Discussing: Plagairism and Accusations
Plagairism and Accusations
19 Nov 06 7:20 PM
On Tuesday, 14 November, I received quite a surprising email from the Site Managers at HASA, informing me that veiled accusations had been made against my novel-length Silmarillion story Another Man's Cage. The accuser claimed that Chapter Sixteen had been plagiarized from her own work.
Needless to say, I was quite surprised! Quite surprised but nonetheless calm, for I knew that AMC is far from plagiarized.
AMC is an intensely personal story to me. For one, the chapter in question was written more than two years ago and sat on a floppy disk in my desk drawer at work for another year before I had the courage to share it on my LiveJournal. It was only shared here, on HASA, a few weeks ago. AMC was a story that I wrote, thinking it would never by seen by anyone but me. In fact, at the time that Chapter Sixteen was being written, I refused to even admit to anyone--even my husband--that I was writing the story. I'd convinced myself that writing was a bad idea for me, so AMC was something of a dirty little secret for a long while.
AMC was never a story written for an audience other than myself or for any sort of acclaim. In fact, I have had to cut bits that I felt too personal to share, even with friends. Such a story does not serve to benefit from plagiarizing from even the finest authors in great literature, much less a relative unknown on a fan fiction archive.
I do not know my accuser, and I have never read any of her stories. For a variety of personal reasons, I am not yet a reviewer on HASA, so her conspiracy theories about a connection between the alleged plagiarism and her story's failure to pass review is clearly false. I am not an admin or a person with any sort of "power." I am just an ordinary user who appreciates the resources and audience that HASA provides for my work.
The part of AMC said to be plagiarized was "Chapter 16 - ...in which Macalaure comforts the guilty Tyelkormo." Reading the official site statement on the incident, I find that half of the accusations made were based on this theme: the younger sibling being comforted by the older sibling. Indeed, this is a plot device that I use a lot in my stories. Most of my work is character-based and centers very little on dramatic events. I often tell potential readers that if they like big battles and epic scenes, AMC will not be the story for them. It is a family drama where scraped knees and adolescent love gone bad truly are the crux of the action. AMC was written with the intention of showing how an Elven family in the Blessed Realm could be corrupted to perform the sorts of deeds common to the Feanorians' later history. Macalaure (Maglor) and Tyelkormo (Celegorm) are important to this story for several reasons.
For one, in terms of both canon and fanon, they are foils of each other. Maglor is often portrayed as the gentlest of the brothers while Celegorm is the most depraved. While I agree wholly with neither characterization, I believe that there is some small kernel of merit: Maglor is less impetuous, more of a thinker than a fighter, while Celegorm is more apt to act on his emotions without as much thought. I spend 350,000 words in AMC trying to develop this idea without coming right out and saying it. I believe that it is important to understanding each brother's role in events that follow in First Age history.
In the accused chapter, Maglor does comfort Celegorm, who does feel extraordinary guilt. While riding on a journey with their family, young Celegorm (the equivalent of a Human seven-year-old) decided to show off and ride his pony without hands. When his pony was spooked, he would have fallen but for the unexpected heroics of Maglor (the equivalent of a fifteen-year-old), who dove from his own horse to save Celegorm's pony from bolting, dislocating his shoulder during the fall. Often, in my stories, I try to show Maglor as an "accidental hero" in hopes of hinting to his later heroics in the First Age. Celegorm, the more obvious hero at this point, is more prone to bad judgment, hinting at his own more sinister fate. This chapter was written with such a purpose in mind.
Maglor was the only witness to Celegorm's antics, yet he stayed silent and allowed his family to blame his injury on "just another incidence of Macalaure being klutzy." Celegorm's guilt at this--his brother's injury and his willingness to accept even playful derision when he is in fact a hero--is paramount. It is an important moment for him: when he recognizes that his father's key flaws--his impetuosity and his pride--are also his own.
In a family-based drama about the House of Feanor, it is scarcely possible to have a story where Maglor and Celegorm never interact. Indeed, they interact perhaps the least of my characters--being such polar opposites, neither has much regard or need for the other--but their occasional encounters are some of the most powerful in my stories. For even as they are foils, they are also the most alike of Feanor's sons in one important way: the fact that they are so vastly different from their father. With Maglor's music and Celegorm's connection to nature, neither believes himself to be much of a source of pride to his father, and so they often connect--as they do here--on that level, on accepting their individuality and dealing with their shame in being the "lesser" sons of Feanor.
A friend of mine said of this incident: So you plagiarized this one chapter and wrote fifty-one others around it? That is perhaps the most absurd thing of all, for me, about this incident. Anyone familiar with my work will attest to the fact that the encounter between Celegorm and Maglor in Chapter Sixteen is something that is developed throughout AMC and other stories as well--I recently wrote a birthday gift for a close friend that explored their relationship in great detail. It was, again, centered around Maglor comforting Celegorm. Am I to assume that this is plagiarized as well? And while I will admit that I have seen few stories that explore deeply the relationship between these two brothers, I know that I am not the only one to consider it. And hardly the only one to use their special status as brothers relatively close in age to explore how this relationship might have developed. In that sense, the rather banal scene where Maglor comforts Tyelkormo is but a means to a much, much larger end.
Truly, I am left after the dust settles a bit with two prevailing emotions.
One: great pity for this "PV," who clearly believes her work to be of such great importance to the Tolkien fandom that myself and five authors who are some of the most highly respected in this fandom--who already have considerable followings of their work--would commit perhaps the greatest "sin" as writers: plagiarizing the work of another writer. That we felt so threatened by her greatness that we saw that we had no other options than to try to steal some of her spotlight while there was still time. Never mind that we all have a pretty fair share of the spotlight already. Yet, despite her greatness, I've never heard of the girl, and judging by Ang's post, she'd never heard of her either. To at least 33% of us, this girl was not even a blip on the radar before this week's events. As a Silmarillion author, one quickly learns of and meets the most talented Silmarillion authors in only a short time. If she'd written and story about Maglor and Celegorm as she'd suggested and it was truly as wonderful as she'd suggested, I likely would have known it. It is hard to be unknown in this corner of the fandom, especially if you truly have talent so earth-shattering as to warrant plagiarism by--not just me--six independent and well-known authors. As PV seems to believe that she did.
Two: I must underscore how calm and confident I was during this whole ordeal. I knew that AMC was not plagiarized, and I knew that HASA would recognize this too. Never did I fear being accused wrongly or even being asked to justify myself. I was emailed almost daily to be kept up-to-date on the Site Managers' progress with the issue. As soon as HASA had new information, it was shared with me and the other five accused authors. We were asked to hold our tempers, that the incident would be taken care of for us. I never felt the need to get angry or defensive. In fact, my prevailing thought was to wonder how I ever got included alongside five authors of such extraordinary talent!
I am the owner and moderator of a Silmarillion group called Silmarillion Writers' Guild; currently, we have less than 100 members (whereas HASA has many hundred), and already, I can attest that sometimes making the right decision as a moderator is not easy. I must really commend Anglachel, Agape, and the others on the staff who made this incident so painless for the wrongly accused, often taking on hours of research and investigation themselves. It is not always easy to do the right thing. It is even harder to do it gracefully. I know this, from my own experience as a group owner who has dealt with sticky issues--and people--in the past, yet I think that the swift and diplomatic actions of the admins here truly deserve our recognition and gratitude.
This incident should not make people fear for their reputations, "omg it could happen to me"; if anything, this should re-emphasize your "safety" on this site as an author of integrity. It reminds us that the admins here are willing to take on a good amount of headache and heartache on our behalf, and that's pretty comforting for an author.
Again, I offer my sincerest thanks to the admins who handled this in such an effective manner. You have reminded me of why I continue to post on this site.
Re: Plagairism and Accusations
20 Nov 06 10:32 AM
Reply To: 49187
I would think that when one is writing a detailed story about a family whose multiple offspring have a good relationship with each other, that writing a scene where an older sibling comforts a younger is just a natural thing to do, since this is something that would happen in families - regardless of whether one had ever seen another scene, in another writer's story, where an older sib comforted a younger sib. I mean, if we write a scene, or a paragraph, where Glorfindel grooms Asfaloth or rubs him down after returning from Nazgul-fighting, is it plagiarism because Author X and Author Y have written Eomer grooming Firefoot, or even Glorfie grooming Asfaloth? I mean, SHEEEEEEEEEESH. Let's have some common sense here!
And how many fanfic writers have had older brother Boromir comforting younger brother Faramir? There might even be some where Elladan or Elrohir comfort Arwen, or Elphir comforts Amrothos. Older siblings often give comfort and advice to younger ones, in fiction, fanfiction and in real life. It's a universal theme, for cryin' out loud!
I'm sorry you were harrassed by this person.
That being said, I am very glad to see this forum; since I have some questions on the topic.
RAKSHA THE DEMON
Re: Plagairism and Accusations
20 Nov 06 12:39 PM
Reply To: 49197
Thanks, Raksha, though the harrassment never reached me personally. I was not one of the authors who was contacted by PV; my first awareness came via Agape, who let me know that there was a problem and it was being taken care of. Through it all, I'd best characterize my feelings as "morbid fascination." ;)
And you're totally right about the common scenes, imo. Some of my original fiction has comfort scenes along the lines of what was in Chapter Sixteen. I suppose that those are plagiarized as well? If that is our definition of plagiarism (and Juno's post and my understanding of it as an author and in the academic sense makes it pretty clear that it's not), then it will only be a short time before we aren't able to write anything. And if she's going with the idea that she had a sibling comfort scene first--which given the age of AMC and some of the other "plagiarized" works, I do not believe anyway--then she is also a plagiarist because that idea is faaaar from original.
All besides the point but clearly (if I may be blunt) this girl is at least one Silmaril short of a full set, so I doubt such logic would work anyhow.
Re: Plagairism and Accusations
20 Nov 06 2:35 PM
Reply To: 49200
You use the word "personal"--the first thing that popped into my head when I was told that she claimed my story contained plagiarism was that is was too "personal" for anyone to even suspect I got it anywhere but out of my own head. Secondly, my reaction was: this person is not well (although in somewhat less flattering terms).
Well, I guess what we try to do through our writing is to universalize the personal, but that sadly had nothing to do with what happened here--what we encountered here did not concern the commonality of human emotion, but either malice or delusion; doubt if we will ever know which one for certain.
Re: Plagairism and Accusations
05 Dec 06 11:14 PM
Reply To: 49207
I suppose as I reviewed and rejected some of this person's stories for the simple reason that I just did not think them good enough for the archive, it was only the fact that at that time I did not have a story in the public archive that spared me from being accused as well !
There are certain elements in fanfiction that crop up again and again, but because Tolkien inspired them.
For example, both Raksha and I have written Houses of Healing stories featuring a weary Aragorn, but the stories are very different.
I have on rare occasions been inspired by other writers to use elements I have found in their stories, but have always e mailed them for permission and credited them in a not with the story.