Art Reacting to Art

Recently, I was asked “What inspires you?”   Although the question could have been intended in a more general sense, I immediately thought about it in terms of writing, since writing is one of my central passions.

On-going Discussion

On-going Discussion

As those of you who have read my Wanderings on Writing and my afterpieces to the stories in my collection Curiosities already know, I find inspiration in a lot of places.  However, this question ended up muddling together with my thoughts on the original Star Wars movie (aka “A New Hope”) and thereby inspired today’s wander.

Neither Jim nor I had watched Star Wars for at least twenty-five years.  (We arrived at this estimate because we’ve been together for twenty and had never watched it together.)  Back in January, we went to see “The Force Awakens” with our friend Michael Wester.  Following that, we decided that we really should re-watch the film that created the phenomenon.  This past weekend, we finally got around to doing so.

While we thought that “Star Wars” held up quite well (both to our memories and to its place in cinema history), especially after seeing “The Force Awakens,” we were stuck by two things that neither of us had really considered when (at ages twenty-five and fifteen respectively) we had seen the original film.  One, how uniformly white (unless alien or robotic) the Star Wars future was.  Two, how very few females there were in it.

Especially given that classic Star Trek had already created a future in which both women and people of varied ethnic backgrounds were clearly visible, this stuck us as a big step backwards.  I was further struck that – especially since so many people praise Princess Leia as a landmark female character, capable of taking action even while filling the role of the central element in the “rescue the princess” motif – no one seems to have noticed Leia was also the only human female character in the film.  (I’m deliberately omitting Luke’s aunt, since a couple lines and dying off-stage does not a character make.  That’s hardly better than an extra.)

Did this bother me at the time?  Heck, no!  I was fifteen.  If there were any characters I wanted to be, they would have been Han Solo or Chewbacca, not Luke or Leia.

But as I was musing about this, it blended with the question I’d been asked about inspiration, which led me in turn to think about how much writing is done as a reaction to some other work of art (in which I most sincerely include movies, television, and the like).

Reactive inspiration comes in many forms.  For purposes of this wander, I’ll divide them into the general, the desire to fill in the blanks, and, lastly,  those stories that are written in reaction to being angered or offended by an element in another work.  These elements of reactive inspiration are not, by any means, completely isolated from each other.

General reactive inspiration is the most simple.   Sometimes it comes from a negative reaction to another piece as in, “I could do as good a job as that!  If he/she can get published, then why can’t I?”  The positive variation on this is, “I love what X writes, so I want to write it, too.”

Fill in the blanks is another form of reaction.  A good example is Neil Gaiman’s story “The Case of Death and Honey” reprinted in his recent collection Trigger Warnings.  Although on one level Gaiman’s story is part of the almost too vast canon of fiction written using Sherlock Holmes, it distinguishes itself by not just providing another gas-lit adventure, but by seeking to supply a reason why Sherlock Holmes took up beekeeping in his retirement.

Fill in the blanks is also, of course, the source of a huge amount of fan fiction, a topic I have dealt with elsewhere and so won’t repeat here.

My initial contact with Roger Zelazny grew (in part) out of a reaction that he had really missed a lot of potential story regarding the three princesses of Amber (as opposed to the nine princes) and a desire to fill in the blanks.

However, although both general and fill-in-the-blanks are certainly valid examples of reactive inspiration, a much more interesting form of writing can occur when Author B has a strong reaction to some element in a piece by Author A.

A good example is how Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War as a reaction to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.   In this case, the field benefited by acquiring not one but two stories dealing with a similar theme – but from widely different perspectives.

I once heard Vonda McIntyre discuss how her Nebula award-winning novel The Moon and the Sun came from her reaction to the ending of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

When I was talking about this subject with a friend, he mentioned reading in an interview in Amazing magazine how Ted White wrote his novel By Furies Possessed in reaction to the classic Star Trek episode “This Side of Paradise.”

I’ve often wondered if the “Chani” of C.J. Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur and sequels were written as a direct response to Larry Niven’s Kzinti from his “Known Space.”  If they weren’t, it’s an amazing example of zeitgeist in action.

Sometimes the reaction is more generalized.  For example, if I’d been thirty, not fifteen, when I first saw Star Wars, I likely would have reacted by writing fiction that explained where the rest of the women were in this future – and along the way providing a lot more cultural and ethnic diversity.  Also, Chewbacca would have gotten a medal along with Han and Luke.  (Even at fifteen, I was seriously bothered that he was left out, since he took all the same risks as those two humans.)

Although I wasn’t there to do that, other writers took up the challenge, so that the question today is not “Why Rey?” but “Why hasn’t Hasbro failed to produce Rey action figures?”  Sometimes reactive fiction really can change the world.

Of course fiction can be (and much SF/F is) written in reaction to larger social, political, or scientific trends (or perceived trends), but that’s a whole ‘nuther source of inspiration.

At its richest, reactive inspiration can lead to a complex exploration of a topic, an expansion of what is seen as possible, to the point that the once all-white, nearly all male “Star Wars” universe has made great strides in envisioning a more complex future tapestry both in terms of gender and race.  (There are still some white hat/black hat problems, but I’ll spare you that…)

At its worst, reactive inspiration becomes a reductive element, creating smaller and smaller communities, none of which will work with, much less acknowledge, the other.

I know where I’d like to be…  How about you?

(Thanks to Ruth Stone, who asked the question.  I hope she enjoys this reply.)

Advertisements

9 Responses to “Art Reacting to Art”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    If you want a more extreme reaction, there’s always how Frank Herbert’s Dune inspired Joan Slonczewski’s A Door Into Ocean, which is about as much of a contrast to Dune as a book can be.

    Then again, Herbert was reportedly inspired to write Dune by the dunes of the Oregon coast, by the visions he got of blue-eyed sorceresses after eating some really excellent magic mushrooms, and by the very real image of maggots chewing through those mushrooms–if you want to know what inspired the sandworms, now you know (this all from Stamet’s Mycelium Running, which is an inspirational book in its own right that otherwise has nothing to do with fantasy).

    I brought this up just to point out the strange twists that inspiration takes. Herbert wasn’t a desert rat or an orientalist in the TE Lawrence vein. He mashed up 60’s psychedelia and environmentalism with 70s oil cartel politics to create a great “desert” novel. Slonczewski, who is definitely a feminist and IIRC a lifelong Quaker (as well as a biology professor), reacted against the patriarchy and violence in Dune by setting her story of matristic non-violent struggle on a worldwide ocean. Unfortunately, it looks like patriarchal violence sells a lot better than does matristic non-violence, but they’re a great pair of books to read together.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      I’d forgotten that one! Excellent!

      As your second comment, conflict is central to most stories, so I suspect that it’s the violence/non-violence element that’s key here. Violence provides an obvious conflict element.

      I was on several panels about DUNE this last year. I was fascinated by how many of my male panels stressed how the motif of the knives and knife fights awakened their ardor.

  2. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Hello Jane it’s JASMINE OLSON, several things inspire me but here are a few subjects I picture all the time, especially with how I surely reflect the positive parts of my Grandma Henrietta Abeyta.

    I’m not picky about how the creation of the universe was done so peace and beauty can sometimes inspire me to do something new.

    Joy inspires me pretty often especially when it’s the result of teamwork, including fictional animal teams that do with HEAVEN

    It doesn’t matter if an animal shows proof or if a human did a heroic deed loyalty can inspire me into showing perseverance.

    With what I learned from BALTO myself I look more at values we share when I try to match not love, love makes me think about rescuing and with photos of their packs I’ve learned about there being several levels of love.(WOLVES)

    Mistakes shown by fictional characters inspire me to be gentle unless I have evidence about the other one really treating me rudely except I never mean to hurt the other person, I just talk slowly or walk away quietly if I’m a bit scared but when the other person apologizes I calm down with hope that he/ she meant it.

    MY LESSONS WITH GRANDMA AND THESE FEW SUBJECTS ALL INSPIRE ME INTO BEING MERCIFUL EVEN WHEN HARD.

    AS WE ALL HAVE FEELINGS AND DON’T ALWAYS USE THE SAME GESTURES TO EXPRESS THE SAME EMOTIONS, I SEE THE DIFFERENCES SO SMALL WITH ANIMALS AND PEOPLE, I CAN ACTUALLY THINK FIRMLY ABOUT HAVING AN ENORMOUS TEAM OF ANGELS AND ANIMALS WORKING TOGETHER UP IN HEAVEN AND A FEW OF THESE BRAVE HEAVENLY ANIMALS COMING DOWN ONCE IN A WHILE TO CHECK EARTH WHEN THE ANGELS ARE TOO BUSY, OR LETTING THE ANGELS RIDE THEM WHEN THE ANGELS THEMSELVES ARE SUPER BUSY AT THE MOMENT.

    I’M INDEED WITH PHIL, COLLINS AT THIS POINT DEAR JANE LINDSKOLD ABSOLUTELY, 2 WORLDS 1 FAMILY

  3. Jas. Marshall 6 Says:

    On a tangent to your post, I wonder how many F&SF authors today (of the ones who saw Star Wars before age 18) wanted to be Han Solo and how many wanted to be Luke and how many wanted to be Leia. Luke, as filmed, and in a number of the expanded universe stories, always seemed a little reactive as opposed to proactive about his life. Luke had trouble happen around him and then reacted to it. Whatever trouble Han got into, it was usually because he chose to do something. Leia is also a person who acts rather than reacts, but she never seemed to get much to do most of the time, except for some of the EU stories.

    As for reacting to art, my first stories were Barsoom pastiches of the MarySue kind, quickly followed by Norse mythology pastiches and eventually by assorted fan fic. I’ve very much been an “inspired by” kind of writer rather than a “you did it wrong, try this” kind of writer.

    There is, of course, a whole motif in rewriting tales from the antagonist’s point of view, from Gardner’s “Grendel” to Saberhagen’s “The Dracula Tapes”, which is a different kind of inspiration. Have you ever written about that?

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    JASMINE OLSON SPEAKING, no Jas. Marshall ma’am it’s the characters like PEGASUS, SAPHHIRA who’s a blue dragon, LOVELY UNICORNS, WRENS, QUETZALS, HUMMINGBIRDS, CROWS, SWALLOWS, RAVENS, BUTTERFLIES, PENGUINS, DOLPHINS, BOWHEAD WHALES, OLD BEAR STORIES plus animated bears I find entertaining, SPIRIT STALLION OF THE CIMMARON, stories that respect the wildcats BOBCAT TIGER AND LION, Greek animals like GRIFFINS, or the funny animals in HARRY POTTER, and ANGELS THEMSELVES FROM SEVERAL BOOKS

    Heroic Girls real and pretend like POCAHONTAS, MULAN, BELLE in DISNEY, MERIDA in the movie called BRAVE, friendly trolls like those in FROZEN or green thumb trolls, CRYSTA in the movie FERN GULLY,

    I enjoy studying the various mountains that various cultures consider as a HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN including the unique volcanic ones around the world.

    JASMINE OLSON GIVING JAS. MARSHALL MORE HINTS OF HER INTERESTS.

  5. Paul Says:

    Someone put together a Facebook post with clips of all the lines from all the female characters (whose name was not Leia) in the first Star Wars trilogy. I think it lasted less than a minute. I suspect the second threesome might have been similar for all female characters whose name was not Padmé Amidala.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: