Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on Originality

I seem to be having rather a lot of conversations about plagiarism and original thought lately. Sometimes the universe just seems to want you to consider a certain topic.

Then, in the wake of all these conversations, I picked up Eloisa James's When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I knew I was going to love it (as I do all her books) and I'd actually recommended it for an impromptu Twitter book club @JamieWesley and I did. Little did I suspect what the most thought-bender-provoking element of the book would be for me.


For the record, it's an excellent book and my reading experience was one of pure delight, but the thing that really sticks with me about it was the fact that the hero was Gregory House. Not just similar, but as if the man himself had been dropped into it. A brilliant, misanthropic diagnostician with a permanently damaged leg (suspected to be due to muscle death no less) which causes constant pain and requires the aid of a cane. He has the familiar side-kicks - Sebastian certainly has echoes of Wilson, though his specialty is surgery rather than cancer. He has a keen awareness to a susceptibility to a substance abuse problem. He roughly berates his students and underlings and makes jokes at the expense of his patients as he saves their lives. He is House.

It was done not just intentionally, but blatantly - so the reader can't avoid the comparison if she is familiar with the television show. I'd be curious to know why. What motivated Eloisa James (an undeniable goddess of romance writing) to take this step that almost seems to veer in a mildly fan-fiction direction? When does an homage become something else?

I enjoyed the book thoroughly. The banter between the House-esq Piers and his beauty was brilliant, but while the dialogue was all unique and brilliantly EJ, the sentiment behind those lines was so frequently an echo of the Fox series. It was... I'm honestly not sure what I want to say it was. I love what she has constructed, and the book itself is so unique it is hard to think of it as derivative, but the character is borrowed.

There is a nod to it in the author's note, to all her sources and references, but this seemed more than source material to me. I'm honestly not sure what I think about it. My inclination is positive - but is that only because I enjoyed the book so much? And had I known this was going to be the case before I read the book, would I have approached it with a more jaundiced eye? If this had not been a historical romance, but a contemporary doctor, would I have reacted more negatively? Would the similarity of era made it seem like a cop out rather than a fascinating choice?

Ideas are not copyright protected and I am of the opinion that truly original ideas pretty much don't exist. Current writing is based on a foundation of centuries of literature and I'd say it is unlikely there is a thought that has not been thought by someone somewhere in the millennial history of art.

I love all the adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Pride & Prejudice. I love the refreshing of a classic with a new twist.

I also love satire. I'm currently writing something with shades of satire and it's like a game, to draw the reader into my references. I write with many references and allusions, but the idea is to sort of point the reader to our shared cultural knowledge, rather than to draw directly from it. This character, while brilliant, felt slightly... lifted.

The House question has me... puzzled.

Have you read the book? Your thoughts?


karynm5 said...

Call me a crazy nut, but House can be considered "intellectual property" and the author can be sued for shares of the profits from the book. It would've been safer to just rework the character so that legal action could not be taken.

Vivi Andrews said...

I'm honestly not sure how close it has to be to be a sue-able offense. I'm sure Ms. James and her publisher would have taken the necessary precautions to make him different enough.