Monday, September 6, 2010

Interesting thought

From Grognardia:

Indeed, if there's one "problem" with reading a book like Galactic Patrol nowadays it's that, as the wellspring of so much that came after, it appears trite and unoriginal when, in point of historical fact, everything else that followed it is what's trite and unoriginal. The "Lensmen" series is big and bold and, while I'd never argue that it's scientific speculations hold much water (though, to be fair, many of its ideas were based on the science of its day), it's nevertheless a fun read. There can be no doubt why it exerted such a profound influence on the imaginations of later authors in the genre.

I think that this is a very insightful point that brings up a good point when reading key historical works. Good ideas spawn a lot of imitators and some of these will be better (in terms of some aspects) than the original works. Just think of how many of the imitators of Lord of the Rings are better at pacing the plot! But who among them has such a rich and unique vision of an alternate world?

But these are the works that change entire genres of fiction.


  1. Pauline Kael described the opposite phenomena, where we only remember a few outstanding examples of a genre then assume the creators of those examples actually invented the genre.

    Tolkien was very much part of a 20th Century literary movement (with roots in the 19th) that was trying to create a distinctly British school of fantasy emphasising bucolic village life, Celtic mythology and Arthurian-style legend (with some Germanic and Icelandic elements thrown in -- Auden published his translation of the Elder Eddas in 1969). Tolkien may have been the high point but he was also fairly representative.

    Dashiell Hammett is an even better example. There were hard-boiled detectives before Hammett's Continental Op. We incorrectly credit Hammett as inventing the genre because his writing was so much better than that of his contemporaries.

  2. Good point. Nothing breeds imitators like success. This is definitely something that I need to think more about -- literature not really being my area. :-)