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Rhonda Herrington Bulmer
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March 28th, 2012
What does “rip-off” mean, exactly?
by Rhonda Herrington Bulmer

Are there any new ideas?

I ordered Battle Royale today online, the 1999 young adult novel by Japanese author Koushun Takami, just to figure it all out for myself.  You know, the big controversy? That The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins “ripped off” the story hook, line and sinker from Takami’s cult classic?

I bet nobody in the publishing world is worried about it…such controversy will only serve to hoist Battle Royale into yet another surge of  popularity (and tons of book and DVD sales), pulling it farther into the mainstream. In that sense, everybody wins, everybody makes plenty of money. If The Hunger Games weren’t making uber-money, maybe somebody would sue. (Is that cynical? Ah, well.)

It seems the only people who are especially upset are devotees, the ones who feel outraged on the author’s behalf. Everybody else just loves a good controversy and possible public humiliation.

But with another wave of royalties coming, I doubt Takami will be too upset.

The big stink is that people doubt Collins’ assertions that she never heard of Battle Royale before submitting her manuscript to Scholastic. The movie, subsequent to the novel, did make a splash in US theatres a few years ago, although it achieved nowhere near the popularity of The Hunger Games, which made more than $155 million opening weekend in the US and Canada (and globally, more than $214 million!).

It seems plausible that she didn’t hear about it, though, because I had never heard of Battle Royale either, until a couple of years ago. It was placed on my nephew’s school summer reading list. He told me that he found it gory and disturbing and difficult to get through, so much so that his mother complained about the “darkness” of the books on the list.

The Hunger Games is not so much like that, though given the strikingly-similar premise of the story, there is some. But it seemed more to emphasize the cruelty and savage nature of the powerful Capitol, and the powerlessness of the districts it ruled with such fierceness. It seemed to be building to something bigger—revolution—as the next two books confirm.

To me, The Hunger Games’s Capitol and its president reminded me of a wife beater who blackens his wife’s face and then says it’s her fault.

I liked The Hunger Games very much, including its well-drawn main characters: Katniss’ fiery courage, Peeta’s unconditional love, Gale’s strength of will, although as I’ve said in another blog post, the love triangle was somewhat unconvincing, perhaps perfunctory compared to the emphasis on action. But then, I assume that was the writer’s choice.

I am a relatively new writer, with one self-published novel under my belt and writing more. I’m still trying to break into publishing and I’m finding the venom against Collins disturbing. It shows me that no matter how much you achieve, there will be people who will pick your success apart, people who have absolutely no idea how hard you laboured to make it happen.

Let’s not forget, Collins has accomplished something few writers do—she has achieved huge popularity and sales in numbers that most writers can only dream of.

If one cannot acknowledge this, it just sounds like sour grapes to my ears. Anybody can write a crappy copy of somebody else’s work. It takes talent to build a story and a world that captures the imagination and love of young people, a world that they return to again and again, a world they will never forget– because they read it when they were young.

I suspect when I read Battle Royale, given its gory nature, I will find that the novel’s theme is different. I think it might question how much people will do to survive regardless of their prior friendships, and what it takes to get ahead of others in life.  Perhaps it will be an allegory of mainstream Japanese society? I’ll let you know what I think.

Conversely, The Hunger Games focuses more on the effects of war and on the question, is it possible to maintain one’s humanity in the midst of inhumanity? As I read, I couldn’t help but think about child soldiers that exist in our present day world and what the threat and aftermath of war has on any society and its children. Can they ever be normal again? And the biggest question of all:  is mankind doomed to repeat its mistakes over and over?

One Response to “What does “rip-off” mean, exactly?”

  1. Charmaine says:

    History certainly tells of some successful authors borrowing in part from the plot of a successful story of another. Anne of Green Gables loosley fashioned after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms — which in a way would account for it being Lucy Maud Montgomery’s least favorite book despite it’s success. Little Women and even a couple of Charles Dicken’s stuff (can’t remember exactly which ones) were apparently borrowed.

    Who cares? Really. Especially if you write a BETTER version than the other one by adding character interests that may have been missing before.

    Definitely let us know how the Japanese book compares, but like you I think it may focus more on the violence than the characters. And like you, I wonder about our children of violence.

    As for my part, God cannot be brought too soon into our lives to dispel the violence buried in our hearts and to heal the wounds that no one sees.

    Write on, my friend, write on. “Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!” (you can quote me if you like)

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