Thoughtful Thursday: Borrowing Characters

Thoughtful Thursday

It is time for Thoughtful Thursday and the bookish questions that pop up while I am reading. Please share your thoughts on the bookish question of the week. I am curious to hear what you have to say! There are no wrong answers. Questions about Thoughtful Thursday or future Thoughtful Thursday posts? Check out my Thoughtful Thursday section. Alright, on to the question!

How do you feel about authors (in a non-fanfiction setting) borrowing other authors' characters. For example, there have been several authors who have included Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in their books as main characters.

There has been a lot of talk about Sherlock Holmes and public domain recently. In short, the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are now in the public domain, because some of the stories are in the public domain. In addition, my husband and I have been re-watching series 1 and 2 of Sherlock in preparation of the new series of Sherlock. All of this Holmes talk has got me thinking about authors borrowing characters. Please keep in mind that this discussion is devoted to published literary works, not fanfiction. The entire point of fanfiction is borrowing characters. :)

I am going to take a stand here, and I will probably discover ten million times in which I went against this stand. I don't like it when authors borrow characters and make those characters the main characters in their books. For example, I don't even read blurbs of books that are supposed to be additional stories about Sherlock Holmes. At the same time, I do read books like the Mary Russell series that have Sherlock Holmes in them, because he isn't the main character. Also, these type of books typically have Holmes set in a different environment/time frame (e.g., Emma Jane Holloway's A Study In series, which has Holmes is in a steampunk setting). If the environment and time frame is different enough, I am able to separate this new Holmes from the Holmes that I know and love. When authors are borrowing characters and are trying to keep the characters within the original world, my head itches. I just keep looking for inconsistencies between the new and original writer, and I cannot enjoy the story.

Now it's your turn! How do you feel about authors borrowing other authors' characters? Are there certain times that you are okay with this?


Chanzie said...
January 16, 2014 at 5:45 AM

Wow your topics are always so interesting and this is something I haven't thought of before. I am with you on this topic - Like you I don't mind borrowing as a minor character, as long as they get it right though.

Great post Pamela :)

Chanzie @ Mean Who You Are.

Nathan (@reviewbarn) said...
January 16, 2014 at 8:45 AM

It seems to be almost the norm in Steampunk, especially the formulaic books from the Victorian era. I usually don't mind it. I often have bigger issues with major historical characters given a lead role in alternative history. Don't mind their inclusion, but don't try to tell me what real people would have thought.

Linda @ (un)Conventional Bookworms said...
January 16, 2014 at 10:33 AM

I think I'd enjoy a story with a well-known main character if it was set in a different time-period or universe. Like reading a modern setting with Sherlock Holmes could be interesting. And see him with a smart-phone, internet searches and taking the plane to get to an investigation. Or in a dystopian setting, in a place where he has the same moral values as always, but the rest of the world might behave really differently.

Great subject this week, Pamela! I'll be coming back to see what other bloggers think, too.

Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Tabitha (Pabkins) said...
January 16, 2014 at 1:44 PM

Personally I am not interested in reading those types of books either. I want original characters not ones that I might already have preconceived notions about. I think its unfair to borrow a character from another story to make them one of your main characters. Maybe even a touch lazy?

I think this is a reason why I'm not keen on historical fiction. There can sometimes be just too much focus on the historical people and places that I am really not interested in.

But back to borrowing of characters. For example you can see a lot of that in retellings of fantasy fairytales - to me retellings are ok and I enjoy them. But if you take a character like Sherlock or Dracula even and make your own story I just go ehh - those stories were already done - why not use your own dagnabit character for crying outloud?

Charnell @ Reviews from a Bookworm said...
January 16, 2014 at 6:42 PM

I love these Thoughtful Thursday posts! You always get me thinking. I am trying to remember if there has been an instance where I have read a book that has had a borrowed character as the main character, and I can't think of one. There might be one or two that might interest me because of my love for a character, but they would probably end up disappointing me :)

Angela's Anxious Life said...
January 16, 2014 at 9:30 PM

This sounds like fairytale retellings, which I love. I love so see characters in a new story or a new environment. Similar maybe to fan fiction. I don't read a lot of fan fiction but I know a lot of people really enjoy it.

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 9:45 PM

The truth is, I also hate it when authors borrow other characters from other authors. I mean, what is the purpose of doing such things? To immediately sell their books. To use the publicity of the characters for their own gains. That's just low.

I don't mind my characters being placed in another setting or genre but the original author should do it. And not others.

But I think I have double standards on this one. Take for example fairy tale retellings. I love fairy tale retellings but it's because the original characters were renamed and fitted with different sets of personality which made them new individuals.

To answer your question, I definitely won't read books wherein the characters are borrowed from another book. I love Sherlock and Dr. Watson. I love how Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed them as characters. I don't think other authors would do their characters justice whether the book is fiction or not.

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 10:59 PM

I am glad that you are enjoying these posts. :) It keeps me motivated to keep doing them!

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Oh Nathan! A person after my own heart! I hate, hate, hate when authors try to tell me what real people thought. I have a difficult time reading biographies for this reason. I need to loosen up a bit, but I can't seem to do it!

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:02 PM

I agree with you Lexxie! It is for that reason that I love BBC's Sherlock series. If this show had been done for the appropriate time period of Holmes, I would be freaking out. I need a little separation of the original material with the new material.

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:04 PM

I agree with you. It usually feels lazy to me. My husband and I got into a long discussion about new authors being able to write stories in classic worlds like Middle Earth. He wishes Middle Earth was in the public domain so people could write stories there and I think people should leave Middle Earth alone and make their own world up.

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:06 PM

I am sure when you go to bed tonight, you will think of ten different examples. It is usually how that works. :)

I am usually afraid of disappointment too and that is why I steer clear of these types of books.

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:09 PM

I didn't think of fairy tale retellings! I would argue that characters like Belle, the Beast, Snow White, and others are more fluid in who they are. We only have vague expectations about how we want them to behave versus someone like Sherlock Holmes or Jekyll and Hyde. At the same time, we do borrow these characters. I am going to have to think about this some more!

Unknown said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:15 PM

You know, I hadn't thought of fairy tale retellings until Angela mentioned it right above you! I do enjoy fairy tale retellings. I think I am less picky about characters like Snow White and Belle over Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, because Snow White and Belle are written in a more vague way. We can interpret more about them based on our current culture. Holmes and Watson, on the other hand, have their particular habits and thought processes that make them who they are.

Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:20 PM

What a great topic and first may I say the hubby and I are BBC junkies and we love the new Sherlock Holmes. I like retellings and different settings but did not like the novels written by another author regarding Sherlock, like you I do not mind them as secondary characters. I am reading a series set in San Francisco after the period where Holmes died and there is a secondary character who claims to be Holmes who makes appearances and is shrouded in that I do not mind.

Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard said...
January 16, 2014 at 11:38 PM

I think it very much depends on a) which characters are used and b) how well they're written. Obviously, if a writer does a bad job with another author's characters, it's going to make me mad. OTOH, if they manage to capture the character's personality and speech rhythms, and they can make me believe that it's really that character and not a pale imitation, then yes, I'm perfectly fine with it. (Assuming all copyright issues are appropriately dealt with, of course. You can't just go borrowing characters that are currently copywrite-protected, not unless you have permission.)

I've seen some authors write previously-existing characters pretty well. Jill Paton Walsh has written several quite good Lord Peter Wimsey novels, and I think only the first one (or maybe two) were based on unpublished writing that Sayers left behind; the third and some or all of the second are Walsh's own work. They're not quite as good as Sayers, but they're close, and I've enjoyed them.

I absolutely love the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels written by Laurie R. King, and to be honest, King's Holmes has become my favorite, supplanting Doyle's original creation. That's something I totally didn't expect when I started reading the books, especially since no one else had managed to convince me with their versions of Holmes (and I'd read at least three or four other authors by that point.) I would like to read Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk, which is the only Holmes 'sequel' authorized by the Conan Doyle estate. Horowitz (Foyle's War) is a good writer, and I'd like to see what he does with Holmes.

I have to disagree with Charlotte, above -- I don't think the author's motivation is necessarily to profit from someone else's work at all. Sure, it probably is in some cases, like some of these silly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies pastiches (apologies to anyone who loved it; I admit I haven't read it.) But in a lot of cases, I think it's because the character itself appealed to the author. Haven't most of us wished there were more Sherlock Holmes stories? Or wanted to know what happened to a favorite character after the book ended? I think writers who write stories featuring someone else's characters have the same motivation as people who write fanfic: they do it because they love the original material and want more, and writing it themselves is the only way to get it. So no, for the most part I don't condemn them, and I'm willing to see for myself whether they've written the character well enough to convince me.

Susan said...
January 17, 2014 at 3:27 PM

I've never really thought about it, truthfully. I don't read these kinds of books, so maybe I don't like them? But, I guess I don't really mind if someone keeps developing someone else's character ... have you read FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, by any chance? It's about this exact thing (well, fanfiction). Interesting discussion, even though I don't have anything intelligent to add to it :)

Greg said...
January 17, 2014 at 9:03 PM

I generally don't care for it. I'll even go so far as to say I don't always like when secondary characters are used. I read The Clockwork Scarab a while back and the protags were relatives of Sherlock and Bram Stoker, which is fine I guess, but Irene Adler was present in the story and that threw me a bit. It shouldn't I guess, but I would have been fine if the author would have just used brand new characters. I don't read too many books like this though. Great topic.

Fairy tale retellings, as discussed above, I wouldn't mind so much. I guess they seem more universal, if that makes sense...?

Unknown said...
January 17, 2014 at 11:44 PM

I am so excited to watch the series 3 premiere of Sherlock on Sunday! I think I finally got my husband mildly interested in the show (he is not a big of a mystery fan as I am...he only tolerated watching Midsommer Murders with me because he thought that the main actor had a soothing voice).

Anyway, it sounds we are of the same mind with regards to retellings. I need some separation from the original character and the "new" character. Like you, I would be okay with a character claiming to be Holmes especially if he probably wasn't Holmes and he wasn't the main character.

Unknown said...
January 17, 2014 at 11:46 PM

I have read Fangirl, and I loved it. I am totally okay with fanfiction, because the point of fanfiction is to borrow these characters. Also, fanfiction is rarely (if ever) written with publication (and money) in mind. Thanks for sharing! :)

Unknown said...
January 17, 2014 at 11:48 PM

I agree with you about fairy tale retellings. They do seem more universal and owned by everyone as opposed to Sherlock Holmes or Bilbo Baggins.

Funny story, I am reading A Study in Ashes right now, and I thought it was a book in the same series as The Clockwork Scarab. It isn't. :) I need to do a better job of reading book blurbs!

Unknown said...
January 17, 2014 at 11:56 PM

Wonderful points! I am glad that you took a stand with the authors that borrow these characters. :) There are definitely retellings of fairy tales that I prefer to the original creations, so I can appreciate where you are coming from preferring a "new" Sherlock to the original. Thank you for your well thought out opinion! :)

Anonymous said...
January 20, 2014 at 12:46 AM

Like many who have commented here. I find myself to enjoy fairy tale retellings. I don't remember reading a book where the main character was borrowed from a different author. But I'm not really sure. I have bad memory. But personally, I don't mind authors borrowing characters. The thing is that they have to be very careful about it because people would have preconceived notions about it. People would have high expectations, especially for beloved characters.

Unknown said...
January 20, 2014 at 1:46 PM

So true! I think that I get bothered when writers borrow characters, because I have high and particular expectations for the characters.

Alysia @ My Little Pocketbooks said...
January 21, 2014 at 7:15 PM

I just don't understand it. I think I am bothered by it too. For example, if I am new to a character (besides the author) how will I know if the character is pure. I know that makes no real sense at all. But I love LOVE a character staying the way the author who creating it. Some authors are just lacking in creativity and just jump on the fanfare of what is hot. (ie 50 shades-ish books) I like when an author hints to a famous character in the story intermingling with their unique character. OK! I'm off my soap box. lol!

Pamela D said...
January 22, 2014 at 6:28 PM

I hear what you are saying. I think I get really frustrated with borrowed characters when it feels that the author is just lacking imagination and using the character to his/her full potential.

Fantasy Is More Fun said...
January 28, 2014 at 5:31 PM

Interesting question and I think I agree with you. I support retellings - taking a character and reinventing them - but trying to use a character within the same setting and everything, it doesn't make sense. As an author, it seems like a dangerous move to make - because how can you possibly deliver? And don't you want to create a unique story? As a reader - it screams boring and plagiarism. Even when done legally, it feels like theft. so yeah, I don't support the idea of borrowing characters unless they're reinvented.

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