Charles Butler hannibal at
Thu May 15 04:07:17 EDT 2003

> Those are good questions... I would say with folklore, it's anything goes
> because they are not copyrighted and are in the public domain and they
> make use of such basic story elements.  But if someone used something
> specifically from Garner's use of a folktale, that would be a problem.
Then again, what _did_ Garner do? I mean, what was the innovation that
someone might reasonably be accused of plagiarizing from Garner, if we
bracket the actual content he himself took from the Mabinogion? Now OS is
one of my favourite books, and I'm well aware I'm simplifying here, but for
the sake of argument...

Is it to do with form? Well, OS is essentially a modern retelling of an
ancient myth, isn't it? Garner certainly wasn't the first to do that!
Perhaps it's a matter of characterisation, then? The three central
characters in OS are a cold and arrogant English boy, a fiery-tempered and
intelligent Welsh boy with a chip on his shoulder, and a rather dippy deb -
again, easy to be found in anyone's grab-bag of stereotypes. Perhaps it's
something more specific, then - a particular phrase or image, like the
photograph that shows sometimes a rider, sometimes a motorcyclist. But
really, when you consider all the ens of thousands of books published every
year, it would be amazing if coincidences of that order _didn't_ happen -
quite a lot! I was moaning to the list the other week about my doppelganger
book that got delayed because another book with the same premiss was being
published at more or less the same time. Since then another author has told
me how last year her book about a boy called Luke with synaesthesia (hardly
a word on everyone's lips) came out within a month of a book by Tim Bowler -
about a boy called Luke with synaesthesia. It happens!

What makes OS a great book is, of course, is the way Garner handles all
these familiar ingredients. And if the would-be plagiarist could copy that,
they wouldn't need to - they'd be able to write great books of their own!


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