He admired the Tolkien estate for not licensing derivative works of The Lord Of The Rings. And I’m inclined to agree.
Even if a top-notch author is hired for the purpose, they will – because they are top-notch – put their own stamp on the story. And it won’t be the same as the original author’s. By nature. That’s good in a way; it’s adding something to the genre. But in others it isn’t, because it inevitably differs from the original concept the author had.
Martin is reported as hoping that some publisher, awash with cash, isn’t ready to commission a Lord Of The Rings sequel or prequel as soon as the Tolkien Estate gives the nod (which, I am sure, it won’t be any time in the foreseeable future).
I hope so too.
What concerns me about this sort of derivative work is where it’s done solely for the money – where a third-rate author is commissioned to do it, and often credited in tiny letters underneath the headline name of the original (dead) author. The writing that follows is often third rate too.
Of course I can’t fault publishers for wanting to make money. They’re businesses. They have to survive, and that’s getting ever-harder these days. Risk is something to avoid; a sure-fire best seller keying off a well known name is the only way to go. Apparently.
But is deriving ‘new’ stories that don’t match the quality of the original the way to do it? I doubt it. Any book, no matter what its origin, must push for the highest quality – it should attempt to lead, not merely fill a gap. It is from this leading edge that new markets are created – new demand for new material.
Regurgitating old material may be a way to make sure money in the short term, but it’s not a long-term method. That needs new material – new ideas, new concepts.
And yes, publishers have to take risks along the way. I mean, back in the early 1950s, who’d have imagined that a 650,000 word novel about the epic struggle between good and evil, as filtered through a nostalgic sense of English village life, might re-define fantasy literature? Rayner Unwin took a gamble with Tolkien. Early sales figures were dismal – and yet, well, what can I say?
It seems to me that the way ahead is by innovating a new awesome. Not trying to re-live the old. The only problem is that these things always emerge at the intersection between imagination and mass culture, which can’t be engineered. Efforts to do so always look contrived.
Your thoughts? Let’s talk.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
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