Return of Revenge of Sauron – nooooooo!

The other week George R. R. Martin was reported as saying he wouldn’t license Westeros.

He admired the Tolkien estate for not licensing derivative works of The Lord Of The Rings. And I’m inclined to agree.

sleeping-man-with-newspapers-mdEven 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

Coming up: More writing tips, more humour, commentaries and fun stuff. Watch this space.


3 thoughts on “Return of Revenge of Sauron – nooooooo!

  1. I would not be in favor of classics being expanded on after all these years, but I hope Martin is in the minority. Writers today are creating some amazing worlds and I think there is a great opportunity to tell stories in that world.

    I look at series like Dragonlance or Star Wars and I like reading those stories even though they are from different authors. Now Amazon has Kindle Worlds where writers can create stories based on all ready created worlds. I have not had a chance to read those yet, NaNoWriMo has taken a lot of my time, but it looks really interesting.

    This is a really interesting subject that can only be answered by two people, the author and the reader. If an author is willing to let someone else write in their world and someone wants to read it, then I have no problem with it.

    I hope I can create such a rich world of history and culture that readers demand so many stories that I need to get other authors to help keep up with demand.

    Kindle Worlds –

    1. Yes, it’s all a matter of opinion in the end – does the reader enjoy what they’re reading? Though that said, I draw distinction between a fantasy scenario or setting designed from the outset for multi-author contribution – like Kindle Worlds, or the Dragonlance setting, or (years ago) the Perry Rhodan universe – and the personal creations of authors such as Tolkien, which are often iconoclastic, personal to them; and where both the fantasy world and the stories within it are aspects of the imagination of the same individual.

      The same distinction applies to movie franchises which inevitably rely on creative input from many individuals, even if only one script-writer is credited – that input coming from the director, movie bosses, set designers, model-makers, SFX people, even the actors. It is, I think, less dislocating, conceptually, for these ‘mass-created’ settings to be used by multiple later authors.

      The question for me is whether the stories produced from an original ‘single-author’ creation can match the original vision? A matter of taste and opinion, clearly, but I do wonder whether something is lost along the way. The only one I’ve seen that I think worked better than the original was the licensing of Larry Niven’s ‘Known Space’ setting, purely because some of the authors involved were – in my opinion – technically better writers than Niven.

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