This Tuesday Cassandra Clare is set to release the next book in her Shadowhunters Novels. Her series is highly popular and is now on it’s third series inside this world. The previous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices were highly successful. The former has already inspired a movie (a really bad one) and a TV show (from what I’m told is actually not bad and is doing well in the ratings but I personally couldn’t get past the first 2 episodes). Unfortunately the release of Lady Midnight, the first book in The Dark Artifices series is under a little bit of a cloud. Sherrilyn Kenyon, the author of the Dark-Hunters series, is suing Clare for copying her ideas. Kenyon’s series was first published in 1998 and Clare’s in 2007. They both center around an elite set of supernatural warriors that defend the world against demons and other supernatural beings. Clare has of course denied it by saying she wasn’t influenced by Kenyon’s work. I have read all of Clare’s books but I haven’t read any of Kenyon’s Dark-Hunters books. I’ve read the Chronicles of Nick, which I love. Seriously, I can’t recommend it enough. The series is a YA spin-off of the Dark-Hunters series and has overlaps with her original series, with characters appearing in both. Are there similarities? Sure? Probably? I don’t think the idea of elite warriors who fight demons is new or original. So I’m not sure what the outcome is going to be but does it matter? Should I be concerned that Clare might have taken some ideas from Kenyon? It hasn’t changed my opinions of her books. They may have similarities but they are both very different in tone and style that they don’t feel the same. Actually, until this lawsuit I didn’t even occur to me that they were similar. Not the same way that drew comparisons between Julie Kagawa’s Talon series to Sophie Jordan’s Firelight series. I wouldn’t say that one copied another but they definitely pulled from the same ideas. I think this gets a little murkier is the fact that Clare has been accused for plagiarism before. During her fan fiction days, she was accused of adding quotes from TV shows and whole passages from an out-of-print book. There are whole debates about the ethics of fan-fiction. Some would argue that fan-fiction itself is a form of plagiarism. Needless to say this doesn’t help Clare’s cause but I don’t think it necessarily proves anything either because again, I think there is some ethical murkiness when it comes to fan-fiction. From what I’ve read, Fifty Shades of Grey is far closer to Twilight then Clare’s The Draco Trilogy was to Harry Potter but I can’t say for certain. So where does this leave me? I had already bought my copy of Lady Midnight before this came out so I will read it but my excitement towards it has lessened. As readers do we have a responsibility here or not? If so, what exactly is it? I’m kinda I’m curious to hear what others have think about this.
It’s a tough position to be in as a reader when a favorite author’s work comes under allegations, but ultimately I think it all comes down to whether or not you enjoy the work, which is entirely subjective. Unless the author is egregiously guilty (i.e. lifting entire passages, dialogue etc), it shouldn’t really ruin the way we interact with the art itself as fans. I could understand following the case to see how it all gets resolved, but ultimately if you enjoyed it, you enjoyed it and shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
It may be an interesting discussion to have to see just where the line is when it comes to having a work heavily influenced or inspired by another work just from the perspective of those of us interested in the craft. I remember Bob Dylan coming under similar allegations and in some cases the lyrics of his songs are either lifted or heavily inspired by other work going back to the iconic songs we know from the 60s to many of the songs from his 2001 album “Love and Theft” which is when the allegations became more serious. Growing up and getting into his music, there were certain lines in his songs that I always thought were brilliant and then when I went back and listened to older blues / folk recordings some of those exact lines were in those older records by people nobody’s ever heard of. Could it be that those lyrics were just culled from the same muse as the ones that inspired the earlier songs? Sure. Could it be that maybe he heard those same songs and certain phrases stuck with him on a subconscious level? Maybe. Or is that he purposely decided to take his favorite parts of these songs and re-imagine them to suit his own artistry? Probably a little bit of all those options. Does that make him a plagiarist? To some it might, but I don’t think so.
It may be a cliche but I really think its true when they say that “good artist copy, great artist steal.” Obviously lifting someone’s work and publishing it as your own is wrong on every ethical level, but when it comes to works that are “inspired by” or “influenced by” other works, I think it’s a grey area. The question should be whether the derivative work stands on its own merit as a work of its own.
As for fan fiction, I don’t see any issue with it apart from the legality of it. It’s basically just using established characters and telling an original story. It falls under the category of an unlicensed work and the author of the fan fiction shouldn’t be able to make money on it without being subject to civil liabilities but in most cases I think fan fiction isn’t something that the writers profit from. I could be wrong though.
There’s also something to be said for the unique way authors craft a story. Obviously for me, the best example I could think of is Ian Fleming’s Thunderball novel. He took a concept that had been developed from a screenplay that he collaborated on with other people and published the novel under his own name without crediting those who he lifted the plot of the novel from. The plot, however, is only a small part of what comprises a novel. Someone could steal a plot and there ethical implications to that, but the plot itself is nothing without exposition, character, word choices, description, and dialogue. If a book is written well, our journey with that book as a reader is a lot more than just consuming the plot. It’s about all the choices the writer makes to enrich the world that the plot takes in as well as the characters.
There’s a lot to consider about this topic other than whether or not one author took a plot or a concept from another work. It’s also about the choices writers make about their craft and whether or not certain ethical lines are crossed, but first those lines must be defined before passing judgement.
I had no idea about Bob Dylan. That’s so interesting. I’ve been doing so more thinking and I’m not sure if what is going on between Clare and Kenyon is really copying but more they are pulling from the same mythology. So of course is there are going to be similarities. How many vampire books have I read and thought, so and so did something like that with their books but never thought one plagiarised the other then why this. I’ve enjoyed Clare’s book but not so much her last couple of books. Before all of this this book was sort of the test to see if I was going to continue on with her. Give her another chance with a mostly new set of characters. I guess that’s still true. I’m wondering if this is sort of a selfish question and what it says about me. That I enjoy a work that was stolen from someone else but maybe I’m also being too harsh on myself now.
I’m still going to read Lady Midnight and knowing about the law suit and the accusal of plagiarism hasn’t lessened my anticipation for LM. If you think about it, none of the stories are original anymore.
Lord of the Rings and HP have enough (coincidental) similarities to prove that. Again with HP and The Magisterium series…
What I’m trying to say is that it will never stop me from liking something. If Cassie indeed plagiarized the series I would still read her Shadowhunter books and maybe even the Dark Hunters books to compare and see for myself.
That’s good point. There are similarities between those stories. They all pull from the same mythologies so it doesn’t necessarily mean that one stole from another they are just using the same resources. I’m still going to read Lady Midnight and I guess wait and see what happens next. I’ve been wanting to read the Dark-Hunters since I’ve read the spin off series Chronicles of Nick but I think I really have to read them now.
Pingback: Reality is Stranger than Fiction | 2 Women, So Many Books