Plagiarism and The Sea of Stories, by Enid Richemont

When does using traditional, or well-known and loved stories such as those by Hans Christian Andersen (one of my all-time favourite writers) and the like, become plagiarism? There must be a HCA estate of some kind, yet versions of these stories appear everywhere - in film, theatre, books and whatever. It's said that there's no copyright on ideas, that ideas are universal, and we all know where Shakespeare got a lot of his from. Might there be, as in Salman Rushdie's children's novel, a "Sea of Stories" into which we dip? I'm mentioning this, because I've recently spent some time re-structuring and shortening one of the stories from the John Bauer illustrated collection of Swedish tales, all of which, I think, must be re-interpretations of much older ones. If you're not familiar with John Bauer's work, here's an 
 idea of it on the left - magical!

Most traditional folk and fairy tales seem to centre on fairness and honesty. The one I've been working on is about being true to your word, and keeping a promise no matter what - which could serve as an excellent primer for our current politicians. 

Back to plagiarism, though. A Costa prize-winning author took the concept of "Groundhog Day" - a day which is stuck in a time loop and keeps on repeating itself - and has written a murder mystery which does just that (tough on both the victim and the observer who is beginning to fall in love with her!) And every author's nightmare - you once, long ago, read a novel which has sunk so far into your consciousness that it starts feeling as if you own it. Was there ever a book, or did I dream it? Wow! you assume - the Muse has been kind to me, so I'll get to work and write it.

And recently, the John Lewis Christmas ad featured a small dragon with antisocial fire problems. Such a clever idea, but seems quite a number of picture book authors had got there first, and, understandably, felt a bit miffed. The upside of this was that at least one of the authors found that her book sales had increased quite noticeably following the ad!

Some time ago, one of my small Franklin Watts books was translated into Arabic. It's a story based on pigeon poo, and it's both funny and rather rude, so I was a bit surpised - well so much for my preconceptions! Is anyone reading this blog familiar with Arabic? It seems to me that there must be quite a few variations on the language because it's spoken over such wide areas. I'm asking for a rather special reason - my family in Cornwall, together with local support, has made it possible for a Syrian refugee family living in a camp in the Lebanon to be housed in Falmouth. There are three children - a baby, a four year old and a six year old, and I thought I might offer them this as a welcome present, but maybe it's a form of Arabic they're not familiar with. Comments, especially from any Arabic scholars out there, are more than welcome.


Jan Needle said…
Fabulous post - thank you!
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you, Enid - I share your anxieties about ideas that suddenly pop up, who knows from where! I've also rewritten some old tales - The Silkie and Babushka in the belief that legends are fair game as sources of new 'takes'.
Lovely story about the Syrian refugees in these ghastly times! x

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