Writer's Blog (megancrewe) wrote,
Writer's Blog

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The sincerest form of flattery

Am reading a very interesting and unusual book right now, which sticks King Arthur and crew in place of governing bodies during World War II. Knights joust and then discuss when Germany will make the move on Russia. Radio talk show hosts mingle news from the front with gossip about Guinevere and Launcelot. It gets kind of crazy, but it's got me hooked.

It's also got me thinking about the way art borrows from other art. For some reason I've never quite figured out, literature is really uptight about that whole scene. As long as the right people sign the papers, no one seems to mind when musicians cover previous released songs ad nauseum. No one gets into a tizzy over filmmakers taking plots and characters from books and TV shows and comics and anything else they can get their hands on, let alone remaking what's already been a movie (Planet of the Apes, The Time Machine, Oceans 11, the list could go on for pages). But have you ever heard of an author rewriting a book not his own (other than myths and legends which we assume joint cultural custody of) and claiming it as his/her own artistic endeavour? S/he'd be beaten to death with the plagiarism stick before the ink was dry.

Granted, there are minor exceptions. We seem to have assumed joint cultural custody over myths and legends from earlier times, making those are up for grabs. Occasionally a writer will rework a "classic" story, but always from a very different perspective with little overlap between the texts (e.g., Wide Sargasso Sea from Jane Eyre, Wicked from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). You can point out the various book series based on TV shows and movies, but I've never spoken to anyone who considered those to be independent works in their own right--most are commissioned by the creators in the original mediums and exist to drain more money from the fan-base. Chicago, Lord of the Rings, The Hours, and The Pianist are up for the top film awards; Star Wars novels can't get the time of day from any halfway credible literary critic or English prof. And if a book becomes popular and so much as smells like another work, watch the tar and feathers fly! (Life of Pi, anyone?)

It's not that I'd like to have books being rewritten left and right. Frankly, I wish I saw more original material coming out of Hollywood. It just seems silly that some artistic mediums are so open to freely borrowing from and playing around with other people's ideas, and others seem to think it'd be better to auction off your firstborn child (if you want to be treated with any respect, at least).

Clues welcome; offer away.

Tags: movies, publishing, reading

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