Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright. Aaron Sorkin
How far should a writer go in "borrowing" from others? When does "BORROWING" veer from inspiration to transgression?
Rewatching Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's beautifully realized adaptation of Tennessee William's Streetcar Named Desire, my sense of deja vu was so strong that I expected the Stanley character to fall on his knees at any moment and bellow "Stella!"
In the final moments when the Blanche clone sits alone on a park bench mumbling to herself, I anticipated the arrival of white-coated doctors to whom she would murmur, "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."
I had the same uneasy feeling and sense of confusion when I recently read The Flight of Jemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, aware suddenly that I was rereading Jane Eyre, albeit in a slightly different time period, with a slightly different setting, and different names.
It's a respected practice to find inspiration in another writer's work, to adapt, or update a great story. The account of the great flood in Gilgamesh was retold in the Old Testament as the story of Noah, and the Bible, itself, has been an inexhaustible treasure trove for character and story. In East of Eden, Steinbeck powerfully updates the story of Cain and Abel and many other stories have been reinterpreted, updated, or re-imagined. Movies famously adapt or reinterpret. Clueless cleverly updates Emma, one of Jane Austin's most beloved novels. What I find unpleasant is the distortion of the writer's original work. I'm sorry, but I find Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a despicable rip-off.
Still I find myself questioning the legitimacy of adaptations that so completely follow the character development, themes, and plot of the original work. When is it homage and when is it outright theft?
You think about it while I get back to my writing--a novel inspired by WAR AND PEACE.