My review of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is out this week. To summarize: it’s a terrible movie that is based on a terrible book series by Cassandra Clare, and this terrible book series might have been originally written as Harry Potter fan fiction? (Nobody’s totally sure, but people are pretty sure.) I tried to read the book before seeing the movie, but I could only make it about 100 pages in. Because it’s terrible.
What I didn’t have space to mention in my review is that I fell down some dark, lame internet rabbit holes while researching the evolution of The Mortal Instruments from fanfic to major motion picture, and it’s, like, this whole thing, with accusations of plagiarism and everything! (Yes, accusations of plagiarism. From fanfic writers. EYE ROLL.) Since I love a good internet drama, I’ll fan the nerd-flames a little for your benefit. (Please keep in mind, though, that while I’ve skimmed a ton of dorky rants about this Mortal Instruments conflict, I would hardly call myself an expert.) A whole lot of nonsense after the jump.
*Spoiler warning for the, like, 8 people who care.*
Here’s the basic deal: Cassandra Clare (whose real name is the decidedly less magical “Judith Rumelt”) became well-known for some Draco/Hermione fanfic she posted called “The Draco Trilogy,” among others. According to some extremely long and extremely tedious summaries of the drama, whole sections of dialogue in Clare’s pieces were boosted from TV shows like Buffy and The X-Files, and apparently some ideas about (sorry, guys) wizarding afterlife were swiped from author Pamela Dean’s Secret Country Trilogy. Clare added disclaimers to her pieces, and admitted that she had “paid homage” to various other works, but “The Draco Trilogy” was eventually pulled, despite its popularity, from fanfic sites. Fic nerds - and Clare herself - seemed to say that everything was pulled due to plagiarism concerns. As far as I understand it, this went down in around 2001; Clare says she started writing the Mortal Instruments books in 2004. So. There’s that part.
Fast-forward to 2007, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones book is released. According to some nerds who were familiar with Clare’s work, it is supposedly very similar to her Harry Potter fanfic, which begs some very 21st century questions, like: Is it plagiarism if the author is taking one thing she wrote and using it for a different thing? Can you plagiarize yourself? And then is it even more plagiarism-y since she already admitted that pieces of the first thing were stolen from—excuse me, homages to—other works?
Since she now has a real publishing career, I assume some lawyers decided her books were ultimately different enough from her fanfic to publish, but the whole thing still seems super skeezy to me. I’m a Harry Potter fangirl, and while watching The Mortal Instruments, I could easily pinpoint the Potter-specific spells the characters were casting (their diffindo sucks, by the way). It’s also pretty obvious that their big glowing orb thing is a lot like Dumbledore’s Mirror of Erised, and their werewolf is named Luke instead of Lupin which is just phenomenally lazy.
And it’s even easier to spot the Potter similarities in Clare’s book:
Mundies/mundanes = muggles
Institute = Hogwarts
Clave = Ministry of Magic
Law = International Statute of Wizard Secrecy
Ravener = Dementor
Raven = owl
Powerful demon lords/warlocks = Death Eaters
I expect that more dedicated superfans will find lots more similarities, so let’s everybody keep an eye on the internet for those fun posts!
Anyway, now you - like me - know way, way more than you needed to know about this crappy, crappy book and movie. You’re welcome!