It took the seventh Harry Potter for me to realize I had it backwards.
I remember driving all over the Rancho Santa Fe and Camino San Bernardo hoods of San Diego with that cinder block of a book propped up on my steering wheel during my morning commutes. Finished it in three days alongside all of my friends, some of whom introduced me to John Granger. John has explained Harry Potter by way of classic literature and Latin. The Aeschylus quote Rowling includes at the beginning of book seven sealed John’s argument for me: Rowling really does pull from a “great compost heap of classic literature.” She wasn’t on her own. She wasn’t trying to be original.
She shoots for derivation.
More on that in a moment. For now, let’s say that many of you are a few books or dozens of short stories deep into your career, which may feel as disorienting as if you were a few beers deep. At every stage in this journey, you may take one of two postures. One is that of the learner who kneels to listen. The other is that of the combatant who takes up arms to strike down his competition. The latter won’t end well for you.
Everything you create is not true creation. We are not creators. We’re makers. Tolkien taught us that in On Fairy Stories. At no point in this journey will you start truly from scratch. You’re using a borrowed language (English), with a borrowed form (narrative), amplified by borrowed tropes (genres), made fresh by borrowed subversions (humor, genre bending, etc.), magnified by a borrowed audience (you do not own your readership), and I could go on and on for days about paper pulp and the evolution of your genre and the publishing industry and so forth. [Read more…]