are praising it to the sky and saying they simply can't get enough of it. This paradox helps me believe that just maybe certain negative comments that have been made about my own work might simply be on the wrong side of the review line, and that an entire army of equally praise-filled readers could be just waiting to pounce upon it and wallpaper their bedrooms with every page. Just maybe.

So, with that purpose in mind, I was reading reviews of young Christopher's first two books. I have to say - I have never seen more hostile reviews for any book, neither on Amazon or anywhere else. It is as if Christopher in his efforts to entertain and lighten the lives of these readers has instead managed to offend them deeply and on a personal level, and each successive review attempts to outdo the previous in its vitriol, sarcasm and often good old fashioned nastiness.

Why is this, I ask myself? Is it because the work is truly atrocious and unoriginal? Or is it a bit more subtle, perhaps something to do with the fact that CP published the first novel at the ripe old age of 15? Is it something to do with the number of reviewers who just happen to mention they are attempting to publish books themselves, so far without success? Am I being perhaps a tad cynical?

The usual slant of the attacks is that the works are unoriginal, and appear to contain many similarities to greats like the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Other more obscure fantasy works are also trotted out, and attempts made to show how CP obviously read them and regurgitated them - even if it's unlikely he would even have heard of them.

So what's my take on it? Well, I should start by saying I haven't read any of CP's books yet, though they're on my list for a later date (when I get through the books that are currently sitting unread on my creaking shelf). But all the same, I feel a bit sorry for him. It feels nowadays as though brigades of people devour every new fantasy book coming out in the pure hope of finding parallels to other works, with LOR and Harry Potter being the prize finds. If a writer so much as sneezes and it comes out sounding a bit like 'Gandalf' everybody leaps up and down and gets excited and calls them a ripoff merchant.

I had a little bit of that when people were reading the Ghost of Ping-Ling, but thankfully not much. One friend did list all the main characters and creature types in the entire book along with what he thought their LOR equivalents were. Some of them were reasonable comparisons that I was aware of - but quite a few were totally left-field (I'm not sure how someone can compare undead wood-demons who cut your beating heart out and sacrifice it to a god with elves - to me the only comparison is they both live in a forest).

I think it's important for people to remember that fantasy is full of reincarnated concepts and myths that have been doing the rounds since before Homer. Even Tolkien made use of Beowulf and Norse mythology (he says knowledgably). The trick is to take these old ideas and repackage them in a new and interesting way. From the number of positive reviews of Christopher Paolini's books I would say he must have managed to pull this off.

To illustrate how difficult it is for fantasy authors to avoid the accusation of plagiarism, at the moment I'm reading something called 'The Book of Five Rings', as part of my research for the next book in my series (or the prequel, whichever I end up writing). The book was written in 1643 by a Japanese Samurai, and discusses (amongst other things) techniques for training people in weaponry. One of the things the author mentions is that in his school he always teaches students to use two-handed swords with one hand. The reason given is that if a person can master a heavy sword with a single hand, they will be much more effective when the time comes to wield it two handed. This makes sense. So as I was making the bed this morning my mind wandered about how I could incorporate this information into one of my Sendokai trainers who teaches Koto the sword. I thought what I would do is have him make her hold a broom in one hand, and the (two handed) sword in the other, so there is no way she can accidentally grab it with two hands. Then for some reason I thought of the movie The Karate Kid. I haven't seen it, and never will - but I have this horrible feeling there's something similar to my idea in the movie. It wouldn't surprise me - apparently the Book of Five Rings was popular in the 80's, so perhaps the movie makers read it and thought of a similar idea.

My dilemma is, if I put the broom thing in the book, I can guarantee somebody will come out of the woodwork and accuse me of ripping off the Karate Kid movie, even though I've taken my ideas from ancient source material. In the same way, anyone who attempted to work Norse mythology and Beowulf into a modern Fantasy would probably be accused of ripping off Lord of the Rings!

So I feel that the unbridled criticism of young Chris is unwarranted and unfair. All that matters is that he has written a book which has given a lot of people enjoyment and which has made people more excited about reading.

As for me - I'll always try and be original, but I won't break my neck over it, because true originality is impossible, and ultimately lies in the eye of the reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment