Jim Thompson said,
“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”
Which sounds a little extreme, maybe, but it actually works, you know, and it kind of gave me a sense of relief last night.
Let me tell you about it…
I stumbled on some comic book fans venting their disappointment at a recent Tim Burton movie featuring the ever gorgeous Eva Green. The cause of their irritation: the movie is set in a school for kids with special talents.
Which makes it obviously a rip-off of the X-men movies.
I actually saw the book from which the movie was taken – and while not featuring the delectable Ms Green, it did feature some beautiful, dark, slightly-creepy-but-fun photographs that reminded me of the work of Lewis Carrol as a photographer.
Then OK, it’s a childrens’ book1.
But a rip-off of the X-men?
Because there’s kids with powers in a school?
Then I guess this makes the Harry Potter stories a rip-off of the X-men too.
But this got me thinking.
Because really, the four servants of Baron Munchausen – endowed respectively with super-strength, ultra-keen vision and perfect aim, with ultra-powerful breath and voice, and with super-speed, do look now suspiciously like a rip-off of the X-men, especially considering that they are at the orders of an ultracompetent old man with a wonderful mind.
And what about Jason and the Argonauts?
Did they really rip-off the Justice League of America?
The crux of the problem is this ambivalent attitude the nerds have towards originality:
- If I like it it’s all right if it’s not original.
- If I don’t like it, the lack of originality is a mortal sin.
Couple this with a certain literal-mindedness that is The Curse of the Geeks, and what you get are rants about “two thirds of fiction being a rehash of Homer”.
All together now: SO WHAT?
Fact is, absolute originality might even be counter-productive, especially when you deal with popular fiction, where a different take on a well-tested concept can often be a winner.
Because we must give the readers what we want, but convince them it is actually what they want.
So, something used, something new, and all that.
- and of course you can label the plot and style “childish” but that’s sort of the way it should be, right? ↩