Duelling Premises; Or, When Serendipity Goes Wrong

We’re all familiar with the idea of déjà vu. Only recently did I learn that there was also déjà lu, the sense that you’ve already read something before. I’m so glad I learned this phrase because it happened to me again this week. In August, I read and reviewed The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow. The novel features traveling through doors to strange places, a sinister organization bent on closing said doors, and a protagonist who has to figure out what the hell is going on. Then, this week, I read and reviewed Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, which features traveling through doors to strange places, a sinister organization bent on closing said doors, and a protagonist who has to figure out what the hell is going on.

Girolamo Genga

It can be fun to see what authors do with similar premises because the books always end up being very different from each other. My problem is that I have a hard time not pitting the two novels against one another to see who I think did a better job with the premise. Not only is “better” always going to be subjective, but it doesn’t help me fully appreciate whatever book has the bad luck of being read second.

Sometimes, the comparison of the two leads to an entry on my book sommelier list, where two books should be read in conjunction because they say interesting things when in conversation. Unfortunately, The Ten Thousand Doors of January and The Starless Sea are too similar to end up as a recommended pair.

When I read books with very similar premises (I know this has happened to me before, I just can’t recall the titles), I often wonder what the authors think if they find out that they independently came up with the same idea. Do they worry about accusations of plagiarism? Do they chalk it up to coincidence and go on with their writing lives? Do they also wonder if one of them did better with the idea? I think, if I was a writer and this happened to me, I would be mortified.

Curiously, reading books with the same premises doesn’t make me worry about too much sameness in literature. Instead, coincidences with premises show me that imaginative authors can start from roughly the same place and end up somewhere completely different. Literature, thankfully, is infinite.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s