Saturday, April 25, 2020

It's not exactly plagiarism

But it's hardly indicative of one a brilliant creative mind either. When I read The Sandman in preparation for writing comics, I occasionally had the strange feeling that I'd read it before, and not simply because Gaiman was mining a lot of stories and characters with which I was familiar from ancient mythology. I've been on a Tanith Lee kick of late, and it suddenly occurred to me why the Endless, and Delirium in particular, were so familiar:

Delirium: The youngest of the Endless, Delirium appears as a young girl whose form changes the most frequently of any of the Endless, based on the random fluctuations of her temperament. She has wild multicolored hair and eccentric, mismatched clothes. Her only permanent physical characteristic is that one of her eyes is emerald green (usually the right side) and the other pale blue with silver flecks (usually the left side), but even those sometimes switch between left and right. Her sigil is an abstract, shapeless blob of colors. Her speech is portrayed in standard graphic novel block-caps, characterized by wavy, unpredictable orientation and a multi-colored gradient background. She was once known as Delight, but some traumatic event (of which even Destiny does not know the particulars) caused her to change into her current role. Her sigil as Delight was a flower.

Note that The Sandman ran for 75 issues from January 1989 to March 1996.

The main character of The Sandman is Dream, also known as Morpheus and other names, who is one of the seven Endless. The other Endless are Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium (formerly Delight), and Destruction (also known as 'The Prodigal'). The series is famous for Gaiman's trademark use of anthropomorphic personification of various metaphysical entities, while also blending mythology and history in its horror setting within the DC Universe.

Now consider this passage from Delirium's Master, the third of Tanith Lee's Flat Earth series, which was published in 1981. I've actually quoted from it here before; it's the novel that contains her excellent tale of how the Snake became the Cat and thereby fooled Man.

There were then five Lords of Darkness. Uhlume, Lord Death, was one, whose citadel stood at the Earth’s core, but who came and went in the world at random. Another was Wickedness, in the person of the Prince of Demons, Azhrarn the Beautiful, whose city of Druhim Vanashta lay also underground, and who came and went in the world only by night, since demonkind abjured the sun (wisely, for it could burn them to smoke or cinders). The earth was flat, and marvelous, and had room then for such beings. But it is not remembered where a certain third Lord of Darkness made his abode, nor perhaps had he much space for private life, for he must be always everywhere.

His name was Chuz, Prince Chuz, and he was this way. To come on him from his right side, he was a handsome man in the splendor of his youth. His hair was a blond mane couthly combed to silk, his eye, being lowered, had long gilded lashes, his lip was chiseled, his tanned skin burnished. On his hand he wore a glove of fine white leather, and on his foot a shoe of the same, and on his tall and slender body the belted robe was rich and purple-dark. “Beauteous noble young man,” said those that came to his right side. But those who approached him from the left side, shrank and hesitated to speak at all. From the left side, Chuz was a male hag on whom age had scratched his boldest signatures, still peculiarly handsome it was true, but gaunt and terrible, a snarling lip, a hollowed cheek, if anything more foul because he was fair. The skin of this man was corpse gray, and the matted hair the shade of drying blood, and his scaly eyelid, being lowered, had lashes of the same color. The left hand lay naked on the damson robe, which this side was tattered and stained, and the left foot poked naked from under it. When Chuz took a step, you saw the sole of that gray-white foot was black, and when he lifted that gray-white hand, the palm was black, and the nails were long and hooked, and red as if painted from a woman’s lacquer-pot. Then again, if Chuz raised his eyes on either side, you saw the balls of them were black, the irises red, the pupils tarnished, like old brass. And if Chuz laughed, which now and then he did, his teeth were made of bronze.

Worst of all, was to come on Chuz from the front and see both aspects of him at once, still worse if then he raised his eyes and opened his mouth. (Though it is believed that all men, at one time or another, had glimpsed Chuz from behind.) And who was Chuz? His other name was Madness.

It's not plagiarism, but it does tend to lend credence to my opinion that Gaiman is overrated as a writer. He certainly doesn't compare to the late Ms Lee.



Blogger Constantin April 25, 2020 6:36 PM  

Gaiman is inferior to most of the writers he ripped off, whether it be Lewis Carrol(Neverwhere), Rudyard Kipling(The Graveyard Book), Stardust(Lord Dunsany), and C.S. Lewis(Caroline) etc. His male characters tend to be pathetic and insufferable to read.

I will give him this though; his prose has a great style that lends his books a sense of the numinous you only find in specific writers like Tolkien, Dunsany, Howard, Vance, Richard Adams or John C. Wright. And it's not a small thing either; a lot of writers today have great ideas for plot and characters but convey them in an uninspired, mediocre style and that hurts their story.

I need to find and read some Tanith Lee books.

Blogger [Redacted] April 25, 2020 6:48 PM  

In watching Gaiman's Masterclass, gotten as a gift and watched out of obligation, he tells stories about his life experiences and the strengths and weaknesses that he projects from them into his work. None, but one, rang true. He talks about fear and strength, of triggering a swarm of bees and telling his children to run while he distracts them, losing his glasses, and having to return the next day to find them. He talks about his Graveyard Book and setting his son on a tricycle ride on a graveyard tour, and what it would be like for ghosts to raise an abandoned child. He talks about working with the late Terry Pratchett and admiring his layered approach to humor and dialogue with respect to folk mythology. These felt made up, shallow and untextured, as though by giving a lack of detail he could keep them plausible. Since I watched them out of order, I ended the class with his advice for people who felt as though they have nothing to write about. He said to go live and bring something back, but when it came to his early career, he interviewed others, learned to listen, and advised interesting twists and spins on established stories. That, at last, rang true. Not exactly plagiarism.

Blogger George Phillies April 25, 2020 6:57 PM  

Chuz sounds somewhat like the Norse Goddess Hel, at least as sometimes described.

Blogger VD April 25, 2020 6:58 PM  

that lends his books a sense of the numinous

Yes, I concur. That's the real substance behind his success. The rest of it is just flim-flam. But you have to respect him for that.

Blogger Daniel April 25, 2020 7:21 PM  

He was Duran Duran's pop biographer. He's a brilliant stylist. Too bad he couldn't just team up with writers all the time. He is a BErie Topping without an Elton John.

Blogger Bellomy April 25, 2020 7:37 PM  

Gaiman is extremely overrated, but not as exactly either.

Blogger Scott April 25, 2020 7:54 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger tweell April 25, 2020 8:27 PM  

Gaiman is better than Scalzi. Admittedly, that's a low bar.

Blogger Ostar April 25, 2020 8:30 PM  

Vox's four main criteria for judging a novel I believe are prose, plot, characters, and ideas. So Gaiman "borrows" the last three liberally from other sources quite often. I've always thought he was strongest writing short stories, where good prose has an outsized influence compared to novel length works.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 25, 2020 8:45 PM  

Back when I read Sandman back in the 1990s, I remember enjoying Gaiman's prose style.

Although I also remember being frustrated that his stories were all set-up and no pay-off. They just sort of petered out after what should have been the climax. As if he was afraid of tarnishing his reputation as a genius by providing a clear and obvious ending to his stories.

I admit I only read his stuff from the 1990s plus American Gods, so I could be wrong when I say the closest thing he ever came to a proper ending was in the A-story line of Murder Mysteries.

The arch-angel Raguel discovers the murderer and performs his function bringing God's vengeance upon the angel who committed murder. Lucifer, Captain of the Host of Heaven is angered by this and feels that the angel Wossname should have been forgiven and that is the beginning of his fall.

It's a bit unoriginal but it's ending. The B-story line of Murder Mysteries peters out in a typical Gaiman fashion that tied him down to meaning nothing.

Now, some people claim that his stuff is all about character development. The problem with this defense is that almost none of his characters were that memorable.

And no, Crowley doesn't count. That was clearly Pratchett's work.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 25, 2020 8:48 PM  

Although, I feel I should point out in fairness to Gaiman that Harry Potter was a ripoff of his own Tim Hunter.

Even if it's not exactly plagiarism.

Blogger Snidely Whiplash April 25, 2020 9:18 PM  

It is trademark infringement, if the original author cares to pursue it.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 25, 2020 9:46 PM  

Snidely Whiplash wrote:It is trademark infringement, if the original author cares to pursue it.

Not if Time Warner says it isn't.

Books of Magic didn't make them anywhere near as much money as Harry Potter did.

For about fifteen years that entire series was aggressively memory-holed by Time-Warner. You couldn't even find it on Wikipedia.

Blogger Careless Whisper April 25, 2020 10:01 PM  

Yeah I must say it struck me how his star seemed to rise right around the time when he publicly foreswore pursuing that lawsuit. I smelled quid pro quo at the time, and I still suspect it.

Blogger jarheadljh April 25, 2020 10:15 PM  

It's not plagiarism, it's like reading a template. Like some sort of write by the numbers. Back when I was a teenager buying everything with an X on the cover at my local shop, I used to look over at Sandman and wonder what the appeal was. Nice to know I didn't miss much.

Also, VD, if for some reason you remember this comment please pass along my thanks to The Legend Chuck Dixon for the character of Azrael/Jean Paul Valley.

Blogger L'Aristokrato April 25, 2020 10:43 PM  

Gaiman is a competent writer, in the craft sense. Pretty much every story of his I've read, however, boils down to taking mythology and/or fairy-tales and adding a "modern" spin to it(with perhaps a dash of "edginess").

Blogger S. Thermite April 25, 2020 11:52 PM  

Last week I picked up Tanith Lee’s “The Secret Books of Paradys” on Kindle for $10 due to my memory of it being on one of Vox’s top-10 lists. I’ve already read and enjoyed many of the other authors’ works from such lists. Will be a while before I can read and enjoy these, but I did not want to forget. I was also surprised to find that none of the books from that series are currently available on Audible. Perhaps they could not find a narrator to do them justice? Intrigued nonetheless.

Blogger Nihil Dicit April 26, 2020 4:19 AM  

Although I also remember being frustrated that his stories were all set-up and no pay-off.

This exactly.

His male characters tend to be pathetic and insufferable to read.

He has several male feminist/proggy issues with his work (American Gods is full of 'em), but, yeah, the fact that his male characters are always clueless simps needing a woman to tell them what to do is insufferable..

Blogger Yossarian April 26, 2020 5:57 AM  

I have more respect for the comic book medium than I do for the comic book themselves. One thing I'm hopeful Alt*Hero will achieve is to raise the profile of the medium and make more bonafide writers interested in it.

Comics so far have offered low production costs as compared to movies, and ease of consumption as compared to books. The only comic I can think of that fully uses the medium to its advantage and which cannot be transposed in novel or movie format is Flex Mentallo by Grant Morrison.

Blogger Emmett Fitz-Hume April 26, 2020 10:38 AM  

Cataline Sergius wrote: As if he was afraid of tarnishing his reputation as a genius by providing a clear and obvious ending to his stories.

What is it with that anyway? Why is ambiguity admired by the artiste crowd? Is there an SJW angle I'm not seeing or something else at work?

And somewhat related, why are the artsy types enamored by the "It was all in his head" trope? I just don't get it.

As far as Gaiman goes, I tried to read his Norse Mythology book but felt like a slog.

Blogger SamuraiJeff April 26, 2020 11:51 AM  

Firstly I'm impressed vox day for being so we'll versed in the great comics (though you accidentally said Batman was part of marvel haha) I know you don't particularly care about comics.

I must add my favorite Gaiman work is his ending half of Miracle Man. It's an Alan Moore Neil gaiman collaboration for all interested

And vox day. I have read many comics but by far you have to read Lone wolf and cub.
This comic is so good it's crazy, the new starwars had to just straight up copy it to save their dying franchise

Blogger jarheadljh April 27, 2020 8:21 AM  

Ah crap, mixup, it wasn't Chuck Dixon that created Azrael, he was Knightfall and BoP, and for some reason I thought he hand a hand in that, too. Still many thanks for BoP.

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