Category Archives: Literature

Creative Theft: 3 Great Writers Who Stole Their Best Ideas

It’s vital that all authors find their own voice and strive toward a creative approach to their story. However, it’s also a little ridiculous to believe that all works of fiction must be entirely new and original. For instance, I grew a little nervous when a friend compared the magic system in my book to alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist. But then, after considering historical precedent, I relaxed. After all, many of the great storytelling franchises relied heavily on past works. Here are three:

Screencapture - Fullmetal Alchemist (2003, directed by Seiji Mizushima

Screencapture – Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), directed by Seiji Mizushima

 

The Works of William Shakespeare
Assuming you believe Shakespeare existed (If you don’t, keep that opinion to yourself. This is a bard-friendly blog.), you are probably familiar with the fact that he did “borrow” the plots of most of his plays from other writers. One of those writers would be Geoffrey Chaucer. Like Shakespeare, Chaucer also borrowed many of his plots from other writers, including an Italian poet called Giovanni Boccaccio. A good example of this borrowing can be seen in Shakespeare’s play, Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare’s plot was heavily influenced by that of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, which itself was influenced by Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato. So, even the great writers of history have stolen from each other from time to time.

Boccaccio

Engraved portrait of Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen (1758-1833) after Vincenzo Gozzini and dated 1822 (Source: Wikipedia)

 

The Lord of the Rings
Sometimes seen as the father of high fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien is much loved and respected by readers the world over. I, too, love Tolkien; The Hobbit was one of the very first chapter books I ever read. It’s also well known that Tolkien based much of his world building on pre-existing cultures on Earth. Mythology too played a huge influence on Tolkien’s writing, a good example of which is displayed in Tolkien’s favorite plot device, The One Ring. Tolkien based his ring heavily off of Plato’s Ring of Gyges, a mythical artifact that turned the wearer invisible. Furthermore, the Ring of Gyges sparks a debate in Plato’s works between Socrates and another; they argue over whether that power would always be taken advantage of by the wearer, or if a just person could withstand it and resist his base desires. It’s pretty easy to see the link between the corruption of the Ring of Gyges and that of The One Ring; the biggest difference is that no one can resist The One Ring forever.

Plato

The School of Athens (detail of Plato). Fresco, Stanza della Segnatura, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. (Source: Wikipedia)

Star Wars
A cultural touchstone in its own right, many modern works owe a great deal to the Star Wars franchise. However, like the previously mentioned franchises, Star Wars owes much to other works. What resonates most with many fans of the original films was the blending of familiar elements (plots structures, character types) with futuristic settings. George Lucas pulled those familiar elements from mythology from around the world. For Luke’s journey in particular, Lucas relied heavily on the works of Joseph Campbell. And, lest I forget, I feel I should also mention the Japanese film The Hidden Fortress, directed by Akira Kurosawa. This film is told primarily from the perspective of two bickering peasants (not so different from C-3P0 and R2-D2), and also features a battle-hardened warrior (like Obi Wan Kenobi) and a rebellion-leading princess (like Princess Leia).

While I want my books to feel fresh and original, I also have to be aware that borrowing from other works is not a sin. I do feel, though, that I should be aware of my influences. One thing I do admire about George Lucas is that he has never shied away from giving credit to his influences. If nothing else, it’s a good way to introduce younger audiences to time-tested works.

How do you guys feel about borrowing from works? Should it be frowned on, or celebrated? Is there a line between the two, and when have you seen it crossed?

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3 Book Adaptations that Actually Rock

I’m sure I’m not the only reader who has felt betrayed by a bad movie or TV adaptation of a favorite book (The SyFy Earthsea miniseries comes to mind). However, there are many adaptations of books that actually do a stand-up job. For me, there are three that come to mind immediately. They work for me because they feel loyal to the spirit of the books they seek to portray, even if they take a few liberties with the text.

Sense and Sensibility (1995), Ang Lee, Columbia Pictures

Elinor. Sense and Sensibility (1995), Columbia Pictures

Elinor. Sense and Sensibility (1995), Columbia Pictures

This adaptation is a winner because of the strong focus on the relationship between sisters Marianne and Elinor (played by Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson, respectively). The love these two have for each other, even in the midst of fairly dire circumstances for their time period, is really moving. One scene in particular, where Marianne lies in an unconscious stupor on her sick-bed and Elinor begs her to live, is particularly moving. It’s not in the book, but I think it’s a natural fit for the story’s tone and these two characters. That’s not to say the adaptation is perfect. Hugh Grant does a pretty poor job as Edward Ferrars. Also, there are a few notable changes from the text (as mentioned above). But, as I said, the filmmakers (particularly Ang Lee and Emma Thompson) seemed to understand the spirit of the text.

Jane Eyre (2006), Susanna White, BBC One

Jane Eyre

Jane, Jane Eyre (2006), BBC One

An adaptation of Jane Eyre has been made at least every decade for the last fifty years. For the most part, I feel most of these adaptations fall short of the story’s complex themes and characters. In truth, it’s not an easy story to adapt for a wide audience: A teenage girl goes to live in the house of a dark broody man, falls in love with said man, and drama ensues. However, for me, the BBC One mini series does a really good job of embracing this complex story. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that this relationship, at least at the story’s start, is problematic. And it does a very good job of conveying the passion and sensuality of this Victorian romance that today’s audience might miss. Overall, when I want to watch one of my favorite stories, I turn to this adaptation.

North and South (2004), Brian Percival, BBC One

North and South_Capture

Margaret, North and South (2004), BBC One

An immense saga of a story, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is a Victorian novel most students tend to miss. It’s far too long to be covered well in most undergraduate courses, let alone high school. However, it’s a truly lovely book filled with complex, fleshed-out characters and themes. It’s also a great picture of England during the Industrial Revolution. With a book such as this, it would seem hard to create a satisfying adaptation. However, the 2004 BBC One miniseries did a great job. Yes, like the book, it’s long. But the extra time is needed to give credit to this lush story of a woman attaining her adulthood. Also, it superbly casted; Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage steam up the screen with fantastic chemistry. If you watch one of the adaptations I mention in this post, watch this one.

No doubt you’ve noticed that all of the adaptations on this list are period dramas. Well, I happen to think the makers of period dramas do a superior job in the adaptations category. However, I might come back to this topic and do a second post, possibly focusing on another genre.

So, what do you guys think? Do you have any favored adaptations? Or do you shy away from them altogether?

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3 Tips for Building Your Reading List

Hi everyone! I’m back. At last we’re moved in and I’ve made it through my first week at my new job. It’s a very exciting time for me and my husband. It’s also a very busy time; with all the new happenings, I’ve barely had any time to read! I’ve decided that this cannot stand, so I’m starting a new reading list to help me stay organized. Reading lists aren’t inherently difficult or complicated. But, thanks to trial and error and the suggestions of a few friends, I’ve come up with a few tips that make my list so much more useful.

Reading List

My current work-in-progress reading list

 

List Title and Author
One of the many reasons I keep a reading list is to help me find the books I want in stores, particularly used book stores. Many times I’ve walked in with a book title in my head only to find myself lost because I can’t remember the author’s name. Occasionally, I’ve been recommended an author by a friend, don’t have the book title on hand, and have to guess on a whim what title I will read. Of course, sometimes solving these conundrums is as easy as finding a knowledgeable store clerk with a computer. However, book stores can be busy (I’m looking at you, Powell’s), and sometimes a knowledgeable clerk is hard to find. For me, it’s best to save myself trouble later on and make sure I keep both author name and book title on my list.

Organize by Category
I owe this tip to my friend Anne. There are many ways to organize a reading list, some more helpful than others. I’m organizing mine by genres and subgenres, starting off with a split between fiction, non-fiction, and YA, and working down from there. But, as long as your categories work for you, organize in whatever way that you please. Organizing by category is helpful for a few reasons: 1) it helps you decide what to read next (e.g., your last book was a fantasy novel, so maybe you want a non-fiction memoir), 2) it helps you locate the book in a bookstore, 3) you get to impress all your friends with how organized your reading list is.

Keep a Copy with You
If you’re going to go to all this trouble to make a nice reading list, it makes sense to use it to help you locate your next reading adventure. In this age of smart phones and tablets, it’s not even that difficult. Just make sure you keep a copy in your email, cloud drive, or on whatever notes feature your phone/tablet uses. If you’re old school and prefer using a hard copy list, I suggest typing your list in columns in a Word document or spreadsheet. That way, after you print it, you can fold it in such a way to fit in your wallet while still allowing you read the book title and author. Also, you’ll want to keep a pen or pencil handy so you can put a check mark next to books you find or are finished reading. Then, periodically update your electronic list and print off a fresh page.

Do you guys make reading lists? If so, do you have any useful tips to share?

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My Favorite Poems

I love poetry, in all its forms. And guess what? April is National Poetry month. So, in celebration of this great art form, here are my favorite poems. My normal gig for listing my favorite things often includes my reasoning for each. However, I think I’ll withhold my analysis this week and just provide a simple list. For me, my experience of poetry is intimate and personal and sometimes it’s impossible to explain why I connect with a particular piece.

“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” – Walt Whitman, “The Song of Myself”

 

Dulce et Decorum Est“, Wilfred Owen

Song of Myself“, Walt Whitman (read aloud here)

Ornithography“, Billy Collins

The Weary Blues“, Langston Hughes

Daddy“, Sylvia Plath

Early in the Morning“, Li-Young Lee

DSCN1023

A pretty flower in Germany.


As an extra present, here’s a link to 10 British poems being read aloud. They aren’t my favorite poems, but, for me, hearing poetry aloud is a true delight.

Do you guys have any favorite poems?

 

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Three Book Recommendations for a New Year

Recently, a friend asked me if I had any good book recommendations. My brain started to shut down as I was left to wonder: “Books? What are books? Can I read? I have no idea.”

So, now that I have the time, and I’m not in “deer in headlights” mode, I happily offer the following three book recommendations to said friend and anyone else.

Contemporary Fiction: Americanah

americanahAmericanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a gorgeous story about two young people, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they journey away from their homeland (Nigeria) and each other. The story, told in limited third person perspective, switches between both character’s lives as they fall in love, grow frustrated with their country’s economic problems, and seek to find better choices in foreign lands. The book then follows them back to Nigeria as they look at their old home with new perspectives.

This book is really honest about a lot of things, sometimes brutally so. Race is a big topic, especially comparing the American understanding of race and how that differs from the UK and Nigeria. The characters also struggle with the concepts surrounding immigration, mental health, love, friendship, personal growth, and politics. However, while honest, the book never strays away from offering something to be learned about these difficult topics. I haven’t read anything like this book before, which makes me want to recommend it all the more.

Fantasy: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Untitled-14
If you haven’t read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, may I humbly suggest you do, even if only to lead up to my actual recommendation, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. However, while it’s predecessors do provide some context and background information, The Slow Regard of Silent Things can be read on its own.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not a long read, clocking in at a whopping 150 pages. However, it’s a wonderful book that almost feels more like poetry than prose. This is the story of Auri, her daily life, and how she sees the world. She’s a little broken and a little sad. She’s also fierce and filled with a deeply held belief on how the world should work. Rothfuss wrote her with a loving sort of tenderness that makes me admire him immensely. I will warn you that there’s no dialog in this book, and one of the most engaging scenes surrounds the process of soap making. However, I hope this only peaks your interest, because books like this don’t get published very often.

Literature: Moby Dick

mobydick
Moby Dick by Herman Melville is my favorite book in the whole world, and you should read it.

It’s hard to actually describe what Moby Dick is about. At one point, it’s about the whaling industry. In another, it’s about the friendship between an American white man and a Mauri from New Zealand who may or may not be a cannibal. There’s also a man named Ahab who happens to be obsessed with a whale, and a whale who is vaguely indifferent to that tiny human’s obsession. There’s a lot about whales in general.  There are chapters of encyclopedia-like entries of whale types and biology.

This book is long and it’s not tightly structured. The story meanders here and there, sometimes forgetting all about what is probably the main plot. The chapters are named silly things like “Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him”, “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales”, and “Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes.” However, I will say this: I felt more while reading this book than I think I have from reading any other book in my life. It made me shout out loud in joy. It made me cry. It made me passionately invested in the lives of sailors with ridiculous names like Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and Queequeg. After reading this book, I felt hope for the future of humanity. I should probably write a post about just this one book. I’ll finish by saying Moby Dick is brilliant and is most likely the best book written in the English language.

So, do you guys have any book recommendations for me? I always like to add more books to my reading list.

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Four Great Female Friendships From Classic Literature

Literature is full of great, timeless friendships. Currently, however, there is a scarcity of really great female friendships circulating publishing these days, especially YA. This is sad, because with all the great heroines we’re getting, it seems a massive oversight. Look at The Fault in Our Stars, a great YA book with a female heroine and no important female friendship of note. Or, even consider The Hunger Games. Again, there is a strong female character, but Katniss’s most important female friendship is with her little sister (who she sees almost as a daughter to be protected).

I’m so interested by female friendships because I see them as a key cornerstone in establishing more diverse books. If a story’s heroine has a solid relationship with her female friend, it also goes to say that the book has more than one female character. Also, the great friendships show that a woman can draw strength from her relationships without having to relate through a man.

So, to remind the world that lady friendships can rock in works of fiction, here are my four favorite female friendships from classic British Literature*.

Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The relationship between main character Elizabeth Bennet and her friend Charlotte Lucas offers a great example of a female friendship. Both women depend on the other for emotional support. Even though Pride and Prejudice is seen as a great romance novel, Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is not defined or motivated by either one’s relationship to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, or any other man. Another reason Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is so great is because it’s not even intrinsic to the plot. I feel a lot of writers worry that if they invest too much into a pair of characters’ relationship to one another, it’ll overshadow another relationship. However, with Lizzy and Charlotte we see a natural, important female friendship that does not overshadow any other aspect of the book. Another bonus to Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth is really good friends with her sister Jane as well. So, we not only have one great female friendship, we have two!

Lizzy and Charlotte

Besties through and through

 

Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first read Jane Eyre  at a point in my life when I still enjoyed reading romance, and petulant, Byronic male love interests were my favorite. However, if we look at the tragically short relationship between school-aged Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns, we see a beautiful female friendship. What I love most about Helen and Jane’s relationship is how much Jane grows from it. Jane has a hard upbringing, but from Helen she learns not just kindness, but also how to deal with the idea of people not liking her through no fault of her own. This is a hard life lesson, but a genuine one that Jane carries with her for the rest of her life. 

Beatrice and Hero: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Cousins, Beatrice and Hero are an example of how even relatives can become great friends. Beatrice teases Hero about her affections for Claudio, and Hero schemes to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Their affection for one another is genuine and free of petty jealousies and rivalries. In fact, when Claudio accuses Hero of being *ahem* not a maiden and breaks off their engagement, Beatrice storms into one of my favorite lines in the play:

Is [Claudio] not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slander’d, scorn’d, dishonour’d my kins-
woman?–O that I were a man!–What, bear her
in hand until they come to take hands; and then,
with public accusation, uncover’d slander, un-
mitigated rancour,–O God, that I were a man! I
would eat his heart in the market-place.

You read right folks. Beatrice just threatened to eat the heart of the man who scorned her best friend. It’s just so awesome. There’s so much solidarity between Beatrice and Hero.

beaucoup de bruit pour rien

“Touch my cousin and I’ll cut you like a fish!”

 

Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s a passion and uniqueness to Clarissa and Sally’s relationship. Clarissa loves Sally’s lack of inhibition and frankness. Clarissa even recounts Sally kissing her in the garden to relay an element of sexual tension in their relationship. What I love most about Clarissa and Sally’s relationship is how it spans years. It does not end with Clarissa’s youth, but continues on into their adulthood. Also, even though Clarissa and Sally have not seen each other for some time, when Sally arrives at a party Clarissa throws she still clearly considers Clarissa a very close friend.

 

So, what are your favorite female friendships? Can you think of any great friendships from modern literature, film, or television?

*I studied mostly British literature in college; hence, my favorites are all from British literature.

 

 

 

 

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