“Thoughts before coffee” Part 21: On Originality and Comparison

Tolkien, Poe, Lovecraft, Homer, Virgil. Kubrick, Hitchcock, Spielberg. Names that we’ve all heard at least once in our llives. Works we’ve admired. And, when we talk about them, we tend to compare. “Nobody can be like Tolkien”, we say. “There will be no other ‘Master of Suspence'”, we say.

And my question is simple: why compare?

I mean, of course we should compare. That’s what helps us form opinions. But, making such statements, regarding other works compared to the ‘forefathers’ of the genre in question, will not end favourably for the ‘newcomers’. Take Paolini’s ‘Inheritance’ series, for example. It can be compared to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, sure. They are way too similar, after all. What should we make of this comparison, though? Just saying “yeah, nice try kid, but you’ll never be Tolkien”, is not constructive at all. What if the guy never wanted to be Tolkien? What if he wanted to be himself?

Similarities in works of Art will almost always exist. The story of ‘Good VS Evil’ is an all-time classic. Horror movies will nigh-always be about similar things. Power Metal bands will have a song or two about some Dragon-slaying warrior, comedy series will include some form of misunderstandings, and so on. Why, even card games are similar (Games can be considered a form of Art, more on that some other time)!

Thanks to the fact that we were born much, much later than the people who first wrote poems and songs, created theatre and novels and many more, it is safe to assume that we can never really be ‘original’. Tolkien is considered to be the ‘Father of Epic Fantasy’, yet he himself was influenced by previously existing material. Does that mean we are doomed to repeating what others created before us?

Yes and no. Yes, because ultimately, all forms of Art are expressions of our thoughts and visualizations of our perception of the world. Humanity keeps asking the same questions about Love, Good and Evil, Morality, Emotions and so many other things! We each are entitled to our interpretations of the above, as we are all unique.

And that’s where ‘no’  comes in. We are, each and every one of us, one of a kind. We have formed our societies based on common understanding of some things, for example ‘it’s not OK to kill others’. Yet, at the same time, we live in the same societies without necessarily agreeing on every matter at hand. This applies to Art too. We can have two people write a 500-word love story, and they will write entirely different things.

Conclusion: comparing two different works of the same genre is OK, so long as we judge them based on how they dealt with the matter at hand, not because they deal with the same matter! Phew, glad I got that out of my system! Hope you feel the same, otherwise I will have to exile you to the Moon, once I take over the world! See you all next time!

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