Sunday, December 8, 2013
Today I’ve done another technical blog, although it’s not very technical. It’s the story of why I’m a Perl programmer (as opposed to a C programmer, or a Java programmer, or any other sort of programmer), and it’s part 1 of a long series I’ve been wanted to do for a while now. If you’re interested in those sorts of personal history details (or comparative language studies for computer code), hop on over and check it out.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
I started out this post by looking for a good quote to expand on, but what I found was that many of the quotes I’ve collected through the years seem to be interrelated. This makes sense, if you think about it, since I am of course attracted to quotes which reflect my own outlook on life; thus, many of the quotes touch on various aspects of that. In fact, insofar as we do trust quotes to illuminate Truth for us (and I’ve also talked about why we shouldn’t), we must be cautious in trusting overmuch the quotes of any one individual, for there’s a certain amount of editorial censorship going on.
But when several quotes from disparate sources start to form a pattern, supporting each other and giving credence to the idea that a deeper Truth is here embedded, you may want to take notice.
Let’s start simply. Here’s my favorite line from Men in Black—this is from the scene where K first explains to the soon-to-be J about aliens, and J wants to know why all the secrecy:
J: People are smart. They can handle it.
K: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.
Here K (played by Tommy Lee Jones) makes a crucial distinction between a person as an individual, and people as herd animals, prone to mob mentality. J (played by Will Smith) is a New York City cop: he does know it, and has no answer to this.
I like this quote because it’s a bit of a meditation on individuality. As primates, we’re not exactly herd animals, and we’re not exactly pack animals, but we’re definitely not loners. If you have cats (or have ever interacted with them in more than superficial ways), you know that cats are, by nature, solitary. They tolerate other cats, sometimes, like they tolerate you ... sometimes. I am one of those rare people who is perfectly balanced between loving dogs and cats, so I’ve had my share of both, and had the opportunity to observe them in domestic situations. Every cat is different, as every dog is different, as every human is different, but there are fundamental natures of each. My favorite Just So Story is “The Cat That Walked by Himself”, and whenever I interact with cats I hear my grandfather intoning that excellent Kipling line: “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me. I will not come.”
But humans are not like this. Humans have an instinctive need to belong, to cluster together against the dangers of the big, bad world. Sometimes this goes too far, and we develop an us-against-them mindset that becomes toxic. But, in measured doses, this instinct of ours can produce loyalty, self-sacrifice, and a fierce protectiveness of our friends and family—of our tribe. So this is something that’s neither good nor bad. It just is.
Of course, there are exceptions. One of the great things of being a firm believer in balance and paradox is that I can tell you in all seriousness that people are all the same and that all of us are different. Depeche Mode tells us that people are people, and they’re not wrong. And Ray Stevens tells us that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and he’s not wrong either. Indeed, it is the very paradoxical nature of humans that makes them simultaneously capable of such togetherness and such individuality.
Or I could say that it makes them simultaneously capable of conformity and disruptiveness.
There’s no doubt that some value conventionality and orthodoxy, while others value individualism and originality. Actually, it’s probabaly more accurate to say that most of us value both, just in differing proportions. I of course favor a position somewhere between the two, and also I value both at once. But I doubt anyone who’s met me would fail to agree that I come down more on the side of individuality. If I were a role-playing geek (which, you know, I am), I would tell you that my alignment is Chaotic Good (with leanings towards Chaotic Neutral).
If you find it too difficult to draw deep philosophical meaning from a science fiction movie which was (let’s face it) a bit silly (even though it was lots of fun), how about we look to something Steve Jobs said (this is from a Wired article in 1996):
I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups.
Notice that while this is slightly more learned-sounding, it’s exactly the same sentiment. Now, I’m cheating a bit here, because I’m reusing both these quotes: I used them in my explanation of Cynical Romanticism. But there I was concentrating on the downside of people. Here I want to take the opposite approach: the upside of person.
E. E. Cummings once said (in his Advice to Students, 1958):
To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
and I think this sums up my attitude towards conformity in as concise and complete a manner as possible. Being different is hard ... this is why we end up with cultures like goths or punks, with gangs of people trying so hard to look different that they all end up looking alike. Being different requires figuring out what “different” means: for you, in your family, in your town, in your society. “Different” is different for everybody.
In fact, probably the biggest obstacle to people being themselves is not knowing who “themselves” is. Before you can shine as a unique individual, you’re going to have to figure out who you actually are. “Know thyself” advises the inscription at Delphi, but it’s a terribly difficult task. We humans have a tendency to think we understand our own minds, but it turns out we’re pretty terrible at it, in general. We lie to ourselves, we exaggerate our strengths and downplay our weaknesses, we avoid the darker corners of our psyches because we’re afraid to find out what’s in them. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can come to understand yourself reasonably well, and then you can start truly becoming who you were all along.
And then it gets really hard.
Because, no matter how much we claim to celebrate individuality, we do a damn fine job of ostracizing anyone who doesn’t fit our definition of “normal.” And “normal” is boring. In fact, it’s a bit scary. Jodie Foster once said:
Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from.
But of course the farther you get away from it, the more dirty looks and eye rolls and disapproving sniffs you get. This is why Cummings describes it as a battle. And all he did was throw the rules of grammar out the window and decapitalize his name every now and again.
So I’ve fought the good fight for much of my life. I’ve stood out even when it meant sticking out, and I’ve gone my own way when going along would have been much easier (and safer). Mostly I haven’t done this out of any particular moral imperative, or pride, or anything of that sort. Mostly I was just too stubborn to conform when I probably should have. But I’m not unhappy with how it’s all turned out. I don’t have too many regrets, at least not on that score.
Being yourself is a worthwhile endeavor. You will stand out in people’s minds, and make an impact on them even when you can’t remember ever having met them. You will occasionally annoy, and occasionally frustrate, but you will also occasionally delight, and occasionally inspire. That makes it all worthwhile, in the end. At least it has to me.
Another quote I’ve always found thought-provoking, even though it’s somewhat trite, is often attributed to Confucius (which, like most things attributed to Confucius, is beyond unlikely and into ludicrous), and sometimes attributed to someone named Patrick Bryson (whoever that is). But I’ve often thought it’s pithy simplicity held the promise of something more.
Always be yourself. Otherwise, who are you?
Good advice indeed. Along with the advice in the title of today’s post, which comes from The Iron Giant, which is an excellent film about being yourself. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should seek it out. Some things are worth the effort.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
I was looking for a poem today.
It was the first poem that I ever wrote, or at least the first I can now remember having written. It was nearly fully-formed in my head when I woke up one morning, and I remember the experience very clearly. It was after I dropped out of college and after I moved out of my parents’ house, in that first non-familial dwelling where I lived with countless roommates whose faces were constantly changing. The quality of light in my bedroom was strained: the sun had no doubt lightened the sky as best it could before actually emerging above the horizon, but there were also curtains to mute the brightness even further. Everything in my room seemed to have a grainy quality, like a badly filmed movie. I got up and grabbed one of my college notebooks, which I had not thrown away because there were still blank pages in them, and I wrote it all down. I believe I had to make up part of it, so the last few verses aren’t nearly as good as the intial ones, which were a gift from my subconscious. I can still recite the first two stanzas nearly perfectly, after all these years ...
But now I can’t find it. I know I still have a copy; probably more than one. I transcribed it several times, in different media. (No doubt it exists on a few dead hard drives as well.) At the very least, I should have the copy that I submitted for my poetry class, during my second tour of college, since I saved nearly everything I ever wrote for any of my writing classes: two semesters of fiction, two of non-fiction, one of poetry, and one of advanced writing. My poetry professor said it reminded him of Poe’s poetry. I said, thank you. He said, that wasn’t a compliment.
I never cared much for poetry. It’s dense, and difficult to parse. Fiction has a flow to it; once you get properly cranking, you can just write it forever. Or at least I can. Poetry is more about agonizing over every word. It’s spare, and exacting, and needs to communicate one thing while saying another. If you’ve ever wondered if poetry is as difficult to write as it is to read, the answer is yes.
Oscar Wilde once said, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.” My poetry professor certainly believed that. His attitude was, if you want to pour all your personal feelings out on paper and call it poetry, that’s fine. But, as soon as you bring it into my classroom, you give me permission to tell you it’s crap. He made at least one person in the class cry, that I recall. I made sure that any emotions I tried to capture in my poetry weren’t my own. Much safer that way.
While I couldn’t find my first poem, I did find the first poem I submitted for that class. Rereading it, I suppose it isn’t terrible, though it certainly isn’t great either. It was based on someone I’d met my first year back in school, and it was an attempt to capture a more complex emotion than just the simple one-word things we typically use in our everyday speech. I don’t know how successful it was at that, but at least it recaptures that emotion for me, as I reread it. But then I knew what I was trying to say in the first place, so it may not work as well for you. But judge for yourself:
I am not in love.
I mean, he’s a sweet guy and all, but
it’s just a fling.
A brief encounter.
A few weeks of passion.
It’s just shallow.
I met him
where I work.
He comes in a lot.
The stale, smoky air,
the cool green felt,
the constant clack of the balls—
it has an undeniable attraction for some.
I remember noticing him.
I liked the easy way he moved,
his long, blonde hair tucked under a hat
or a bandana.
His intense concentration,
his confident style:
he was like an artist at work.
He has good hands.
We never really spoke, he and I,
until that night.
I was drunk and he was drunk
and we were together
and he was intelligent
And I was surprised.
I mean, a lot of guys wear their leather
and their long hair
and play their boyish games,
and they think they’re cool.
But they have no substance.
But he ...
he was different.
He is different.
What? Yes, I know.
He has a girlfriend.
But she’s far away,
and it doesn’t really matter because
it’s just shallow.
Am I wrong?
Don’t sit there so quietly,
tell me what you think.
You won’t hurt my feelings.
It’s not like I love him.
The other night I was alone.
It was the first night I’ve spent along since
that first night.
But I didn’t miss him or anything.
I sat around, I did some homework,
And I dreamed ...
I dreamed I was a little girl
and I was standing in a field
and the field was full of beautiful flowers
and the sun was shining—
I remember how warm it felt on my skin—
and birds were singing ...
it was really pretty.
And off in the distance,
way far away,
was a tree.
It was the most perfect tree—
it was a maple,
with perfectly shaped green leaves
and strong, straight branches
that started close to the ground and went up
almost like a ladder.
It looked so cool and inviting,
and I wanted to climb it so badly,
so I started running
and I ran and I ran
and the tall grass whipped my legs
and the wind tugged at my hair
and I was going faster and faster
until everything around me was a blur of sound and motion
but that tree never moved.
It never came any closer.
It was exactly as far away
as it was before.
And when I woke up,
I felt out of breath
and my legs ached.
Isn’t that odd?
He’ll be over again tonight.
I’ll be glad to see him,
even though I wonder
He’s going away for the summer.
He’s going to saty with his girlfriend.
And by the time he gets back,
I’ll be gone.
Didn’t I tell you?
It doesn’t really matter anyway—
it’s just shallow.
I hear him on the stairs now,
so you’ll excuse me.
The time we spend together won’t last long,
so it’s very special.
I treasure each moment.
But, in a way,
I’ll be glad when summer comes.
One can only take so much intimacy.
I am not in love.
From the condition of the copy I found, I suspect this was a first draft, so it might have gotten better; I can’t recall. But it still has a certain quality that I like, despite the fact that it was written when I was young and foolish, and (to plagiarize They Might Be Giants) I feel old and foolish now. It could have almost been a prose piece, but I think the linebreaks actually add something to the flow (or non-flow) of it that makes it more interesting than it would be if it were just written in paragraphs. But of course I’m biased.
I’ll keep on looking for the original poem that I actually wanted to share with you. Or maybe the rest of it will come back to me. In the meantime, I revisited my cento from a few months ago and produced a key for the original references. I was starting to feel bad about not crediting the original authors. Plus it’ll save you some Googling, if you really wanted to know the sources.
- Title, first half: original
- Title, second half: A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
- Stanza 1, Line 1: traditional (recycled by Peter Straub, Shadowland)
- Stanza 1, Line 2: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (recycled by Charles Schulz, Peanuts, and Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)
- Stanza 1, Line 3: Jane’s Addiction, “Of Course,” Ritual de lo Habitual
- Stanza 1, Line 4: English nursery rhyme (recycled by Neil Gaiman, Stardust, and Stratus, “The Fear,” Fear of Magnetism)
- Stanza 2, Line 1: Guadalcanal Diary, ”... Vista,” Flip-Flop
- Stanza 2, Line 2: The The, “This is the Day,” Soul Mining
- Stanza 2, Line 3: Shakespeare, Macbeth, (recycled by Agatha Christie, book of the same name)
- Stanza 2, Line 4: Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, “Canto the second”
- Stanza 2, Line 5: John Irving, A Widow for One Year, (recycled by himself, book of the same name)
- Stanza 2, Line 6: V.S. Pritchett, At Home and Abroad
- Stanza 3, Line 1: Dead Can Dance, “Black Sun,” Aion
- Stanza 3, Line 2: “The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens”, traditional Scottish poem
- Stanza 3, Line 3, first half: Frank Herbert, Dune
- Stanza 3, Line 3, second half: Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
- Stanza 3, Line 4: Emily Brown, “Enemy of Time,” This Goes With Us
- Stanza 4, Line 1, first half: A.S.J. Tessimond, “Cats”
- Stanza 4, Line 1, second half: Po Chu-i, “The Red Cockatoo” (translation by Arthur Waley)
- Stanza 4, Line 2, first half: Tool, “Disgustipated,” Undertow
- Stanza 4, Line 2, second half: Tori Amos, “Happy Phantom,” Little Earthquakes
- Stanza 4, Line 3: R.E.M., “Swan Swan H,” Life’s Rich Pageant
- Stanza 4, Line 4: Incubus, “Pardon Me,” Make Yourself
- Stanza 4, Line 5, first half: Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
- Stanza 4, Line 5, second half: The Beautiful South, “From Under the Covers,” Welcome to the Beautiful South
- Stanza 5, Line 1: John Mayer, “No Such Thing,” Room for Squares
- Stanza 5, Line 2: e.e. cummings
- Stanza 5, Line 3: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
- Stanza 5, Line 4, first half: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”
- Stanza 5, Line 4, second half: Shakespeare, Hamlet
- Stanza 6, Line 1: Saiyuki, “Where the Gods Are”
- Stanza 6, Line 2: Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
- Stanza 6, Line 3: Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”
- Stanza 6, Line 4: Blind Melon, “No Rain,” Blind Melon
- Stanza 7, Line 1, first half: Harvey
- Stanza 7, Line 1, second half: Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Stanza 7, Line 2: traditional (recycled by Peter Straub, Shadowland)
- Stanza 7, Line 3: Satchel Paige (but also attributed to many others)
- Stanza 7, Line 4: Will Smith, “Just the Two of Us,” Big Willie Style
- Stanza 7, Line 5: the Kaiser Chiefs, “Time Honoured Tradition,” Employment
Sunday, November 17, 2013
The Mother took a brief (and well-earned) vacation this weekend, and I’ve also had a few lingering work issues to take care of, so there’s no post for you this week. Too bad so sad for you. Next week should be a bit lighter.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
No time for a proper post, but I will leave you with a thought I had this weekend.
In general, I don’t feel old. My beard is almost completely white, my oldest child is taller than I am (and has a moustache now), and, every time I stand up after sitting for any length of time, I have to crack my ankles before I can take a step. Yeah, it’s true that I’m generally the oldest person on my tech team (although at my current job I suspect I have at least a fighting chance at “second oldest”). And, yeah, I’m in many ways crotchety, creaky, grumpy, and falling apart. But I’ve refused to grow up my whole life and I’m not really about to start now.
Still, every once in a while something sneaks up on me and catches me by surprise. This weekend we watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which (if you haven’t seen it), is one of those very serious lives-of-high-school students movies, somewhat like The Breakfast Club, which is certainly one of my all-time favorite movies. (Interesting side note: John Hughes wrote the original screenplay for Perks and was going to direct the film as his comeback, before his death kinda put a damper on that plan.) This movie stars Hermione Granger and Percy Jackson, which is a pretty awesome combination, at least in the magical powers department.
Possibly because I re-watch Breakfast Club on a pretty regular basis, high school movies still seem relevant to me, no matter how old I get. This is a pretty good one; I definitely recommend it. The problems the kids have to deal with don’t seem trivial, but neither are they overblown. And the acting is quite maginificent—I was especially impressed with Ezra Miller, who I only knew previously from his brief but appropriately disturbing turn in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
So it was by turns funny and touching, and I thorougly enjoyed it, and there were no problems at all ... except. Except there’s this part where first Hermione, and then later Percy, stand up while riding in the back of a pickup which is going full speed through a tunnel. You know, when Teen Wolf went “van surfing,” that didn’t bug me at all, but, man, I must be getting old, because the whole time I was watching this pickup thing I was so nervous that one of those damn kids was going to go tumbling out of the back of the truck and get smushed by a semi cruising along behind them or something. At the very least it was a serious case of road rash waiting to happen. I kept wanting to shout at the screen “sit down, you stupid kid! you’re going to break your fool neck!”
So ... yeah. Getting a bit old, I guess. As Twain says, “It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.”
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Today, I spent the time I normally would spend writing a blog post for you building a new Heroscape map. If it makes you feel any better, it’s a really cool one: Avalanche, by Hero-X, from the now-demised Shadowlock site. I have no idea whether it’ll be any good to actually play on, but I intend to find out, if the boys are willing. The sprite helped.
So it’s a me-focussed weekend (mainly becuase my birthday is coming up). Come back next week and perhaps I’ll have something more entertaining for you to look at.
On the off chance that you are a fellow ‘Scaper, and want to build this map for yourself, you can download the instructions here.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Quick, which band is the originator of grunge music?
I bet most of you—something on the order of 97 to 99% of you, in fact—replied “Nirvana.” Which is a lovely answer: their radio anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is what introduced grunge music to the world. I can remember the first time I heard it: it was Industrial Night at the Roxy, in downtown DC, in 1991. I won’t go so far as to say it changed my life—I was already very much into alternative music, otherwise why would I have been attending Industrial Night?—but it certainly jolted my system. I had no idea it was about to take the airwaves (and, shortly thereafter, the nation) by storm, but I knew this was something ... special. Something profound. It’s 22 years later now and I’m still listening to new songs from the Foo Fighters coming on the radio: that’s a decent run for any modern band and its descendants. It doesn’t rival the Beatles or the Stones, but it’s a damn fine run, and it ain’t over yet.
But of course Nirvana didn’t invent grunge music. The first incarnation of Nirvana came together in 1985 or ‘86. Soundgarden had already been around for at least a year, as had Green River, who begat Mother Love Bone, who begat Perl Jam. Green River’s roots, in fact, go back as far as 1980, and the roots of the Melvins go back to 1983, at least, and they together spawned Mudhoney, who is certainly the best Seattle grunge band you’ve never heard of, hands down.
And Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, right? Here’s what Kurt Cobain said about writing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Rolling Stone:
I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
And the Pixies, you see, were from Boston, whose grunge scene is underrated nearly to the point of being unknown, even though it included great (but little-known) bands like the Pixies, Buffalo Tom, and of course Dinosaur Jr., who formed in 1983 and not only wrote what is arguably the best grunge quatrain ever:
I know I don’t thrill you
Sometimes I think I’ll kill you
Just don’t let me fuck up, will you
‘Cause when I need a friend it’s still you
but also what is surely the greatest remake ever.
But what is the point here? (Other than to re-educate you on the finer points of grunge music, naturally.) I think the point is that some Nirvana fans may be offended by my pointing out they didn’t invent grunge, they merely popularized it. As if that somehow takes away from their genius. Am I saying that Nirvana is just a rip-off of the Pixies? No, Kurt Cobain said that. I think I’m saying that originality is overrated. It’s held up as some sort of sacred cow, and, if a thing isn’t original, it’s therefore inferior. But Nirvana is not inferior to the Pixies ... I’m not saying they’re better, merely that they’re not any worse. Coming in second or third or fifth or tenth in the chronological list of grunge bands doesn’t make them any less insanely good than they truly are. Everyone had done what they did before, but no one ever did it like they did, before or after. Why do we care if they were first or not?
We can move into the wider world of music. Can there be a Lady Gaga without Madonna? No, not really. Does that make Lady Gaga a “Madonna rip-off”? Certainly not in the pejoritive way that the phrase is generally used.
We’ll expand to movies. Can Dark City exist without Metropolis? No, certainly not. Hell, I’m not sure Dark City could exist without The City of Lost Children, but that doesn’t make Dark City any less brilliant. Hell, I’ve heard it argued that The Matrix doesn’t exist without Dark City (although their releases are close enough together that it’s more likely a pair than a rip-off), but that doesn’t take anything away from The Matrix either.
Comic books: I’ve always loved Moon Knight. Moon Knight is a rich guy who fights at night with a mysterious, scary costume and uses a lot of gadgets ... sound familiar? Yeah, Moon Knight is pretty much a Batman rip-off. So what? How does that make him any less cool?
Literature: I’ve already talked about how I feel about the Wheel of Time series being accused of being a Lord of the Rings rip-off. I’ve also heard it accused of being a Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones) rip-off, which is amusing, since the first book of Wheel of Time was published before George R. R. Martin even started writing the first book of Song of Ice and Fire. But let’s say you’re willing to flip it around and accuse Martin of ripping off Jordan instead: I still say, so what? If it were true that Martin deliberately and consciously sat down and said “I’m going to rewrite Wheel of Time, only better” (and I truly don’t believe he did), who cares? What Martin produced is still awesome. You could argue whether it’s better than Jordan or not, but, in the end, it’s different, and they’re both very good. They could have been ripping each other constantly throughout the respective series (which, although it’s true that Jordan started first, were being published simultaneously), and I would only be grateful for the cross-pollination. It’s not like whoever got there first gets more points or something.
In my discussion about the Wheel of Time question, I made another analogy: Harry Potter being described as a rip-off of James and the Giant Peach. I chose for a number of deliberate reasons. The most obvious being that James and the Giant Peach was published 4 years before J. K. Rowling was even born, so it completely eliminates any question of whose idea came first. Also because I don’t think it’s a criticism that’s ever actually been made; rather it seems to be the case that any series which is even remotely like Harry Potter is proclaimed to be a rip-off of it: A Series of Unfortuante Events, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Artemis Fowl, the Bartimaeus trilogy, the Septimus Heap series, Children of the Red King, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, The Wednesday Tales, etc etc ad infinitum. But of course the one that concerns me is the one that I’m currently engaged in writing (assuming I ever get back to it), Johnny Hellebore.
So this question of originality hits home for me, and I must admit I have an ulterior motive. It only occurred to me after Johnny Hellebore was completely fleshed out as a character that he shares a lot of similarites to Harry Potter, especially physically. He’s a white, English-speaking, male, teenaged boy, thin, with black hair and eyes that are some shade of green. The differences, particularly at this level are so slight as to be laughable: American instead of British, a bit older, eyes more blue-green than Harry’s piercing green. They’re both parentless, although Johnny isn’t an orphan, and one might even go so far as to make a comparison between Larissa and Hermione (although I feel that’s unflattering to Hermione, really). The farther along you go, of course, the more you have to struggle for the similarites against the profound differences, instead of the other way around, but by that point you’ve established your foundation, and your audience is more likely to grant you the benefit of the doubt. And, while I’m telling you that all of this only occurred to me after the fact, you only have my word for that, no?
For that matter, while I can assure you that I was not consciously trying to “rip off” Harry Potter, how can I make any definitive statements about what my subconscious may or may not have been up to? I certainly had read the Harry Potter books—several times—as well as listened to the audiobooks and watched all the movies. And I respect the hell of out J. K. Rowling: she’s a dead brilliant author with an envy-inpsiring talent for both characterization and plotting that I certainly could do worse than to emulate. So was Harry kicking around in the back of my brain, casting an influence on this idea? I’m sure he must have been.
Still, Johnny Hellebore is an entirely different story than Harry Potter. One is aimed at younger readers, though it’s good enough that older readers will appreciate it as well; the other is aimed at older readers, and, though younger readers may certainly appreciate it, it requires a much higher maturity level. One focuses on a sense of wonder and a fierce joy that only slowly becomes eclipsed by the darker themes of the series; the other is dark from the very first page, and it’s the joy and wonder that serve as the counterpoint. One is a story of a boy growing into a man; the other is a story of a boy who is in many ways a man already, but who exists in a state of being “stuck”—not necessarily stuck in childhood, but just in a deep a rut in his life, which is a state that all of us experience, at many different points in our lives. One was very likely influenced by Roald Dahl; the other is more likely influenced by Steven King.
Still, the comparisons will inevitably be made, and, on one level, I find it flattering. As I say, Rowling is a brilliant author and even to be mentioned in the same sentence as her is quite nice. Still, one doesn’t want to be thought of as a rip-off, right? But then that got me wondering ... why not?
It seems to me that we’ve somehow elevated originality into some Holy Grail. Everything has to be original. Except ... nothing is original. At this point in human history, everything can be said to be derived from, descended from, influenced by, or in the vein of, something else that we’ve seen or heard or read before. There’s just so much out there ... how could you not sound familiar, even if only by accident?
So, I say, let’s set aside originality. Can we not rather ask—should we not rather ask—it is good? Who cares whether it’s original or not, as long as it’s valuable, inspirational, emotionally involving, socially relevant, philosophically touching, mentally engaging ... does it speak to you? If it does, then doesn’t it deserve to be evaluated on its own merits? I think it does. I’ll take my Nevermind and my Doolittle, thank you very much. They’re both pretty damn rockin’.