Thursday, September 19, 2013

Originality and Tradition

I finished reading Eragon the other day and I decided to use it as the basis for a post on originality and genre tradition. (You can read my review here)

I read a lot of criticism about how the book supposedly rips off Star Wars or Tolkien or whatever. It's intense. The mods at Tvtropes had to lock the main page for The Inheritance Cycle due to flame wars about its originality or lack thereof.  I saw only superficial things that could have come from elsewhere.

1. Farm Boy that becomes a warrior
2. Raised by Uncle due to secret heritage.
3. Old mentor figures from the old order
4. Fallen order
5. Evil overlord traitor
6. Rescue a damsel in distress.

For each point I'll briefly explain the trope's appeal in the fantasy genre and widespread nature.

1. Farm Boy is a trope. 302 wicks
The first line on the page is "A staple of fantasy adventures" and indeed there is over three dozen entries on the page. Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are only two of those.  There's a reason for this.

Most fantasy settings takes place in a pre-industrial society and in a pre-industrial society some ninety percent of the population is rural and involved in some form of agriculture or animal husbandry. Thus, the vast majority of boys in this setting are going to be farm boys.  There are other reasons besides:
1. Farm boys are in good physical condition
2. Farm boys likely know how to hunt
3. Farm Boys can serve as an Audience Surrogate
For these reasons they are a good place for an author to start; talk about the world from their ground level view and drop a few chekhov's skills along the way.

Finally for this trope, it's just a starting point. Anything can happen to this farm boy after he gets the Call to Adventure. (Itself a trope with so many subtropes it's an index)

2. Secret Legacy is a trope with 225 wicks.
Again Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are only two of those and they have a different legacy. Ancestry and heritage are big deals and so a character learning that everything they have believed about themselves their whole lives is false turns their world upside down. Regardless of whether or not it's obvious to the reader it can be devastating for the character themselves. How they respond to it can vary from character to character and what the legacy itself is can vary.

3. Old Mentor is a trope with 245 wicks.
There are many mentor tropes and these two stories belong to the Mentor Archetype "A more experienced advisor or confidante to a young, inexperienced character". This did not begin with Star Wars and nor will it end with The Inheritance Cycle. In fact, it goes all the way back to one of the oldest stories we know: Odysseus entrusted his son to an old friend named "Mentor" which is where we get the word.

This has a basis in real life in the Master-Apprentice relationship. Back in the day it was the primary method to transmit trade skills across the generatioins. Naturally this is reflected in literature and why not? It's a good way to train and provide character development for younger characters.

4. The Order and Order Reborn  have 112 and 34 wicks respectively.
There are many such organizations of warriors in fiction and real life. One could say that both Star Wars and Inheritance Cycle are ripping off Arthurian Romance with its Knights of The Round Table. Both of them are different but they have the same general purpose and core. That's what makes them a trope. You even have one of them betraying the others and leading to the downfall of the whole Order.

An author can have both Doylist and Watsonian reasons for including an order of warriors. There's idea of safety in numbers, world building, character development, and the fact that Orders often have trappings like armor, creeds, and uniforms that make them look cool.

 5. Evil Overlord has 2,816 wicks

This high number is why TvTropes calls it "The archetypal High Fantasy and Science Fantasy (and sometimes Heroic Fantasy) villain. " People in Modern Age stories and Real Life are called this so comparing two stories based on this is grasping at straws. Going into all the ways that Galbatorix and Darth Vadar differ could be it's own blog post.

All stories need conflict and the villain is the primary means of creating conflict. For the fantasy genre, an evil overlord provides a target for the hero to bring down and a reason to venture into the Unknown World.

6. Damsel in Distress has over 6,000 wicks

The most unreasonable of them all and especially when compared to the two stories in question. Their jobs are different, their means of sending The Call are different, and the method of their rescue and its details are different. There is enough similarity and contrast that I could write a blog post about them.

I could go on but I believe I've made by point. TvTropes created The Tropeless Tale because no matter what you do, your story will contain tropes. Inevitably, someone will string enough together to call the story a rip off some other story.  In fact, I once read that Star Wars itself was criticized of ripping off Kirby's "New Gods" comics and Akira Kurosawa's film "The Hidden Fortress".  There's no shame in seeking inspiration from older stories. This is why genres exist; new storytellers continue the tradition of the old storytellers while adding their own imprint.

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