East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Things are not what they seem


Jim Thompson said,

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”

901b0c53655174228f0d3537ff46948c--bond-girl-mont-blancWhich 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.
Sarcasm ensues.
But… really?

missperegrine_334x518I 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.

  1. and of course you can label the plot and style “childish” but that’s sort of the way it should be, right? 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Things are not what they seem

  1. Baron Munchausen! I haven’t thought about that flick in ages! Oh I’ve just got to watch it again now!!


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