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Eragon, Cassandra Clare, and Fire-fighting Equipment

Draco Malfoy

-REaction
Recently, I've encountered much animosity to certain, popular YA book series, specifically Paolini's Eragon series and Cassandra Clare's the Mortal Instruments. Much of the criticism appears to stem from the books' derivation of plots/ideas from earlier works (Star Wars is the most frequently cited one in both series' cases)

Now, I'm not doing this to start a flame-bash fest *readies the fire-fighting equipment*.

I just want to know why those series are so despised for their derivative qualities. Many other YA books I know are very derivative, and those don't get flamed. For example, Suzanne Collins's often lauded the Hunger Games screams of Battle Royale to me (75% of the plot is Battle Royale, with kids killing kids in a confined area, two kids who don't particularly want to kill finding romance and experiencing survivor's guilt, evil adults, etc.) Horowitz's Alex Rider books are just James Bond thrown back ten-twenty years. Artemis Fowl can justifiably be called Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets the Chronicles of Narnia.

Yet those books aren't nearly as bashed for their derivative qualities as Eragon and Clare's books are. If the main criticism of Eragon/Mortal Instruments is their flat/personality-less characters, I would understand (especially for the former, oh my gawd), but most people quibble about the plot derivations.

But don't we all, to some extent, derive some aspects from earlier works? I'm not talking straight word-for-word plagiarism, but, for example, taking Rei Ayanami's emotionless personality and mixing it with Luna Lovegood's serenity to create an interestingly quiet character? At which point does one say "that is too much derivation", plot-wise?


Sorry; I just got a bit confused by why people got so upset over Cassandra Clare in particular, even after discounting the whole Potter debacle

.
 

JX Valentine

Ever-Discordant
I'd just like to pop in and say that the main reason why Cassandra Claire gets a lot of backlash is because she's a noted plagiarist. She was even banned from Fanfiction.net for it. While it's part of her past (as in, she might not do it now), the fact that she tried to copy entire passages from other authors (word-for-word, no less) during her fanfiction career and then attempted to deny doing it (in what turned into a bit of a wank war a few years back, if I recall correctly) has made a lot of people leery towards the original fiction she's publishing today. You can read more about the whole plagiarism kerfluffle here and here because it's a very long story full of legal jargon and things that really should be quoted in a massive bit of analysis. But yeah, the short of it is it's not so much because her work derivative of other things as it is that she used to steal entire passages from other authors, word-for-word.

Of course, that's what I understand of it. Personally, what Claire writes is not my cuppa, so I haven't really checked out her original stuff. I also consider myself more of an observer to the whole thing: I know about it but don't really have an opinion either way concerning her. So, in other words, I can't really say that she's still a plagiarist or how true these articles actually are. Buuut that should hopefully explain a little bit about why people don't particularly care for her.

As for Paolini, while I've heard about the whole Eragon = Star Wars bit, but my personal opinion is that I just don't like him because his writing's crammed full of purple prose. Like, I couldn't quite get through the first few chapters of Eragon because it seemed like he was trying too hard to set a mysterious mood by putting a thesaurus in a blender and hitting puree. Maybe it's just me there, and I certainly respect anyone who doesn't see it that way. Or, in other words, I honestly can't give an opinion about how Paolini's work is derivative; I just don't particularly care for him as an author and would like to say that maybe it's really just more than the Star Wars thing that makes people feel uncomfortable with him.
 

Eloi

Well-Known Member
Well, I do believe the problem most people have, or at least myself, is what these works could be. The authors of these stories can clearly knit an interesting yarn, but when they choose not to let us, the readers, into a window of their mind, it cheats us. We read literature to feel intimate feelings, to gain a new perspective on reality, and when an author copies another author's ideas, we are cheated out of all that. We are instead presented with an illusion of intimate feelings, an illusion of new perspective, but once we figure it isn't their's, we feel betrayed. Like someone just lied to us about a deeply personal experience, which is pretty much what writing is, a deeply personal experience.
So I think we should all try to avoid betraying our readers and cheating them out of something special by being sincere in our writing.
 

disclaimer065

Well-Known Member
I've never heard of Cassandra Clare, so I don't really have the right to have an opinion on that one.

As for Eragon, however, I think it's more of a combination of the fact that what Paolini "copied," for lack of a better word, was so recently made and so popular that people were (relatively) instantly alerted to the similarities, and that the similarities are so... blatant. If one takes the time to check, more or less every major plot event and some minor ones, even, in Eragon and Eldest, map to the plotline of the first two Star Wars films(i.e., A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back). However, the third and presumably the fourth books do deviate and become their own story.

Personally, I like to view them as something of an adaptation of the Star Wars plot(s) to a fantasy setting, which, in my opinion, was done well, regardless of his actual purpose to that end.

The thing I don't understand is why people make such a deal about it when it has been done many times before, and, in some cases, to a greater extent. It's a natural part of the writing culture; when a popular series fades, someone will inevitably attempt to reboot it to a different standard, sometimes subconsciously.

I have no doubt that, had Paolini published his works fifteen to twenty-five years later, they would have received little to no backlash for their "flaws."
 

Eloi

Well-Known Member
I have no doubt that, had Paolini published his works fifteen to twenty-five years later, they would have received little to no backlash for their "flaws."
You underestimate the power of the Star Wars (1977) and Lord of the Rings (1937) fanbases.
As well, it would still not make it any less unoriginal even if they were unpopular, very old serieses.
 

Psychic

Really and truly
Is the Eragon series really looked down on the way it is solely because of what it borrows from other stories?

While it may be a contributing factor due to how closely it mirrors Star Wars, I wouldn't say that was the sole reason. My impression after reading it was that Paolini is simply a weak writer. His purple prose is pretty terrible, and his characterizations are either flat, stereotypical, or based on wish-fulfillment. The title character is your typical self-insert who gets all sorts of powers and whatnot, the female love interest is just a hawt thang for Eragon to fawn over, and his dragon is pretty much represented in the same way a lot of newbie fic writers write Pokémon - a tool with little personality.

All in all, it read like a poor piece of fan fiction your typical reviewer would rip to shreds. For that reason, a lot of writers are pretty PO'd that such a mediocre writer got himself published while the rest of them have to work so much harder for their own writing to even get noticed. Not to mention that he kept getting called a prodigy when there are far better writers his own age out there. I've never heard of Cassandra Clare, so I won't comment there. :p

(On another note, there used to be a wonderful website dedicated to pointing out the many flaws of the Inheritance series, containing many insightful articles and analyses, called Anti-Shur'tugal, but the site has since gone down. Unfortunately, they explained it far better than I could.)

~Psychic
 
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Diddy

Renegade
I've not read Eragon, or even heard of the second one, but the taking flak just because they have plots similar to other stuff? I'm not trying to say that the well of creativity has run dry but after this vast period of literature, movies and games, there are bound to be some parallels you can draw between plots.

Mas Effect had, in my opinion, hands down the best story in a game I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure though, that if you look up the vast library of science fiction or fantasy, you can find something that revolves around an ancient evil (reapers) coming back from the dead (whatever part of space they went to) to reclaim what was rightfully theirs (destroy society as we know it).

The parts in parentheses being Mass Effect's basic plot and the parts not in parentheses being the simplified non-specific plot that can apply elsewhere. No examples come to mind at the moment, but I've just woken up and I'm still a bit groggy. Surely though, that plot triggers something in someones mind saying, "yeah, that happens in such and such a thing!"

Mass Effect, in all essences of the word, delivered. The way everything was executed was so brilliant that it left little room to think *puts on whiny interwebz critic voice* "they clearly stole the plot from this film and this book, try a little creativity Bioware."


Okay, enough about Mass Effect...

I also want to argue about what you (Draco Malfoy) said about Artemis Fowl and Alex Rider. Alex Rider, I'm fairly certain, was always intended to be a Young Adult James Bond. Try and get the teen audiences interested in that genre by writing someone they could relate to. The Young Bond series of books (which in my opinion are better) also have the same goal in mind I imagine. People at our age, I'm going to assume you're not a little kid, have at least some awareness of the earlier Bonds, and we can agree that there are some classic films in there. We don't want kids growing up thinking Brosnan was the best Bond do we? although Craig's portrayal will decimate any fantasies anybody held about Brosnan being better

Artemis Fowl was pretty original in my eyes. Child Criminal Mastermind and a re-imagining of the fairy people. Again, of course parallels can be drawn to other things, I'm not seeing the Narnia connection though. Then again, if you enjoyed Buffy and if you enjoyed Narnia why wouldn't you want to see what Artemis Fowl was like? That's like saying, "I enjoy Mint, and I enjoy chocolate, I also like Ice Cream. But Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream? HELL NO!"

On the back of the first Percy Jackson book, The Sunday Times say 'It's Buffy meets Artemis Fowl. Thumbs up.' For a Young Adult book about mythology, I'd say being compared to them is a pretty good backing wouldn't you?
 

Dragonfree

Just me
Artemis Fowl can justifiably be called Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets the Chronicles of Narnia.
...what? I truly, honestly cannot think of a fantasy series less like Artemis Fowl than The Chronicles of Narnia, save maybe the "main character is a kid" bit. Seriously, what? From a general Buffy-position within the web of fantasy, you'd need to go in completely the other direction to find Artemis Fowl: it's half sci-fi crime thriller, after all, and that's not going to be anywhere near Narnia on the map. And even then, Buffy is only similar in atmosphere, as in the modern-world fantasy-is-real-but-masquerading thing with snarky young main characters battling threats that are variously human and nonhuman. Meanwhile, some absolute fundamentals of the atmosphere in both aren't in the other (Artemis Fowl, again, has the sci-fi crime thriller aspect and the main magical creatures being portrayed as superior to humans both socially and technologically; Buffy has the high school drama, Buffy's angst about being the Chosen One and the main characters' inexperience and need for adult guidance a lot of the time), and the plot and characters, as far as I can tell, are generally nothing alike.

I don't know about your other examples since I haven't read them, but they'd need to be a lot more similar to their alleged inspirations for them to honestly feel derivative.

I've often said that a work being original, or at least feeling original, is less about not having any ideas that have been seen before and more about putting them together in a fresh way with a healthy mix of new stuff. Because Star Wars is specifically put together as the archetypal hero's journey in space, of course a lot of works are going to play out something like the plot of Star Wars. However, even stories with the same core plot can be fresh by featuring different sorts of characters or a different setting, which is what Star Wars itself did: it took an archetypal story and set it in space. The problem with Eragon wasn't so much that the story had been done before, but that it was not made fresh: it's stereotypical characters in a completely generic high fantasy setting playing out the oldest plot in the history of fiction with little to no original twists on it, and to boot the writing is, well, what you'd expect from a nineteen-year-old first-time writer trying for something between Tolkien and Beowulf.

Mas Effect had, in my opinion, hands down the best story in a game I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure though, that if you look up the vast library of science fiction or fantasy, you can find something that revolves around an ancient evil (reapers) coming back from the dead (whatever part of space they went to) to reclaim what was rightfully theirs (destroy society as we know it).
If you take a story and simplify it enough, you can make it sound just like pretty much any other story. The Eragon/Star Wars comparison works because you can write a long, quite detailed plot summary of one that applies exactly to the other. Two works with a similar one-sentence plot basis, on the other hand, probably vary wildly in the details and execution of that plot and don't have to feel even vaguely alike when actually read both.
 

Araleon

Chill
While, I haven't read any Cassandra Claire, people tell me its good, and I've heard of her series.

For Artemis Fowl, what? i have no idea how you got Buffy the Vampire Slayer and C. S. Lewis out of it. i guess the normal people fighting supposed imaginary creatures wars are is a sort of similarity (bearing in mine I've only read the first four), but I never would have connected the two. And C.S. Lewis and Eoin Cofler's writing is nothing alike. Also, I've never flamed Eoin Cofler, and the only time someone's told me they didn't like his writing was a four year old who said "That's too hard."


Now, onto Eragon. I don't like Christopher Paolini's writing. I'm not going to be all like "It's a Star Wars rip-off!" because while I like the Star Wars series, I'm not an avid fan. I just don't like his writing style, it felt weak to me.
 

Caithyra

Well-Known Member
It isn't that they copied/repackaged ideas from other series. After all, pretty much all authors do that. It's the way they do it.

I haven't read the Inheritance Cycle, but from what I hear, it used to go pretty linear Fantasy Star Wars, as in, if Luke did A and then B, then Eragon does A and then B, and not in a good way. In my opinion from having tried to read the first chapter, it doesn't read that well either.

Cassandra did use her old Ron/Ginny Harry Potter fan fiction in her Mortal Instruments stories, on top of the giant kerfuffle of plagiarism that she did before (It didn't help that she was a Big Name Fan, a famous fan of Harry Potter who was named in several real life newspaper articles about Harry Potter and/or fan fiction, who got presents and money for it. She was essentially the face of fan fiction for a while, and then it turns out that all the good stuff that she'd written was either quoted word for word, or verbatim from some other source like Buffy and that book she lifted whole passages from. That gave fan fiction a bad image from the start).

Then we add that Paolini was hailed as the best Fantasy author since Tolkien and Rowling, yet his books were mediocre (possibly contributing to the rapid fall of classic Fantasy from the rise they had enjoyed from the LotR and Narnia movies), and that people made a big deal about his age while writing the first book (yeah, he might have been fifteen when he started, but probably not when he finished). Inheritance was all about sensational news coverage, and very little substance, which annoys a fair number of people.

Take Eddings as a comparison, their books never claim to do anything but entertain, to be the classic Fantasy story. They don't try to create the next fanbase to compete with Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Hence, criticisms aren't as vehement, because it is understood that the authors know exactly what they're doing.

And so, we have Paolini who incited the nerdrage of the biggest fanbases in the world, and Cassandra who pretty much did the same, and you realize why people aren't willing to let up on their criticisms. They did the equivalent of poking a sleeping, volatile dog and then the dog sprung up and bit them, and now when it has a good grip, it'll chew until satisfied that it wont be poked again.

But if Paolini and Cassandra didn't do it? Their books would have been a dime a dozen, left to rot on the shelves because they look like every other Classic/Urban Fantasy out there with predictable plots and average/purple prose. No one would really know their names, and they would be the Fantasy equivalent to trashy Romance books you can pick up from the dollar bin.

But they went incited nerdrage, and so they'll be picked apart until only atoms are left.
 

SilentMemento

Lone Wolf
I've never read any of Cassandra Clare's books, so I can't give an unbiased opinion about them.

However, I absolutely loathed Paolini's books for the reasons that Psychic stated. His characterization is absolutely atrocious. Even in movies/books/video games that I despise, I can usually find a good character who has potential. Sadly, there aren't any characters of his that have shown potential after the first book.

That's not even mentioning the plot itself. It seems like he doesn't want his precious Stu to go through any permanent hardships like the rest of us (ex. the "permanent" scar that was magically healed, the whole mess about who his father is, etc.) Oh, and he ruined the one good character that people could actually relate to.

This...trash should have never gotten published. Just my honest opinion.
 

Super_Nerd

Writer of Stuff
All in all, it read like a poor piece of fan fiction your typical reviewer would rip to shreds. For that reason, a lot of writers are pretty PO'd that such a mediocre writer got himself published while the rest of them have to work so much harder for their own writing to even get noticed.
As far as Eragon goes--this, for sure. I don't have delusions that I'm anything more than a mediocre writer, but I sure don't feel like Paolini is that much better.

He does have one thing going for him--namely churning those books out, while some of us (me) get totally distracted and forget about ours for months.
 

SerenadeSP

My Loyal Feraligatr
I've heard from several people that if you saw the Eragon movie that you would hate the book and vice versa, but I'm not sure how reliable that information is 'cause I've never read/seen it.

And I don't know much Cassandra Clare either but the point about her made me think - where is the line drawn between homage and plagiarism? I don't mean copying it word for word and slapping different names on it, cause that's obvious. I mean when a story has a shoutout to another story/song/movie/TV show/etc. that the author happens to like. When is it considered 'stolen'?
 

Psychic

Really and truly
On a random note, I'm just going to agree with Diddy about Mass Effect being awesome. And turns out Dave Wilkinson, the game's animation director, is really chill guy. /totally did not just spend a week talking about that game in class

He does have one thing going for him--namely churning those books out, while some of us (me) get totally distracted and forget about ours for months.
One really big thing Paolini had going for him was that parents own their own company through which he was able to publish his books. That must have helped quite a bit (whereas other writers will spend many years and receive plenty of rejections finding someone to publish them).


I don't know much Cassandra Clare either but the point about her made me think - where is the line drawn between homage and plagiarism? I don't mean copying it word for word and slapping different names on it, cause that's obvious. I mean when a story has a shoutout to another story/song/movie/TV show/etc. that the author happens to like. When is it considered 'stolen'?
Call me simple, but I'd say that giving credit would be a big part of it. It's essentially the difference between acknowledging "this person's ideas influenced my own" and saying "everything here is completely original by me."

It's the same thing in an essay you write. If you use someone else's ideas to back up your thesis, you need to include your source in your Works Cited. Without doing so, you are taking credit for having some up with ideas that may not be yours, even if you don't mean to. Intentional or not, however, it would still be considered plagiarism in academia.

That's not to say that it should be considered so in every situation. Sometimes you can have a sort of tip of the hat to an original source through a reference, and anyone who knows the source will understand the little homage. It's still a little difficult to make the distinction you bring up, but I would say that if the writer thanks the original creator in some way from the get-go, whether within the text or outside of it, they're in the clear. Personally, I'd be happy to give thanks to my inspirations in whatever way I possibly can. It's just a shame some people would rather try to claim the ideas they use as their own. XP

~Psychic
 

Dragonfree

Just me
I'm not sure everyone would agree, but I'd say it's homage when you make it expecting and hoping people will recognize where it's from and enjoy it because it's a reference, and plagiarism if you steal somebody else's thought/line/choreography simply because it's better than what you could've come up with.

For instance, there is a humourous Icelandic movie called Astrópía that contains an extended reference to The Shawshank Redemption by featuring a tongue-in-cheek prison break that happens largely the same way Andy Dufresne got out (but more ridiculous, such as by having a convenient clothed table instead of a poster covering up the hole and having every inmate in the prison shake gravel out of the legs of their pants at the same time). This is an homage because the whole point is that these scenes are ten times more hilarious if you recognize the reference - the joke is going to be mostly lost on the viewer if they think the writers of Astrópía just thought that up by themselves. There is no "these scenes were inspired by The Shawshank Redemption" in the credits, but the intent is clearly to give an affectionate nod to the movie to enhance the experience for those who have seen it, not to capitalize on its brilliance.

Cassandra Claire, on the other hand, was not doing this, even though she acknowledged that some parts were inspired by other fiction. "I will yank out your ribcage and wear it as a hat" is not amusing because you recognize that it's from Buffy; it's amusing because Joss Whedon's original line was amusing. She's simply using the fact that Joss Whedon wrote a good line to her advantage and nabbing that line to portray the same point in her own story. That's not homage; that's simply stealing lines. While it does help somewhat that she cited sources for her "inspiration", she didn't properly cite everything, and it's just a pretty low thing to do in general to the extent she did.
 
Sorry to post such a short and unfullfilled comment but I'm rather short of time.

I think one thing a lot of people who criticise series -such as the Inheritance Cycle- are overlooking is that every author takes inspiration from another, each person has a role model and you will often find their style of writing lean towards that of their idol. It's ridiculous to assume that just because one plot vaguely resembles another does not mean that that author is in fact plagiarising.
 

disclaimer065

Well-Known Member
I completely agree (to take it a step further, I personally tend to subconsciously emulate the writing style of the last thing I've read, regardless of whether or not I like it or the author), however you must realize that there is a major difference between slightly resembling and being almost word-for-word. The events in The Inheritance Cycle can accurately be mapped to the events in Star Wars, so much that if Luke does one thing, Eragon does relatively the same thing, as I believe someone has said already(just want to give due credit). That's much different than a slight resemblance of plot.
 

disclaimer065

Well-Known Member
I completely agree (to take it a step further, I personally tend to subconsciously emulate the writing style of the last thing I've read, regardless of whether or not I like it or the author), however you must realize that there is a major difference between slightly resembling and being almost word-for-word. The events in The Inheritance Cycle can accurately be mapped to the events in Star Wars, so much that if Luke does one thing, Eragon does relatively the same thing, as I believe someone has said already(just want to give due credit). That's much different than a slight resemblance of plot.
 

Dragonfree

Just me
Sorry to post such a short and unfullfilled comment but I'm rather short of time.

I think one thing a lot of people who criticise series -such as the Inheritance Cycle- are overlooking is that every author takes inspiration from another, each person has a role model and you will often find their style of writing lean towards that of their idol. It's ridiculous to assume that just because one plot vaguely resembles another does not mean that that author is in fact plagiarising.
It is, indeed, ridiculous to accuse Paolini of plagiarizing Star Wars' plot - I have no doubt that he wasn't sitting there looking through the script of the Star Wars movies, cackling and going "Ha! I will totally get away with stealing this plot!" However, that doesn't mean the plot is just fine and totally as original as the plot of any other book; it is still ridiculously derivative (of the exact same tropes that Star Wars compiled and set in space, in a manner that is amusing but probably mostly incidental).

I hate this tripe people keep bringing up about how "oh, no, but every author derives their plots from stuff they've seen before!" Of course there are tropes that crop up, and individual story elements that have happened in other stories, but that doesn't mean the plotline taken as a whole has to be even remotely similar to other stories featuring some of the same tropes or storyline elements.
 

SilverQuil

FireMohawk of DOOM
I think one thing a lot of people who criticise series -such as the Inheritance Cycle- are overlooking is that every author takes inspiration from another, each person has a role model and you will often find their style of writing lean towards that of their idol. It's ridiculous to assume that just because one plot vaguely resembles another does not mean that that author is in fact plagiarising.
Of course every author pays homage to or receives inspiration from something else. The problem occurs when the plot, characters or even place names bear a more than vauge resemblance to the "inspiration." From what I've read of The Inheritance Trilogy, I'd say the plot of the first book is a little too much like Star Wars and the character and place names are a little too much like Lord of the Rings. But the main issue I had with Eragon is that I'm not too fond of reading anything that's written worse than something I could write. I never finished it for that reason.

The difference between homage and copycatting is how much and how directly the author uses their inspiration. For example, there are aspects of Mass Effect (which I agree is teh awesome) that remind me of Star Wars or Star Trek, but there's enough completely original stuff for it to stand on its own. On the other hand, I can think of a couple of James Cameron films which bear stark resemblances to Disney movies - Titanic is a lot like Lady and the Tramp on a boat and Avatar is Pocahontas on another planet. But nobody watches James Cameron movies for good storytelling anyway; people watch Titanic for cheesy romance and Avatar for cool special effects.
 
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