Fantasy Writers Are a Bunch of Plagiarists, and That’s Great

I love stories – the heroic ones. It may not be cool in this day and age to not enjoy the avant garde stuff where the protagonists end up abandoning all of their ideals and turning to heroin, but I’ll stick with my high fantasy stories. Thank you very much.

After a recent string of encounters with fantasy writers for screen and page, I’ve started to notice some interesting trends.

I don’t think I’ve encountered a high fantasy story cycle yet that hasn’t “stolen” from Arthurian legend, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, J.R.R. Tolkien, Norse mythology or values, AND some form of Eastern mysticism, all at the same time.

“Plagiarism” in fantasy is often blatant. Authors slightly modify names but take ideas from one another all the time.

  • Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” probably borrowed the character Gurgi from Tolkien’s Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis later stole his film portrayal of Smeagol from Gurgi).
  • George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” probably borrowed part of the concept for Daenarys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons) from Robert Jordan’s Rand al’Thor (The Dragon Reborn).
  • Orcs. Everyone has pretty much stolen orcs at this point.

If you’ve ever enjoyed fantasy stories, you’re nodding your head right now.

The entire fantasy genre is closest to the oral storytelling tradition in its tendency to borrow, iterate, and retell. It’s known for constantly and predictably using the same story arc and cultural elements.

But you know what? It’s made richer instead of poorer because of that.

I take three things away from this:

1) Fantasy is just another example of how great artists steal and how “remix culture” makes us all better off.

2) Originality usually happens on the edges rather than in the center of a story.

3) If you’ve wanted to create something, don’t wait for a completely new idea to fall out of heaven. The muses have already given you everything you need to work with.

If you haven’t seen this remixing at work in the real world yet, I highly recommend that you check out the video series “Everything is a Remix.” You’ll start to see this “beautiful plagiarism” all around you and know how to spot the good from the bad.

It might just make you more creative.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

Comments 1

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.