Echoes of Other Voices – On Influences of Other Writers in Writing

Often one comes across the influence of one writer in another’s book. I am not referring to the likes of the uncanny resemblance of a key paragraph in a certain Indian pop novel to Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Rather to the way in which one writer’s work unconsciously reflects the influence of another. This can be a reflection of ideas, the writing style or references to specific things, places or events. It is a pleasure to discover such innate connections between books and authors.

One example is the idea of how love reaches the intended person many years later which is beautifully portrayed by Elizabeth Jennings and Rupert Brooke in their respective poems Delay and Fafaia that were written several decades apart.

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

~ From Delay, Elizabeth Jennings

And yonder star that burns so white,
May have died to dust and night
Ten, or maybe, fifteen year,
Before it shines upon my dear.

~ From Fafaia, by Rupert Brooke

Vikram Seth conveys a similar thought in his poem Time Zones.
“I dreamed of her but she could not alas humour my will;
it struck me suddenly that where she was was daylight still”

~ From Time Zones by Vikram Seth

Though all three poems are unique and charming in their own way, I like Rupert Brooke’s version best –
“Heart from heart is all as far,
Fafaia, as star from star.”

~ From Fafaia, by Rupert Brooke

I do not know what the word Fafaia means, do you? Google for once has not been able to answer this. It is perhaps an archaic exclamation, like ‘prithee’ or ‘fie’. Whatever it means, it sounds nice.

About writing styles, the gentle influence of Wodehouse comes through in the prose of too many authors. I have come across quite a few pale imitations of Wodehouse in random short stories in magazines and journals. Have also felt a subtle influence of Wodehouse in some well known literary novels but the finest tribute to the maestro that I have ever come across is in Srividya Natarajan’s hilarious satire No Onions nor Garlic. The setting and the characters in this book are are quintessentially South Indian and there is a wonderful sense of place of Madras, but the seemingly effortless style of writing and the pure humour that spills over from every page gives one the feeling of having read an author is who is as good as Wodehouse at his best.

Another book that has been a strong influence on a contemporary bestseller is The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. When asked about the similarity between her book and the first Harry Potter, Mrs. Ibbotson is said to have observed that she would ‘like to shake her (Rowling) by the hand. I think we all borrow from each other as writers’. What a lovely thing to say.

There is indeed a subtle influence of The Secret of Platform 13 that can be felt in the Harry Potter books, especially the Philosopher’s Stone. There are several similarities between the two books. The protagonist is separated from his parents and brought up in a different household by indifferent, even abusive guardians. The
couple who adopt the boy hero have a child of their own who is a pampered, selfish brat, while the hero is treated like a servant and turns out to be a sensible, sensitive child who is finally restored to his rightful place.

But other than this basic, classic plot, there are other aspects like the character of Raymond Trottle in The Secret of Platform 13 who is definitely an early inspiration for Dudley Dursley right from his pudgy appearance to his tantrums over a knickerbocker glory, the triplet nurses of Prince Ben who are named after flowers one of them being Lily, a mysterious opening in a railway platform, the magical creatures who pass back and forth through it between the real world and the magical world to which it opens and the ghosts who interact with the human characters including a grey lady. The scene where Raymond’s whereabouts are traced through the sewers reminds one of the haunts of moaning Myrtle and the realms of the mer-people in the Goblet of Fire.

However, none of the above similarities can be considered as plagiarism – rather it is a subtle overlapping of the imaginations of two very talented authors. Which in turn gives a delicious sense of deja vu to the reader – like a traveller coming across something vaguely familiar while visiting an entirely new place.

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