Sunday, September 23, 2007
There's a really wonderful piece of writing today in the New York Times Book Review, a bit about S.E. Hinton and her insanely good book, The Outsiders (and if you've never read it, I think you somehow missed your teen years). I was not (in my own teen years) and am not now, especially interested in YA books. But The Outsiders was different-- more in a club with Catcher in the Rye than the Babysitters Club.
The article goes into all the many references in the book-- to Robert Frost and Shirley Jackson, and in some ways, the list-y story reads like an undergrad English paper called, "Direct literary referneces in the work of S.E. Hinton". But it's illuminating. And timely.
The article ends,
I was reminded of 19-year-old Kaavya Viswanathan, who was flayed last year for borrowing excessively from various sources for her own novel. If some high-minded, plagiarism-wary reader had persuaded S. E. Hinton to remove all references to the books and movies that inspired her, “The Outsiders” probably wouldn’t have slipped past the internal (let alone official) censors that governed ’60s adolescence. Forty years on, we may see the seams of its gilding, but the heart of Hinton’s groundbreaking novel is still, indisputably, gold.
And I think this is gutsy, this statement. And I think I agree.
We're so concerned with plagiarism right now, (and yes, I know plagiarism sucks, but...) because we can be. Because computers make it easy to catch plagiarism, in a way that only an incredibly well-read person with a photographic memory could have done in the past. And because we *can* hunt down every stolen line, we feel we should.
But this article is a reminder that when the work is good enough, it uses its references, and in doing so, it earns them. It becomes part of a tradition, and not derivative.
Certainly not theft.