Spin-off. It’s a word full of promise and threat.
The idea that ideas can spawn ideas threatens an endless splurge of ideas. A ‘spin-off series’ may, just perhaps, be as good or better than what went before. Or it may desecrate the sacred name of the first edition. Or both.
Of course, the most grotesque example of this lies outside of fantasy. Spin-off Jane Austen swarmed into mainstream novels, movies, and who knows what else. Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view–from Mr. Darcy’s brother’s point of view–from a Bollywood point of view–from a zombie’s point of view. Great literature in public domain fascinates readers, and rightly. Apparently, so do spin-offs.
When, however, a spin-off keeps spinning, things get a little dizzying. Consider Eragon. Controversial in its own way, as to whether it should be enjoyed or despised. (Myself, I settled for privately enjoying it an publicly despising it.) It was unashamedly a spin-off, recycling a bit of all the best fantasy cliches, from Fangorn Forest to Jedi Knights to Dragonriders.
That might be annoying, but it wasn’t the worst.
Eragon produced synthetically what fantasy and fairy tales produce naturally. Tolkien famously suggested the cauldron analogy, in which the bits and bones of lore and legend are boiled together in the collective (sub)consciousness, for the cook/storyteller to dish out his own (sub)creations. I call Eragon synthetic because it seems to borrow from borrowers, instead of from the cauldron itself.
I invite you to imagine my emotion upon discovering Eragon spin-offs.
The book looked harmless enough–anything with a dragon on the cover will get my attention, I admit. But when I began reading the blurb–a dragon egg is being kept to see which destined rider it will hatch for, so it can save the world from the Empire–I had a horrible ringing in my head. Something, somewhere, was spinning much too quickly.
Spinning-off a spin-off?
Surely somewhere this needs to stop?
Or perhaps soon we’ll wake to find spin-offs of spin-offs of spin-offs, without any escape–
–teenage vampire wizards in London bursting through to the other side of Montana with help from a strong, silent ranger in a bat cape, to free the dragon eggs the Empire holds hostage and save the galaxy from almost certain pollution–
Give them all flashlights that can cut through metal and names with apostrophes in them in w’eird places, and it all gets better.
Why are we so determined to be unoriginal?
Do we even realize we’re being unoriginal?
Is unoriginality a bad thing?
The idea of the cauldron suggests that it isn’t, necessarily. And postmodernism suggests that the purpose of a text should be the generating of other texts. In other words, spin-offs are an end to themselves.
Perhaps spin-off isn’t a dirty word, and we’re just drawing from too narrow a cauldron. For instance, Jane Austen novels are all very well, but there’s a lot more English Literature out there than Pride and Prejudice. In the same way, the fantasy genre has inherited a richer tradition than just the last fifty years.
‘When we forget the past, we lose both eyes.’
We need what’s gone before, ideas and texts and, yes, even subtexts, to collide in the cauldron of our mind and spawn new creations. None of us writes in a vacuum (or if we do, we don’t publish). But too narrow a pool distorts and inbreeds. What can and should catalyze life and creativity catalyzes instead redundancy and death.
I like dragons. I like Jane Austen. But can we stop spinning for a moment?
There are other words out there I want to hear.