I’m part of an email group that discusses children’s literature, and recently there was a conversation about child authors and then more specifically about Christopher Paolini and the derivative nature of his stories. I posted the following, and I thought I’d post it here as well:
Interactive fan culture and gaming seem to be having an effect on the way kids consume stories. Anyone with an internet connection or gaming console can leap into a fantasy world and create characters and adventures of their own.
Middle Earth, in particular, has long become a default fantasy world, a paint-by-number starting point in much the same way as ancient Greek myths or vampire myths. Gaming worlds such as Warhammer and World of Warcraft (and by backward extension, Dungeons & Dragons), with their elegant elves, mountain-dwelling dwarfs, and “evil” orcs, are just two examples. The gravitational pull of Middle Earth is so strong that many fantasy fans are happy not to leave orbit, whether they are participating as creators, consumers, or both. The quality of story in much fan fiction and most video games is highly questionable from a literary point of view, but that’s often beside the point. The point is access to a world, and an open door to make a personal imprint on a fantasy universe you’ve grown to love.
I believe this is an important consideration when deliberating on Paolini’s grand theft tolkein, and particularly when pondering his success. Eragon reads like a meaty piece of fan fiction. And my guess is that part of the success of Eragon, beyond the young author buzz, is that it’s a rags-to-riches tale of a citizen of the Middle Earth fandom.
Personally, I don’t have much patience for derivative fantasy worlds. Life is short, and I’m a slow reader, so I am always looking for something original. Then again, I also don’t have much respect for singers who become famous with songs they didn’t write, and I know I’m in the minority there.
On the other hand, I have a genuine appreciation for straight-up fan fiction and karaoke.