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  • Babylon 5 and The Lord of the Rings

    So, I recently had an article published which is all about the plagiarized, unimaginative nature of most of modern fantasy, especially in games. I wasn't particularly surprised that a lot of people disagreed (though I find the "crap is easier to write" argument a bit lacking). But I was unpleasantly surprised to see someone say

    On the other side, we have (TV show, I know, shut up) Babylon 5 with its rich and complex world-building and storyline, with its elves-in-all-but-name, great war between the darkness and the light, the completely accurate prophecies. By the time they got to the Rangers, the writers weren't even trying any more.
    which makes me want to either sigh or scream. I was going to discuss it on my site, but I don't want to spoil the show for people who haven't watched it.

    So. Babylon 5 and The Lord of the Rings. Let's talk.

    My personal position is that The Lord of the Rings is just one of many artistic works B5 makes reference to; but intertextual references do not constitute plagiarism. The accusations of plagiarism strike me as of a similar nature to the inept comparisons between Avatar and Pocahontas; Avatar can be read as a comment on Pocahontas, but its ultimate direction is exactly the opposite (the same happened with The Lost Tales and some people accusing JMS of having turned Catholic, when in fact the story repurposes Christian mythology for completely different goals). Similarily, Babylon 5 may have Rangers and the return of an ancient darkness, but the spirit of the work is completely different. I don't remember Aragorn telling Gandalf to "get the hell out of our Middle-earth!"
    Last edited by Jonas; 01-05-2011, 05:57 PM.
    Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

  • #2
    Congratulations on getting published!

    IMO, the terms plagiarism and its bastard cousing 'ripped off' are vastly overused by people who have no idea what they're talking about. They'll point to something and say "See?! It's a reference/homage/rip off of "Lord of the Rings"" when it's actually got roots in mythology or some other basis that resonates.

    People will see similarites to what they're familiar with and, sadly, too often that's far too narrow a focus. I like what JMS said about the whole thing here.

    Jan
    "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Jan View Post
      Congratulations on getting published!
      Thanks. Actually my third article, but I'm extremely happy about finally getting somewhere with my writing.

      IMO, the terms plagiarism and its bastard cousing 'ripped off' are vastly overused by people who have no idea what they're talking about. They'll point to something and say "See?! It's a reference/homage/rip off of "Lord of the Rings"" when it's actually got roots in mythology or some other basis that resonates.
      They are, though with The Lord of the Rings there's also the opposite effect, where people think Tolkien is massively basing himself on mythological sources (which isn't true - there is a connection, but it's much more complex), or even worse, that Tolkien's work is just like the dreary imitations they see in so many games.

      People will see similarites to what they're familiar with and, sadly, too often that's far too narrow a focus. I like what JMS said about the whole thing here.
      Yes, that is a good point. There are references, and understanding those references is nice - but the structure and essence of the story is quite different. There's also references to, say, World War II, or the Cold War, but the story of Babylon 5 is not the story of either of those wars.

      A close look at the terms in question will show that B5 uses them in its own way: i.e. the Third Age in Babylon 5 carries completely different connotations than it does in The Lord of the Rings.
      Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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      • #4
        You know, I probably shouldn't even be in this thread since I've really only read the entire trilogy (plus 'The Hobbit') once all the way through and that was...a long time ago in a city far away.

        That said, certain things resonate with many people the same way and they become part of the...I dunno, collective consciousness, for want of a better word. Remember the Trek Next Gen episode "Darmok" about the aliens that communicated by metaphor? There are certain things that a writer knows people will react to in certain ways an s/he uses those words or images to evoke the reaction s/he's looking for in his audience. I don't think it matters if it's a collection of sounds (Z'ha'dum sounding similar to (I'm gonna mess this up) Kahzhadum) or a symbol (a lightning bolt is going to stand for power, whether the viewer relates it to Thor or to nature), etc.

        A writer's job is to invoke feelings and images in the mind of the reader/viewer. There are only a certian number of iconic images and sounds and phrases and only a certain number of ways to put them together. A skilled writer will draw on a larger number of them than a less skilled (or lazy) writer.

        Jan
        "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

        Comment


        • #5
          On this topic I have a reading suggestion: Christopher Booker: The Seven Basic Plots - Subtitled: Why we tell stories.

          Very enlightening read. You will not wonder any longer about similarities in stories.

          One warning: Over700 pages in a small lettertype.
          Understanding is a three-edged sword: your side, their side and the truth.
          John Sheridan

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          • #6
            I can't remember where I read it, but there was a quote about writing stories which was something like: 'there are no new stories to tell, just new ways of telling them.'

            I think a lot of stories have similarities which you can see if you look for them, and some of them are blatant rip offs, but I wouldn't want to spoil what I was watching by just thinking 'oh its a retread of...'

            It's the characters which make it for me, and the different ways of telling your story.

            I'm trying to become a writer (presently failing, but hay ho!) and I was working on a story with a friend where he was concerned it sounded too similar to something else already out there (I swear, we're not ripping anything off!) and my argument was: vampires. I argued that just because something features vamps doesn't mean it will be basically retreading old plots. Buffy, Angel, Near Dark, Twilight, The Lost Boys etc etc. It's what you do with it for me.
            I'm a pessimist: that way you're never disappointed but frequently, pleasantly surprised

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            • #7
              I'd choose the B5 universe over Lord of the Rings, ANYDAY of the week!!, its a no-brainer!!

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              • #8
                On the other side, we have (TV show, I know, shut up) Babylon 5 with its rich and complex world-building and storyline, with its elves-in-all-but-name, great war between the darkness and the light, the completely accurate prophecies. By the time they got to the Rangers, the writers weren't even trying any more.
                This sounds like the analysis of someone who likes to read Cliffs Notes versions of books. "Well the gist seems sort of similar, so the writer is just sitting there copying the source!" This misses the point of stories by a mile; it's not about generalities, such as "Man vs. Man" or "hey there's a war between Darkness and Light here too", it's about the interactions between characters. For example, the story "Man walks down the street and punches man because the other one stole his wallet" and "Man walks down the street and punches man because he thinks it's fun to punch people" are quite different due to character motivation even though what happens is the same on the surface. The war against Sauron is different than the Shadow War because the character interactions are different.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by JoeD80 View Post
                  The war against Sauron is different than the Shadow War because the character interactions are different.
                  More importantly, the overall point of the Shadow War is quite different; the Vorlons and the Valar do not function in the same way, philosophically or politically. Sauron would probably have more in common with the Vorlons than with the Shadows.

                  Originally posted by Commander Raiden View Post
                  I'd choose the B5 universe over Lord of the Rings, ANYDAY of the week!!, its a no-brainer!!
                  I think that's completely the wrong approach to take. This isn't about what we prefer, even if the two were comparable; it's simply about the intertextual connections between the two works.
                  Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Jan View Post
                    IMO, the terms plagiarism and its bastard cousing 'ripped off' are vastly overused by people who have no idea what they're talking about. Jan
                    I think that you hit the nail on the head right there...

                    Originally posted by Jan View Post
                    You know, I probably shouldn't even be in this thread since I've really only read the entire trilogy (plus 'The Hobbit') once all the way through and that was...a long time ago in a city far away.
                    Jan
                    ...Which makes you probably more qualified to comment that the loony-tune writer that came up with that half baked sentence.

                    Originally posted by JoeD80 View Post
                    This sounds like the analysis of someone who likes to read Cliffs Notes versions of books. "Well the gist seems sort of similar, so the writer is just sitting there copying the source!".
                    This. The writer strikes me as the kind of person that has very few orginal thoughts of their own, never thinking - or even trying to think - beyond the most immediate and obvious similarities, regardless of tone or direction or even interaction, and then clearly feeling very smug at their own cleverness.

                    As for "when they got to the Rangers the writers were not even trying anymore" I have an aunt and uncle (USAF Retired) in the States and one of my cousins is a Ranger, should JRR sue them for plagerism?

                    Now I know that JMS had to resort to "It's like CASABLANCA in space" to sell his B5 idea, but he knew what he was doing and knew that he had no choice. But if this person had to sell an idea, they certainly would get any not better than "Well CJ, it's like JAWS meets Bambi, we can't miss!!!" or "it's like Mary Poppins meets Debbie Does Dallas, it'll be fantastic!"

                    Then they'd sit back and congratulate themselves on how well they did.
                    Last edited by DGTWoodward; 01-11-2011, 02:37 PM.
                    http://www.lddb.com/collection.php?a...er=dgtwoodward
                    Yes, I still collect Laserdiscs!!
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                    • #11
                      My opinion is I like both and I think between the two there is no other epic story with the gravity and total universe within the story feel like they.

                      Nothing else I've ever come across, which I admit is limited, is as well fleshed out from a thousand years before the story to many years after. If JMS says that 1000 years ago G'quan and the last of the Mindwalkers chased out the darkness, it means something! (At least to me) On another show, it would be a throwaway line. Open and shut. If Tolkein wrote about Moria and the Dwarves and how their kingdom existed long before, it meant something. As for name similarities, they're both written in English, what would you call someone that travels a lot and keeps track of a large territory, some one that Ranges alot over a long Range? A Ranger, maybe? Is the Lone Ranger a rip off of Tolkein, too? What about the Texas Rangers, are they all working with Elves? Za'ha'dum sounds like something else, so what, it's cool to say, rolls of the tounge, and what was he supposed to name it, Detroit? The Shadows have retuned to Kalamazoo, we must be ready. Yeah.
                      Last edited by Marsden; 01-11-2011, 06:54 AM.
                      "And what kind of head of Security would I be if I let people like me know things that I'm not supposed to know? I mean, I know what I know because I have to know it. And if I don't have to know it, I don't tell me, and I don't let anyone else tell me either. " And I can give you reasonable assurances that the head of Security will not report you for doing so."
                      "Because you won't tell yourself about it?"

                      "I try never to get involved in my own life, too much trouble."

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                      • #12
                        It's all a rip off of Ranger Smith anyway.

                        The Optimist: The glass is half full
                        The Pessimist: The glass is half empty
                        The Engineer: The glass is twice as big as it needs to be

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                        • #13
                          For instance, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Dark Riders first appear singly, then in progressively larger groups; B5 repeated this tension-building pattern early in its first season, when enemy forces known as the Shadows appear first singly, and then in vast numbers.
                          But the Dark Riders appear in a large group fairly rapidly (before the end of the first book), whereas the Shadows appear very little in the first season. And I wouldn't say that such a tension-building pattern is unique to The Lord of the Rings.

                          Originally posted by Alvasin
                          The most obvious LOTR reference is the Rangers, who share a name and a mission with the Rangers of Lord of the Rings.
                          Not at all. The Rangers in The Lord of the Rings are the last surviving D·nedain; they are a people, not an organization. They both oppose the darkness, true, but the two groups are deeply dissimilar in history and structure - and ultimately in mission, too.
                          Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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                          • #14
                            Over the years I've seen a lot made of the shared name and mission for rangers, but the term is middle English dating back to the 14th century, I think. It's most basic meaning is a body of armed individuals who patrol a region or "range". We have park rangers, Texas Rangers, US Army Rangers. British rangers patrolled royal forests and parks. A secondary meaning comes from a person who "ranges", fitting in nicely with the wandering nature of Tolkein's rnagers, but not so much with JMS's. As Jonas pointed out, beyond a very basic premise, I don't think their mission is that similar at all. Closer to the Texas Rangers, really. Armed force recruited to patrol and protect a border.
                            "That was the law, as set down by Valen. Three castes: worker, religious, warrior."

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                            • #15
                              Hi. Pardon my exasperation, but Who the hell hasn't opposed the darkness?

                              Was Star Wars ripped off of Tolkein? The rebels opposed the darkness.

                              Was The Night Stalker ripped off of Tolkein? He opposed some kind of evil creature.

                              What about X-Files?

                              Almost every single show is from the protaganist's point of view and they all oppose "the darkeness".

                              And the Shadows turned out to me no better or worse than anyone else, really. What other show built something else up for 3 years, the Vorlon version basically, only to find out it wasn't really the case. The supposed good guy Vorlons were just as bad if not worse. Did the Elves stab Frodo in the back until he told them get the hell out of our galaxy?


                              I already commented on rangers above. BTW, the Texas Rangers, the law enforcement agency not the baseball team, is going to have to sue everyone because they opposed the darkness before any other rangers mentioned above.

                              Thx, Worker Caste.
                              Last edited by Marsden; 02-07-2011, 07:48 AM. Reason: didn't see worker cast's post.
                              "And what kind of head of Security would I be if I let people like me know things that I'm not supposed to know? I mean, I know what I know because I have to know it. And if I don't have to know it, I don't tell me, and I don't let anyone else tell me either. " And I can give you reasonable assurances that the head of Security will not report you for doing so."
                              "Because you won't tell yourself about it?"

                              "I try never to get involved in my own life, too much trouble."

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