Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cassandra Clare, City of Bones, Diane Duane, Fantasy, Harry Potter, JK Rowling, Richelle Mead, SF/F, Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, The Mortal Instruments, The Worst Witch, Twilight, Vampire Academy, Young Wizards
After reading (and enjoying) Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy, I vaguely recalled that a movie came out recently. I had a bit of a look round to see if I could find any information on it, and found the (inevitable, really) unfavourable comparison to Twilight. Like City of Bones (see my review here) was described in one review as a “Twilight wannabe”, so, too, was Vampire Academy criticised as derivative. Obviously I haven’t seen the Vampire Academy film, and it’s entirely possible both it and City of Bones were capitalising on the popularity of Twilight, but neither book has anything in common with Twilight besides being about vampires, incorporating romance and centred around a teenage female protagonist (you know what else that applies to? Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which came out 8 years before the first Twilight book. But I digress …).
This sort of comparison isn’t restricted to vampires, though. It applies to witches and wizards, too. Diane Duane even has a section in the FAQ page on her website indicating that her first Young Wizards book came out more than a decade before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while The Worst Witch, first published in the seventies, has been accused of being a rip-off of Harry Potter, too. The Young Wizards books have, literally, nothing in common with Harry Potter except, again, they’re about teenagers and there’s magic. Really, they’re more a cross between fantasy and science fiction, with all the alien worlds (complete with sapient aliens) and the way Kit talks to machines. There are more parallels between The Worst Witch and Harry Potter, so if you thought that came out when the TV series did, in the late-nineties, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a rip-off (or, less likely, but more plausible, calling Harry Potter a rip-off of The Worst Witch), but the comparisons fall apart under further scrutiny. For a start, they’re very different stories. Harry Potter is, fundamentally, about Voldemort and the struggle of good versus evil, while The Worst Witch is about Mildred’s struggles at school. Moreover, similarities between Hogwarts and Miss Cackle’s Academy exist because both authors draw on the boarding school genre.
All of this justification is really beside the point, though. The real issue isn’t that these authors are all drawing on the same pools of tropes. In fact, the two examples aren’t even particularly comparable. The claims of Harry Potter rip-offs, in my experience, tend to come from ardent fans who haven’t read any fantasy besides that one series. They seem to think JK Rowling invented so many of the common core fantasy elements in her books. They’re well-meaning, believing themselves to be defending an author they adore, but in doing so they harm other writers and other stories, not just those they call out as ‘rip-offs’, but others that use similar elements.
The Twilight comparisons are more insidious. Most often I’ve seen them in professional reviews, in newspapers and magazines, and it’s rude and disrespectful. It reduces an author’s complex and inventive world to a rip-off of one of the planet’s less interesting fantasy universes. Moreover, it takes as the standard for YA urban fantasy a series which is poorly-written, poorly-characterized, and poorly-plotted (not to mention sexist), and that’s just plain offensive. I don’t care how popular Twilight has been (and, trust me, as a former teenage fan of Twilight I well understand its popularity), that doesn’t make it a paragon of the genre. By treating it as such, and even comparing tangentially-related books like The Hunger Games to it, reviewers effectively disparage the entire genre of YA SF/F.