Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lawsuits and Looneytunes: DEFCON 1

Dear EA:
I have become distressed by the frivolous lawsuits brought against J.K. Rowling (as well as Stephanie Meyer) whose only crime appears to be enjoying unprecedented success.
It's not a crime to be rich; it's not a crime to be famous. But if you're both, you will be punished for it by the crazy public. Happily, millions of dollars can buy a lot of lawyers and rottweilers.
When I read that the estate of Adrian Jacobs was suing J.K. Rowling and her publisher for 500 million pounds, I thought it was a joke. And yet blogs and forums abound with readers who have compared Harry Potter with Willie the Wizard and declared J.K. Rowling guilty of plagiarism. Fewer people are speaking in her defense.
I think most reasonable people who heard that yet another person was suing Rowling for plagiarism simply rolled their eyes and reflected on the downsides of being a billionaire.
Willie the Wizard’s claim to a piece of the Harry Potter empire is ridiculous and an insult to any writer who has ever put in the countless hours of crafting a novel instead of grabbing their fifteen minutes of fame in a frivolous lawsuit.
So what I would like to know is why are so many people taking this lawsuit seriously? Why aren’t more people speaking out against it? And how can we as writers protect ourselves against such lawsuits in the future?
I haven't been following this situation at all, so I don't know who's taking it seriously (are they nutjobs?) or why (because they're nutjobs?). If you'd like to clarify in the comments, please do.

One of the lessons of working retail or waiting tables or reading the slush or being a bestselling author or in any way coming in contact with a wide range of the public is this: there are CRAZY people out there. Freelance wackos. Earnestly delusional lunatics. Vicious looneys.
Sure, there are plenty of just mildly wacky yahoos, and sometimes they're even published authors. But you want to be careful about the public at large and how much of their attention you draw, because this kind of flagrant money-grubbing can be the result.

The good news is the vast majority of authors never draw this kind of attention, because the vast majority of authors never make millions of dollars.

The bad news is that you'll never know the pleasure of setting the dogs on the idiots rooting through your garbage.

______________________________________
Addendum:
Oh, good lord. Here's some of the text from Willy the Wizard. The idea that ANYONE would have plagiarized a work like this is CRIMINALLY INSANE.


Willy sat in Ali Baba’s chair and was frequenctized into vision acute, now receiving clarity waves from the Ruby Tower.
—-
Kentucky set the scene for the polo feast. A green green carpet appeared like a field in the sky, and the audience was enthralled as the mini polo ponies careered back and forth with their Jockies at breakneck velocity around the entire carpet lawn. … Duke plied them with the local coconut juice which spiced and blended with Bay pineapple juice, caressed their lovely day.
—-
In Willy’s laboratory, Wizard Cricket demonstrated how a mixture’ of grounded nicket paste and paleberry juice applied gently on the eyebrows of an Aussie guinea pig would bring a marked change of appearance. Willy suffered the mixture and clumsily knocked the contents of the texture into the berry juice paste and ! The guinea pig became a winking wongo - a wonderful little chap, a cousin to the Dutch Tree Squirrels.
—-
It was specially intimate between them and had provoked some envy as its sweet success for silent discourse. Sitting in the cove, Willy sniffed deeply and drew into his mind Breathair Oxy-Zone. He had been taught the trick by Master Wizard Onlywheness who had been blessed by Guardian Saint Lovely Lucinda. Onlywheness had shown Willy how to breathe and on outward breath to sound silent messages. It was a question of nose muscle control and delicate lacquering of the air with thought pellets. Willy concentrated hard. He was rusty for he hadn’t drawn on this secret power for decades but his patience was prized…


Thanks to JES for the link.

74 comments:

Christi Goddard said...

I have read about this case, and I do not think the allegations are founded. There are similarities between the stories, but there are similarities in a lot of stories. Ideas are not subject to copyright, only the media they are expressed in.

Sarah Laurenson said...

If they're bringing this lawsuit in the UK, that would be interesting. I was told, a long time ago, that the loser of civil lawsuits there pays for both sets of lawyers. Hope it's true.

catdownunder said...

Not necessarily Sarah. There can be a 'no order as to costs' - which usually means that each party pays their own. The judge may also divide the costs according to the ability to pay.
However, if the judge thinks the case is frivolous and a waste of court time then you can be pretty certain that the complainant is going to find themselves with a hefty bill to pay.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I'm an author, and I think this is crazy.

You can't copyright an idea. All the reports I have seen are about similarities of ideas in one book about wizards and another. I have seen no claim of word-for-word passages of phrases.

As an author, I try so very hard to come up with original ideas for my books. But I am also a realist, and understand that in a world of six billion people, some of us are going to come up with similar ideas. It's coincidence, not copyright.

zz said...

I feel sorry for JK and then I think she's probably dabbing the tears with €100 notes, she'll be alright!

Kate said...

Willie seems to be getting himself a lot of press. There are less effective ways to publicize your book. Besides, sometimes the little guy isn't crazy after all. Sometimes he's just little. And sometimes he's you.

Claire Dawn said...

I just saw something like this with American Idol's Gen. Larry Platt and Pants on the Ground. The similarity? The word "Pants on the ground" and the idea that young people don't dress well.

And I thought to myself well they should sue all senior citizens, cuz don't they all talk that way?

JES said...

There's an excellent vivisection of the lawsuit on Teresa Nielsen Haydens's Making Light blog. Much truth there about publishing, which no doubt will strike many would-be filers of similar lawsuits as "news."

Meg Spencer said...

I think another reason why a fair number of people tend to believe these kinds of things is that people like to see successful people fail. It's one of those ugly things about humanity that seems to pop up over and over again - we just love stopping to look at the train wreck. Makes me sad.

Beth said...

... That's the content of the Willie the Wizard book? Seriously? That looks like something run back and forth through Babelfish five times. Good grief.

I admit, when I see book being released that seems similar to my own project, I do worry. I don't want them to think I'm copying them, even if my novel has been in development for two years.

However, if someone is sue-happy, they don't need real evidence. They'll do it because they can. J.K. Rowling happens to be a lucrative target.

Anonymous said...

It's making my eyes hurt. Please take it down or I'll sue.

;)

Kate said...

I guess the guy is dead and I don't like to be mean, but that is astonishingly bad writing.

Diana Murray said...

OMG! Wow!

I agree with Anon. Painful to read!

Melinda said...

I had a headache after three paragraphs - I'm more disturbed that that ever might have been published in the first place

Elise said...

I can write a book about a boy wizard who goes to a special boarding school and fights evil as one of his extra-circulars. So can you. Would it be similar to HP, yes, but the idea of wizards, or boarding schools or evil isn't unique to JK Rowling. What is unique are the characters, with their back stories paired with their dialogue on their adventures written in JK's words. I've never heard of Willie the Wizard, but from the excerpts it's very clear these are just 2 books with similar themes. I'm sure if we brainstormed we could come up with dozens of books with similarities.

Wendie O said...

Oh, for heaven's sake. That's awful writing. (was it self-published?)
There are other books about Wizard colleges that are much better written (Wizard Hall by Jane Yolen, anyone?) and those authors aren't suing.

Thanks for letting us see how ridiculous this is.
-wendieO

icepicky.com said...

Wow. Somebody needs to lighten up on the local coconut juice. Have a lovely day.

Liesl said...

This has got to be a publicity stunt, a ploy to sell more books. Sadly, it probably had the desired effect.

David L. McAfee said...

Wow. I couldn't even finish the brief sample of Willie that you posted. Awful.

Pretty sad that someone is even considering this lawsuit. Crazy.

Jille said...

Ha! That excerpt speaks for itself--and poorly.

The Novelist said...

I just read the content from Willie The Wizard. That is a hoot! J.K. Rowling has nothing to worry about if the rest of the book reads like those exerpts!

Ebony McKenna. said...

those excerpts are execrable!

(and may I correct my earlier statement - it should read 'passages or phrases'. Yikes. This bad grammarictization is contagionizing.)

Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

Oooooph, and I thought a mean comment on my blog was bad. If I ever make it big, I just know that I would let the crazies get to me. I hope JKR and SM are better at tunings thing out than I am!

Josin L. McQuein said...

The "case" stems from claims that Willy included "a wizard train, contest, and training" or something similar to that.

Broad enough for you?

I mean it's not like any kid in regular, old, non-magical school ever rides mass transportation, engages in contests and learns stuff... No way Ms. Rowling could have gotten that idea from life or anything.

The writer's heirs claim they have a case because Willy pre-dated HP by 10 years and they say that the writer sent Ms. Rowling's agent a copy. (So basically, this is the old "agents will steal your work!" paranoia.)

It's a crazy lawsuit, but it's also the kind of thing that certain people like to glom onto because they want to taint the success of someone who's gotten "too much". If someone like Ms. Rowling got where she is on her own talent, work, luck, etc. then they can envy her. If they can claim that poor un-credited writers were crushed under her heel as she climbed over them, then it makes them feel better to pretend her success is diminished in some way.

I'd hope that the heirs' assessment of the writer is incorrect and that, were he still alive, he would not have taken this course of action on his own.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Oh, crazy folks FTW. I have already had my first accusation of plagiarism, from someone who wrote their book AFTER the ink on my contract was signed (and had read nothing but the copy on the back of my book as basis for her accusation). It was a good ha-ha-ah moment, but it was also a total waste of time.

I'm not sure why it is that some people still think that the idea is what becomes famous. Why isn't the whole world reading Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series instead of Harry? Why not THE SILVER KISS instead of Twilight?

It's not the idea!!

Also, I now need to rinse off my brain after reading that excerpt. I agree with the commentor who said it sounded like it had been through Babelfish a few times.

Ulysses said...

Goodness. The first quote from Billy the Wizard is one of those things which cannot be unseen no matter how much I wish it could. I stopped there because... because, yeah, and stuff.

"was frequenctized into vision acute, now receiving clarity waves from the Ruby Tower."

Perhaps in context, it is beautiful and profound. However, presented as is, bare before the world... it ain't.

Taymalin said...

I'm not published and I've already gotten accused of plagiarism/stealing ideas. Some writers, especially ones that haven't been involved in the writing community for very long, tend to think that every idea they have is unique and precious. Those people are very paranoid about having their preciouses stolen.

Kate Halleron said...

No, Maggie, it's not the idea, it's the *marketing*.

Haven't read THE SILVER KISS (I'm sick to death of vampires, even well-written ones, sorry), but IMHO, Diana Wynne Jones is a hundred trillion times the author JKR is.

Sigh.

JKR had a brilliant marketing plan, I give her credit.

And although JKR really irks me, I do have to say that this lawsuit has no merit, yada yada. She has money, she's a target.

shelley said...

Geeyaaaahhhh!
Prose that's been tossed in the road and run over with a pick-up truck five or six times.

Forget the excerpts. The title, 'Willie the Wizard' is enough of a warning.

mallard said...

This gives me hope, EA. If Willie the Wizard was published, then I really do have a chance! I wonder which side of success I'll fall on: suing or being sued?

Jane Smith said...

I couldn't quite understand those extracts. I knew what they were almost saying, but... good grief. So bad.

Here's one of my favourite Rowling Plagiarised Me websites:

http://www.travelswithlipo.com/

If you can read to the end of it you're a better woman than I. Make sure you click on the blog to get the full flavour because it's just startlingly... something!

Anonymous said...

Totally sounds like something Cassandra Clare wrote. All that's missing are references to tendrils of startled octopi.

Richard said...

Good grief, Adrian Jacob's prose is awful. Only James Joyce could do worse, but Joyce's tangled, often meaningless, language brought him fame.

Perhaps the prose of Jacob's Willy the Wizard made just a tiny bit too much sense to be considered as profound as that of Joyce's Ulysses.

Richard said...

@ Meg Spencer, you are exactly right. The Aussies call it "The Tall Poppy Syndrome". The first Poppy to be cut, is the Tall one that stands apart from the rest.

More profound, is Ayn Rand's analysis: "Hatred of the Good for Being Good". Rand is right, awful though it is.

Peikoff explains, "Philosophy is not a bauble of the intellect, but a power from which no man can abstain."

So it is that academics, writers and publishers, dabble in ideas, cutting off the Tall Poppies (unless they sense money or fame is to be had), decrying the Good, yet never realizing they are acting on their unexamined philosophies.

Unexamined = Muddled = Contradictory = a Crap shoot = Stupid.

Richard said...

@Beth ... some call it the "Deep Pocket Syndrome": sue the one that has the money.

Sadly, American courts are quite happy to play that unjust game.

So what, if the MacDonalds coffee cup says something to the effect of "Caution: this beverage may be hot". The woman burned herself (a bit) by spilling her cup of coffee, sued for a half million, and got it.

Hey, great idea. Sue fricken MacDonalds, find a way to sue anyone with lots of money, man, and you will be set for life.

The American (land of the free) courts are happy to act on the Tall Poppy Syndrome (see my comment above).

Woe be unto he who makes wealth in America. Oh, wait, wasn't that freedom (to make wealth) the ORIGINAL American dream? It was your job to discover how to make the money, and if you did, it was Individual Rights that would ensure you could keep it.

[It is the Leftists, and far Rightists, who somehow think The American Dream is a nice "little pink house", with a picket fence out front. John Mellencamp, like modern American law "is a ass".]

So, if you settle for a little pink house, you might get sympathetic support. You ain't much and we "feel" for you.

If you go bigger, your smart business & economic moves make you a target for the Power Hungry, socialist, politicians of both the Left and Right. Do you not "feel" for those less successful? We must take from you what you have made, and "give it back" to the people. Never mind that the people volunteered to pay for what you offered, the very fact that you became wealthy by giving them what they most wanted makes you a target for our "social justice".

If you are really smart, and do really well:
Heads, you lose.
Tails, you lose.

Welcome to an America that Jefferson would despise.

Richard said...

@Ulysses, "Perhaps in context, it is beautiful and profound."

Okay, I suppose you are really trying to be nice? Well, you just can't "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear"!

Ulysses, it ain't beautiful and it ain't profound. It just hopes that "B_llSh_t Baffles Brains".

Give such literary beggars an inch and they will take a mile.

So it is with 99% of children's published literature. I das'nt guess what was rejected.

As EA (indirectly) says, publishers do not care much what cr_p children get, so long as parents pay for it.

Richard said...

@Kate Helleron,

It is so tempting to agree with you about "the marketing", but Rowling was utterly destitute, and wrote her first Harry Potter novel as she sat in coffee shops (I cannot even afford that luxury).

It is important to understand that JKR did NOT have a marketing plan, but her publisher did.

Rowling was smart enough to agree, to the extent that she understood it.

So it is, that I will have to read Diana Wynne Jones, on your recommendation. To me, Rowling's writing skill, plot design, and themes are a 6/10.

Yep, that 6/10 puts her orders of magnitude (like the logarithmic Richter Scale) ahead of other writers of childrens novels. Though that 6 was the top of the children's literature hill at the time, Rowlings diction, grammar, and plot development barely make it. Imagine how bad her competitors are (e.g. Twilight).

If DWJ is 100 times better then, by a Richter Scale, she is merely an 8/10.

So it is with my view of children's literature for the under 17! Any reader below that age, has been literarily robbed!

EA knows it, but is too focused on the commercial exercise, rather than the development of a child's thinking, to examine the latter.

What a shame.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Richard

So it is with my view of children's literature for the under 17! Any reader below that age, has been literarily robbed!

EA knows it, but is too focused on the commercial exercise, rather than the development of a child's thinking, to examine the latter.


As a YA author, I have to say this comment makes me start to get really, really sniffy. It sounds to me like someone hasn't been doing much reading in the YA section, unless we are talking about the YA section in the grocery store.

There's a lot of vapid adult fiction out there too, if we're just pulling random books off the shelf. I'd argue the percentage of carefully written YAs is higher than adult if you throw genre into the mix.

Richard said...

Replying to Maggie. It is tempting to back down and say, "okay, maybe your're right."

But, then I remembered things like the "Artemis Fowl" series, which slips in implicit acceptance of the "evil genius" absurdity; or Lord of the Flies, that counts on an implicit acceptance that mankind (including the reader) is inherently base & wicked; or "Catcher in The Rye" offering the unthinking choices & confusions of Holden Caulfield, as if they were of some special, I dare say philosophical, value. Blech! Though not intended for teens, they read CitR as offering some sort of generational view of life. No wonder it became popular in the Hippie Generation (who now run America).

The above three works are intellectually bankrupt, yet they are widely acclaimed, even award winning.

In contrast, consider such titles as The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, The Three Musketeers, Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, et al. Each tell a story of difficulty in pursuing positive life values, of struggling to understand and live happily, without being reduced to maudlin absurdity or existentialism.

Given the popularity of the first three books in the zeitgeist of today's 'literati', academics, reviewers, and even movie makers, a genuinely good modern YA novel would largely go unnoticed.

This is not a graduate thesis, but a brief blog comment. I hope my position is communicated and somewhat supported by my few concrete examples.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Richard

You're making me think that I really need to blog about this myself, as the more I think about it, the more I have something to say.

I think judging the Artemis Fowl series against The Secret Garden is patently unfair. We have had decades to prove the worth of The Secret Garden, Robinson Crusoe, etc. Those are the finest, most meaningful "classics" out of what stretch of time? I guarantee you that if you take one hundred years of "modern" YA -- say, 1990 on, because when I was a teen, it was only just getting its footing, I think you will be just as easily able to list books that stand the test of time.

Books like The Secret Garden, Johnny Tremain, etc. just aren't written every day, in either adult or YA classics. This is like complaining that James Patterson's novels just aren't the same as Of Mice and Men. Guess what? MOST BOOKS AREN'T. There is a reason why some books become classics and rise above to stand the test of time.

Again, I think I'm going to write a blog post about this instead of cluttering EA's comments, but I would argue, if you want to maintain that "great YA" is not being written, you're going to have to read a lot more of it, and include some award winners in your pile. MARCELO IN THE REAL WORLD? JELLICOE ROAD? Even the deceptively simple CORALINE? Great books are being written every year. So are crappy ones. Across the age divide.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I must admit that I'm confused, Richard. Your three examples of 'bad' YA literature are, as you say yourself, not intended for teens.

Putting that aside, I find that I'm still perplexed. There are a great number of varied books out there in adult, YA, MG, etc. just as there are varied tastes.

There are books that are written solely for entertainment purposes. I, for one, appreciate the escapist value of such books. There are books that deal with serious subjects - for a YA example off the top of my head, try Ellen Hopkins.

There are romance books - some of which capture the essence of humanity as we try to find love and some pander to the fantasy (also good for entertainment and escaping reality).

A good book is one that resonates with the reader and fills the emotional, intellectual, whatever desire of the moment.

I would hate to see all literature become one note. That seems to be what you're advocating here, but I could be wrong.

Richard said...

@ Sarah
#1

Aaaack! As I understand it, only Catcher in the Rye was not intended for teens. I did not mean the other two.

Artemis Fowl was certainly intended for Young Adults, and I believe Lord of the Flies is taught to about the same age group. Indeed, LotF has become a High School standard.

Then, Catcher in the Rye, as intended for adult readers, ended up appealing to the upper Young Adult (i.e. teen Hippie) group. As a consequence, stupid high school English Departments have insisted that CitR be banned from students’ curricula, before they graduate to University.

The problem is that the teachers do not know how to teach it… because they accept the dismal philosophical premises of the book, and do not expose the dismal message it projects. (The same problem occurs, on a greater scale, with the fatalism of Shakespeare’s works.)

That is a wicked fraud, perpetrated by educators’ intellectual vacuity. Each of those three books (then add Shakespeare) presents a false view of Life, however great their literary abstractions may be. Teachers should present those fundamental abstract confusions for their blatant flaws, rather than as possible, alternative & reasonable views.

Sadly, the weaknesses of AF, LotF, & CitR are beyond the ken of teachers of literature. Thus they teach to the lesser elements of the book, whilst accepting the worst weaknesses as being intellectually valid/viable. Their students learn to ignore the abstract, and to focus on the concrete. They are taught to be intellectually narrow & dumb, even as they are shown broad & brilliant abstractions.

Cont'd

Richard said...

@ Sarah
#1

Aaaack! As I understand it, only Catcher in the Rye was not intended for teens. I did not mean the other two.

Artemis Fowl was certainly intended for Young Adults, and I believe Lord of the Flies is taught to about the same age group. Indeed, LotF has become a High School standard.

Then, Catcher in the Rye, as intended for adult readers, & ended up appealing to the Young Adult (i.e. teen Hippie) group. As a consequence, stupid high school English Departments have insisted that CitR be banned from students’ curricula, before they graduate to University.

The problem is that such dismissals are by teachers who do not know how to teach it… because they accept the dismal philosophical premises of the book, and do not expose the dismal message it projects. (The same problem occurs, on a greater scale, with the fatalism of Shakespeare’s works.)

That is a wicked fraud, perpetrated by educators’ intellectual vacuity. Each of those three books (then add Shakespeare) presents a false view of Life, however great their literary abstractions may be. Teachers should present those fundamental abstract confusions for their blatant flaws, rather than as possible, alternative & reasonable views.

Sadly, the weaknesses of AF, LotF, & CitR are beyond the ken of teachers of literature. Thus they teach to the lesser elements of the book, whilst accepting the worst weaknesses as being intellectually valid/viable. Their students learn to ignore the abstract, and to focus on the concrete. They are taught to be intellectually narrow & dumb, even as they are shown broad & brilliant abstractions.

Cont'd

Richard said...

@Maggie,

The good books all but vanish in the sheer volume of books being produced. You might argue that they will emerge over time, but I rather doubt that.

Readers, and therefore authors & publishers, respond to cultural trends such as: political correctness, environmentalism, rewritten histories, the anti-Western-Culture subtext of multiculturalism, etc.(that is all that comes to mind at the moment).

The result is that pretty poor literature often lead sales, and are viewed as superior, while much more genuine, timeless works are overlooked. Nor will they eventually emerge, because next months new titles are already hitting the shelves, vying to lead sales.

The publishing industry is trying to behave like the popular music industry: churning out whatever will sell, unconcerned should it be of plebeian quality.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Richard

I'm beginning to see that this isn't really about literature at all; it's about your politics. I'm glad I took this discussion to my blog instead.

Marissa Doyle said...

Richard, quality is in the eye of the beholder. There are no absolutes.

christine tripp said...

The publishing industry is trying to behave like the popular music industry: churning out whatever will sell

It has always been thus and really, what does not sell does not exist.

Richard said...

Sigh. Maggie, it's not about Politics, though the things I listed obviously do influence politics. You know perfectly well that the ideas/beliefs I listed are about the Culture; and that they influence what gets written, what gets published and what gets read. To write my comment off as just politics is disingenuous.

Richard said...

@Christine Tripp,

I believe I largely agree with you.

Prior to the advent of, even radio, people were primarily entertained at home by music of their own playing, by reading and occasionally by parlor games. A great many people took their reading very seriously, and literature was much more difficult to produce.

A novel had to be awfully good to have publishers hand edit it, have typesetters create block after block of type, and engravers prepare image stamps (all in 'mirror' form). This is also known as letterpress printing, and was in use until after WW2.

I believe that writing was a much more serious endeavor, than it is today.

Today, as you state, in the torrent of material being produced, if it doesn't immediately sell & sell well, it "never existed".

Richard said...

Marissa Doyle provides us with a wonderful example of the kind of cultural thinking that influences the publishing industry. Fifty years ago, most people would have laughed her out of the room.

Anyone can see, with a moment's honest evaluation that Marissa's statement,

"There are no absolutes."

Is itself an Absolute statement. Since a sentence is a complete thought, the thinking fails. This particular failure is known as "The Fallacy of the Self-Excluding Statement".

These kinds of reasoning failures now abound among the one group that should NOT have them: academics. Leading academics adopted & reworded the arguments of many (mainly but not only) German philosophers, with remarkable lack of critical reasoning.

The confusions have been 'spread' to University students, who became teachers, authors, journalists etc. The teachers repeated the ideas in layman's terms to their students. The ideas are repeated in various clich├ęd forms. So we have "There are no absolutes", largely thanks to Immanuel Kant (but it can be traced back to "all is flux" Heraclitus).

Did Marissa post a comment, or did she not? By the "no absolutes" reasoning, there must only be a kind of fuzzy half comment, because "did" & "did not" are mutually exclusive Absolutes.

Try telling Quality Control officers in any business, including the food & drink industry, that "Quality is in the eye of the beholder". They'd think you were nuts; yet would readily acknowledge that people have different tastes. Thus it is that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but even in that realm people lean toward commonly agreed upon things of beauty.

It is the same fuzzy confusion demonstrated by Marissa that leads Maggie to dismiss my comment as being my "politics".

Such thinking plagues literature at all levels, even children's board books reveal it, though it is implicit (the widely acclaimed Lucy Cousins's art work comes to mind). Books & movies (e.g. Disney's Pocahontas & Cameron's Avatar), that are built around awful culture-wide premises receive top awards and sell well too.

Kersten Hamilton said...

Richard -- you might want to check out "Penny Dreadfuls" the first YA literature. They were very popular in the 1830's, letterpress printing and all.

Some of them were great. Most of them were passable. Some of them were trash.

Publishing, like human nature, has not changed a bit.

Ann Elise Monte said...

I couldn't get through the excerpt. My first draft crap is better than that...at least, I hope so.

@Richard, I don't know if this was your intention, but you would appear to be arguing for the sake of arguing.

Marissa Doyle said...

Wow, Richard. I'm glad I was able to provide amusement.

I stand by what I said. Your "classic" is someone else's "boring irrelevancy". There are very few books that are going to stand the test of time. I happen to think both LotF and CitR are overrated...I also think "The Secret Garden" has a nice storyline but is overladen with sentimentality, flabby writing, and 19th century attitudes that don't necessarily translate very well today. You are entirely entitled to your opinion of what is classic and worthwhile in fiction. However, understand that no one is required to share your opinion.

And I think you misunderstood Maggie's statement--this IS about YOUR politics and view of culture and feelings about what is good and what isn't. And I repeat--you're entitled to your views in all those things. We're entitled to disagree.

However, I notice that you've not addressed Sarah's point in her March 3 post:

"Putting that aside, I find that I'm still perplexed. There are a great number of varied books out there in adult, YA, MG, etc. just as there are varied tastes.

There are books that are written solely for entertainment purposes. I, for one, appreciate the escapist value of such books. There are books that deal with serious subjects - for a YA example off the top of my head, try Ellen Hopkins.

There are romance books - some of which capture the essence of humanity as we try to find love and some pander to the fantasy (also good for entertainment and escaping reality).

A good book is one that resonates with the reader and fills the emotional, intellectual, whatever desire of the moment.

I would hate to see all literature become one note. That seems to be what you're advocating here, but I could be wrong."

niki nicole said...

Richard, I was so curious that I had to check your blogger profile, and I noticed that one of your interests is Children's Lit. Which books *do* you like and why? And why are you such an expert on the subject? What current YA books do you read? Do you follow the blogs of any authors? You made a comment that teachers don't teach the books right, do you have any examples?

Sorry for the questions, but I am insanely curious! Thanks!

christine tripp said...

It's often assumed things were BETTER back in the day, but really, in books, as in all forms of entertainment, there was "lofty literature" and then there was wonderfully BAD drivel for entertainment purposes only.

Think Opera/Vaudeville

I have a pretty decent collection of books (from my grandmother and mother) and the ones dated prior to 1920 include very literary hard cover novels, now deemed to be classics AND, in some peoples opinions, completely trash.
The books, written so obviously to appeal to woman, are very weak in plot, writing and would be not even equal the quality of a Harliquin novel by todays standards. In soft cover format, there are scads of Cowboy and Detective stories for, mostly, the men.
Many of the books for children (not pic books as we think of them today) were horrid!
This is one area of the industry that has improved by leaps and bounds in both content and subject matter (no small children having their head cut off and fed to the rats for not obeying nanny:)

ae said...

Chris, I don't think those books were really for children. I don't think there was much for children way back then. I think these were for adults.

(Or sadists.)

Also, with the girl(no plot), boy (no emotion) thing...isn't it time to break these awful, outdated stereotypes, and remove cliches.

Personally. I am drawn to books with lots of plot and emotion...and characters who break the confines associated with outmoded perceptions of gender roles. Barb

Sarah Laurenson said...

From the L.A. Times:

YA Lit Comes of Age

via @LiaKeyes (Twitter)

Anonymous said...

ae said...

I think these were for adults.

(Or sadists.)



ha ha ha ha ha!!! thanks for cracking me up, so true.

Richard said...

Marissa, consider how horrid the Brothers Grimm children's stories were. Surely it is objective and absolute that such stories serve children no good. It is also clear that immersing a child in Nazi, anti-Semitic, childrens' literature or mainly New Testament fables serves no good.

The literary market may produce works that appeal to different people (Nazi White Supremacists?) but that does not mean its content and standard of writing is objectively appropriate.

Thus, it is false that "a good book is one that resonates with the reader and fills the emotional, intellectual, whatever desire of the moment". Such a description allows anything to be viewed as "good". It is an "anything goes" appeal to a literary fog.

People enjoy different kinds of food. A steady diet of potato chips and Coke may appeal to some, but it is NOT good food. Further, for someone to eliminate such 'food' from their diet hardly reduces eating to just "one note" as you put it. Good meals are infinite in variation, as can be good books.

It would be encouraging to see deeper thinking here, than the simple evasion that I am promoting MY politics or the like. I am commenting on shameful weaknesses in popular literature of the last ~fifty years. The weaknesses are not simply in the diction and grammar, they are in the very ideas and characters being drawn as protagonists.

Awards are given to abominable story books solely because they focus on a colored child in a wheel chair, or a special needs child making a friend at school. Such awards are not literary. Through political correctness, fueled by a disturbing pity, they assuage the judges' guilt over being normal.

Richard said...

To Nikki Nicole,

I taught high school sciences for many years and was astonished how little the students read.

Worse, the majority could barely understand the content and meaning of textbook paragraphs or articles. Nonetheless, they were getting A's in their English classes, and were accepted to University programs.

When looking for books for my young daughters I quickly realized why high school children do not read. The preponderance of books offer them no issue, no conflict to involve their sense of justice, of right and wrong. I would rapidly skim through 50-60 childrens' books at the library, and leave with nothing worthy of my girls' minds.

Silliness, crazy critters, extreme fantasy, and fancy illustrations do not engage the child's mind. Why should a child value reading & books, when the books do not value the child's intellect?

I cannot list respectable childrens' books, explaining why, is too big a job for a comment box.

Judging a book entails three interrelated categories of evaluation: Story, Craft & Ideas.

A story can have a great plot, and climax with a good theme, yet be poorly written and present foolish messages that undercut the theme.

A poor and awkward story can present truly positive ideas, yet be pedantic and clumsy in its prose.

Evaluating a book requires that one grasp all three elements. Perhaps the most difficult to judge is the Ideas a story offers a child. Does the book show the child a reasoned solution to some kind of legitimate conflict? Does that solution provide an indirect lesson as to how the child might face similar conflicts in real life? Even fantasies and humorous works can accomplish these things: consider "Paper Bag Princess", and "Parts"

Richard said...

@ Nikki (cont'd)

As for teaching literature, perhaps the teaching of Shakespeare is the easiest to address.

Shakespeare's diction and timbre is amazing, but his plots and themes are pervaded with dreadful fatalism. Students need to have that fatalism explicitly explained. It should be revealed to them a sense of life worth understanding, but NOT something they should enjoy or identify with.

Teachers ought to show how Shakespeare's writing craft and story design integrate with his fatalistic view of human action. Teachers cannot teach literature from random philosophical view points. Each major book has a set of ideas that reflect a certain philosophical view, and the students need to work from that view. It is the philosophical view that makes or breaks most books, depending on the cultural acceptance of such ideas.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Richard. I was following your circular (and impossible to prove) arguments with some amusement from the sidelines until I realized that you said this:

Marissa, consider how horrid the Brothers Grimm children's stories were. Surely it is objective and absolute that such stories serve children no good.

Which proves that you were never a child, because Grimm's horrid little stories absolutely delighted me as a kid.

and you also said:

Awards are given to abominable story books solely because they focus on a colored child in a wheel chair, or a special needs child making a friend at school. Such awards are not literary. Through political correctness, fueled by a disturbing pity, they assuage the judges' guilt over being normal.

Which says that you have no soul and probably indicates how you've voted for the past 25 years and

then this

Silliness, crazy critters, extreme fantasy, and fancy illustrations do not engage the child's mind.

Which further proves that you have no sense of humor or whimsy.

Therefore, using the same amount of logic that you've used in your arguments, I have added all these things together and determined that you are an soulless, humorless creature that was never a child, i.e., you are either a minor demon or Fox News anchor.

Please don't pretend this is objective. If it was, you wouldn't have many, many intelligent folks coming in here and debating with you and no one stepping up to nod and agree at what tosh Grimm and Catcher in the Rye are. As someone who makes their living writing novels you probably find abominable, lemme assure you I spend plenty of time in "deep thought" over what I'm presenting to teens.

I find your entire chain of conversation elitist, politically charged, and woefully lacking in understanding of the teen mind.

Jan said...

Richard,

You do understand that THE SECRET GARDEN was Frances Hodgson Burnett's exploration of the tenents of Christian Science, right? If all these other books are slammed for exploring ideas of interest to their authors (but that you don't like), why is THE SECRET GARDEN praised? The book flatly says women get beat up because they say their husband's are brutes (an idea firmly stated by Colin, and considered mildly amusing but probably right by the adult character) but their husbands would be sweet as lambs if the women just made positive affirmations because the underlying theme of the book is that what you say WILL come true.

It's a lovely book in terms of craft (though relatively exposition heavy and lecturesome, the prose is quite lyrical in many places) and the fantasy aspect is incredibly sweet wish fullfillment (as children, we would love to control the whole world just by what we say)...but if you're going to scorn books for "flawed" philosophy, listing THE SECRET GARDEN as superior to all books today doesn't seem to fit your argument.

ae said...

I grew up on Grimm in Germany. The real stuff.







Gee. I don't think I am screwed up. ;}

(I do have this nervous twitch, tho. I originally thought it was the contacts but that is not it. Certain things bring it on full blast.)

Richard said...

Another manifestation of the poorer quality of writing in our culture is how many writers believe emotional outburst, & insult, are valid methods of argument. Arguments should be based on real world observations used to form the inductive integrations needed to see & think in principle.

Only by thinking in principle can one see above the swamp, rather than congratulating oneself for being mired within it. Only by seeing above the swamp might one notice the beautiful deer that pass by in search of clean water.

A great many authors must learn to read more accurately, to use abstract words more precisely, and to look to a higher standard than the 'mire' of their peers. E.g. Such inanities as, "there are no absolutes", would be tossed out in a second. So, similarly what does Maggie's use of the abstractions "politically" & "charged" mean, and what do the words actually mean, in criticizing my comments on culture (not politics)?

Further, my criticism of authors who have no skill at plot or character development, yet capitalize on misfortune of children is not a comment on the children. The sorry condition of the children is used by these authors, deliberately, successfully and most cynically, to appeal to readers' and reviewers' politically correct pity. Sure I feel, sad for challenged or victimized children, but I was not writing about the characters, I was writing about authors. Reading accurately is clearly part of the problem.

It would really help children and teens to value reading as something more than mere escape —a major, better-than-nothing, reason readers read . Great art concretizes abstract values, and shows why the values are important to Life and Living, even for children. Great art is both entertaining, intellectually exemplary, and enlightening. Children need that quality of literature, more than do adults, because a child's mind has not learned to be sufficiently critical to recognize and reject absurdities.

jan said...

Richard,

You said, "...because a child's mind has not learned to be sufficiently critical to recognize and reject absurdities."

But why is "you can control everything simply by saying something is one way and insisting on it" (a strong theme of The Secret Garden) not absurd but the theme of Lord of the Flies (the bestial nature of humans is controlled ONLY by positive pressure from society -- left unretrained, humans will do great evil) consider "absurd?" Certainly history offers much more "proof" of the second "truth" than the first.

Personally, I don't buy into either one at and I found LORD OF THE FLIES unpleasant in the extreme (but finding a book uncomfortable is hardly proof of it's inferiority as art or literature). Still, I don't necessarily believe it's intellectually honest to sort "good" from "bad" by personal preference for the theme. And I have to say, I agree that it's frustrating (and makes me feel a bit embarassed for you) that you seem to believe that our disagreement with your preferences and our disagreement with your flawed understanding of the capability of children is a sign of poor logic, or scholarship on the part of the writers here.

LJK said...

@Richard

I was engaged in a discussion of the bible in which one individual continually interrupted the conversation to inform us of the subtle nuances in the text that one would only be aware of had the reader read the bible in Hebrew. After numerous such instances another member of the group informed him that the rest of us didn't know Hebrew and could we please move on to something we were all interested in.

It is clear that you have a grasp of the finer points of argument, the subtle shades of word meanings and some strongly formed views of literature. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses and I suppose we are all prone to value our own strengths over those of others. I clearly do not have the same degree of literary education that you have and so I can't argue the finer points as you do. But I do posses a knowledge of psychology as well as the arts from the prospective of an active participant.

The arts as well as ordinary human interaction is about communication and connection. So many literature classes focus on the meaning of the text. What about the emotion, the experience, the feeling of being connected with someone or something beyond your world, beyond your own imagination? What we learn from reading novels is not in the words on the page but the experience we draw from it.

You can accuse me of being culturally bereft or exposing my child to trash but I love Captain Underpants and Artemis Fowl and Shakespeare. In between reading texts on neuroscience, I like to laugh. I would further argue that the value of a novel, even a commercial novel, goes well beyond mere escapism.

Your arguments may be textbook examples of what arguments should be like. I don't know. I honestly don't care. Because at the end of the day (and the beginning and the middle) I am an emotional being that loves humor and connecting and communicating with people who speak to me in a language that I understand.

I think in your zeal to impress us with your views you have discounted, out of hand, the views of many others here who have greatly added to the discussion and reached me in an emotional way that cold arguments never will.

Richard said...

@Jan
Christian Science (CS) has several self-contradictory tenets. F.H.Burnett's seems to use only CS's better elements in The Secret Garden.


The CS belief system holds that all things are ultimately spiritual, not material, and it claims to eschew mysticism. Yet, by denying material existence (as a Platonic reflections or Kantian noumena) the CS spirituality can only be Mystical.

CS is a rather extreme form of theistic idealism (sensu. The Platonic World of Forms is real Reality, and our 'material' experiences are a mere reflection or illusion of that Reality).

Fortunately, another tenet of CS is that happiness, spirituality and even healing are achieved through thought, and not so much through prayer and ritual. This places an unusual emphasis on the contents of ones mind... all of which are based upon our sensory experiences. Thus Mary focuses on the World that is her new home, investigates it and thinks about it.

The Secret Garden does possess an air of removal from the material world, but it is not overwhelming or blatantly contrived. Young readers are more likely to appreciate the struggle for happiness, especially of that by Colin.

CSism in the novel is subtle, so layered well over it is Mary's determination to be happy. That goal is fundamental to human Life. Mary's efforts to achieve happiness draw in Dickon, and then Colin. It is their pursuit of that goal, rather than wallowing in grief, that reaches young readers.

The secret garden is only a special garden tied to the beauty and character of Colin's mother. Is the tie spiritual? Most definitely, but children and YAs do not read it as a function of CS, of mysticism or of anything supernatural. The spirit lies in children's, very Earthly, very This Life, appreciation of the value of happiness, and of their own lives. This kind of spirit is Real. It is in the minds of the children, in the same way a tune, a personal passion, or joy, is a Real content of the human mind.

Any well written book, whose plot and theme encourage (by showing) young readers to "get outdoors", to look for one's own happiness, and to work cooperatively with others to achieve good values (not cynical pity), is itself an objective value.

---
For the record, I was not listing The Secret Garden "as superior to all books today", only that it deserves a very high ranking, in part for the reasons outlined above.

christine tripp said...

AE, I grew up on "the road runner and Wiley coyote... seems I'm OK (not thinking about killing anyone by pushing them over a clif) but with the same nervous twitch:)

Kersten Hamilton said...

I wonder if this will work....This *should* lead you to Chesterton, a view of Penny Dreadfuls, literary snobs...and the human heart. Times really have not changed.

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/pictures/chesterton-3.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/pictures/index.html&usg=__kYhVM0PnZTQpK1dlDr0Td5Y6xPs=&h=834&w=628&sz=91&hl=en&start=16&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=sS41fuKPRyEg_M:&tbnh=144&tbnw=108&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dgk%2Bchesterton%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26sa%3DN%26tbo%3D1%26rls%3Den%26tbs%3Disch:1

Richard said...

G_ddamn, I responded to Kerston's great comment, then on clicking [Preview], a "404 Not Found" error erased all I wrote.

Shortened: Chesterton AGREES with me.

Chesterton's view agrees that Ivory Tower (e.g. Award Winning) literature IS no better than the Penny Dreadfuls. He is not lauding dreadful novelettes, so much as he is showing that the winning novelettes are LITTLE better than the Penny Dreadfuls!

Why?

Because the judges have no grasp of what is wonderful for children, anymore than do awful, yet published and promoted, authors.

What DOES distinguish better authors and books from the rest? Certainly NOT the standards of today's authors and publishers!

Perhaps the best comment, on point, is EA herself:

"Whenever I stroll through my local shopping mall, it always amazes me how many poor quality children’s books have made it out there in the market place. I see rhyming books without correct meter; and picture story books with poorly written, disjointed story development and little incentive to keep turning the page. How do these people get published, when most of your dear readers spend their time revising and rewriting ad nauseum, and still don’t get a look in? Aaaaargh!"

Editors and authors, since more than a century ago, have little idea as to what literature stands above the hoard.

It is NO argument to suggest that Penny Dreadfuls deserve a place.

However, a child has only so much time in his life, for nonsense & poor quality. In that respect, he is no different from an adult. Why presume children have time to waste!!

Why should a child be faced with such inanity as "If you give a moose a muffin"?

To me, such a view is a despicable waste of, not only their lives, but also of their minds!

Cr_p is too polite a term for such *winning* 'literature'.

Kersten Hamilton said...

Let's try that again....

http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/penny-dreadfuls.html

Richard said...

Kerston, the Penny Dreadful argument appeals; worse; it is well written! Every serious author should read it, as a view they should reject.

Sure, pale works serve to highlight the brilliant, but why else should a child or youth waste their time reading them. Children need to grow up. Cr_p literature stalls them, even for life!

Anonymous said...

This is just stupid. I am a Harry Potter fan and I'll tell you one thing, I'd never, ever, pick up Willie the Wizard. Those excerpts were just bad writing. I'm not even that bad. Did anyone notice that really weird placement of the "!"...? yeah.

I honestly don't give a crap about how rich JKR is. She earned it. She spent time writing because she was broke, trying to find a job and help her kids. This books has put her in a place where she doesn't have to worry about it.

Oh, and someone decided to copywrite the name Sirius Black? so I technically cannot use Sirius as a name in a book even though it was a name before she used it? yeah, weird.

Anyway, bah and humbug to the suckers who own Willie the Wizard. That books teaches worse grammar than Twilight teaches the worst relationships.