Last week, in my semi-masochistic reading of reviews, I came across a review of The Magic of Recluce that really jarred me.  It wasn’t that the review was bad, or even a rave.  The reviewer noted the strengths of the book and some areas she thought weak, or at least that felt rough to her.  What jarred me were the words and the references which compared it to books that had been published years afterward, as if The Magic of Recluce happened to be copying books that actually appeared after it.  Now, this may have been as much my impression as what the reviewer meant, but it struck a chord – off-key – in my mind because I’ve seen more than a few reviews, especially in recent years, that note that The Magic of Recluce was good, decent… or whatever, but not as original as [fill in the blank].

Now… I’m not about to get into comparative “quality” — not in this blog, at least, but I have to admit that the “not so original” comment, when comparing Recluce to books published later, concerns me.  At the time the book was published, almost all the quotes and reviews noted its originality.  That it seems less “original” now to newer and often younger readers is not because it is less original, but because there are far more books out with differing magic systems.  Brandon Sanderson, for example, has developed more than a few such systems, but all of them came well after my systems in Recluce, Erde, and Corus, and Brandon has publicly noted that he read my work well before he was a published author.

The word “original” derives from “origin,” i.e., the beginning, with the secondary definition that it is not a copy or a duplicate of other work.  In that sense, Tolkien’s work and mine are both original, because our systems and the sources from which we drew are substantially different.  Tolkien drew from linguistics and the greater and lesser Eddas, and, probably through his Inking connections with C.S. Lewis, slightly from Wagner.  I developed my magic system from a basis of physics.  Those are the “origins.”

The other sense of “original” is that signifying preceding that which follows, and in that sense, my work is less original than that of Tolkien, but more “original” than that of Sanderson or others who published later, for two reasons.  First, I wrote it earlier that did those who followed me, and second, I developed magic systems unlike any others [although the Spellsong Cycle magic has similarities to Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger, but a fundamentally different technical concept].

There’s also a difference between “original” and “unique.”  While it is quite possible for an original work not to be unique, a truly unique work must be original, although it can be derivative.

Inn any case, my concerns are nothing compared to those raised by the reader review I once read that said that Tolkien’s work was “sort of neat,” even if he did rip off a lot from Terry Brooks.


8 thoughts on “Original”

  1. hockey fan says:

    Ya it seems like some people assume whatever book they read first was published first. Since their experiences revolve around themselves, the first time they are introduced to an idea is when it seems most original to them. They don’t realize or care that what they read was derived from a previous work, and as a result we have what you describe here.

  2. No Man Is an Island is collection of short, spiritual essays that often (but not always) revolve around monastic life. The author, Thomas Merton, was a Trappist Monk living at the Abbey of Gethsemani when he wrote this book.

  3. Hi, it’s a bit offtopic but may I ask you where did you get this blog template? I’m going to start bloggin as well, I’m a bit noob though but I really like it 😉 Let me know… Anyway, nice website! 😉

    1. It isn’t a template but an original design.

  4. Finally a smart blogger…I love how you’re thinking and writing!

  5. This novel does exactly what I for one read novels for in that it took me out of my own world and transported me into another one [the world of this novel].

  6. Ronna Hokett says:

    I would love to write and say what a great job you did on this, as you have put a lot of work into it.

  7. Henning says:

    What I like about your unique magic system is that subsequent books keep bring out new aspects of it. Especially books like The Wellspring of Chaos which introduced some radical new stuff to order and chaos magic.

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