Several years ago a friend sent me a GIF of independent film director, Jim Jarmusch's 'Golden Rules'. The fifth rule states right at the beginning, 'Nothing Is Original'. The manifesto ends quoting Jean-Luc Godard 'It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to'.
Now granted, while the vast, vast majority of people who copy and paste and slop around other people’s copies, DO NOT TAKE THEM ANYWHERE ELSE, other than where they’ve already been. They are not only thieves. They are the kinds of thieves who don’t just break in and steal, but vandalize everything, terrorize everyone inside, piss on the floor and say, well, you know, nothing is original.
The New York Times interviewed J.K. Rowling recently and they asked her “Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with?' and within her response she said 'I don’t read “chick lit,” fantasy or science fiction'
This might have left some scratching their head, I'm not bothered by this. I don't think that every creator needs to be steeped in his or her genre.
Fresh eyes run the risk of repeating something that seems novel but has been done a million times, but they also have the potential to produce something untainted by tried genre standards.
The whole boy rises from obscurity to become legend is a pretty well worn trope. There's a lot more to a story than it's tropes. Everything is the same bits remixed with some new bobs and presented in a new way. Joseph Campbell's heroes journey could describe any adventure story you want to name. Honestly, when was the last time anyone actually revolutionized any genre? All science and art is derivative, we all create based on what we know, based on what came before us.
If you learn in a vacuum, don't surprised when you find out your "revolutionary" ideas were actually thought up by someone else decades ago, and examined, deconstructed, and reconstructed by dozens of others since.
In some ways it might be better that she wasn't influenced by other fantasy authors. That fact may have made her stories more accessibly to the masses as opposed to genre fans. My best creative sparks have come from non-sci fi, fantastical sources.
I will be participating in the annual November novel writing project that is Nanowrimo. For more info go here:
My goal is to finish the 50,000 words (This is my 3rd time doing it, I have never reached 50K). I'm writing a 'supernatural science fiction psychological thriller'. If this is a specific prototype, then I don't know what ideas have been laughed out of the genre. I'm just trying to tell a good story about interesting characters.
Any avid fantasy reader thinking of writing their own book might have balked at pursuing the 'Harry Potter' idea when it first bubbled up in their mind. Reduced to a brief synopsis it's not particularly original or clever or interesting. And so she might have discarded it for reasons based on that knowledge. That she didn't means the world got a simple and engaging series of books that has encouraged a lot of kids to read.
At the end of the day, I don't think it matters: Rowling hit on something that worked, so good for her. Sometimes it takes an observant outsider to lend a fresh perspective to a subject or genre and the blurring and bending of the lines around it.