Yesterday's interview with Elizabeth E. Wein at Finding Wonderland (syndicated feed is wonderland_blog) was fun, because given that Ms. Wein's Aksum books are serious, lyrical historical novels I would never have thought to map Lleu and Goewin onto Luke and Leia (for one thing, Lleu is about a million times more interesting than Luke!) or considered that "Ras Meder" sounds a lot like "Darth Vader". Hee. But I can't really claim Star Wars as a profound influence on my own work, much as I did enjoy it as a child.
But today's interview with D.M. Cornish made me all kinds of gleeful, because while I knew that we shared a love for Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books, I had no idea that he was also influenced by the Daniel Day-Lewis Last of the Mohicans, the writings of Patrick O'Brian (yay!) and Frank Miller's Elektra: Assassin. The latter was definitely an influence on me as well. My brothers ran a comic book store while I was in my teens, and I used to sit behind the counter after school reading every new issue of Marvel, DC and the independent comic publishers that I could lay hands on. (Yes, comic buyers of Sudbury, your cherished mint-condition issues were pre-read. I am sorry to break this news to you.)
I couldn't really tell you the plot of Elektra: Assassin now and I'm kind of glad I can't, because I think there was a lot of grim, violent, nasty stuff in there that's probably better forgotten. But I remember Bill Sienkiewicz's gorgeous watercolored art for the comic, and I remember being fascinated with the character of Elektra herself, her mystery and emotional closedness combined with that fierce determination and fantastic fighting ability. And now that D.M. Cornish has mentioned that comic too, I can see the echoes of Elektra in his character of Europe, the cool and deadly monster-fighting woman that Rossamund (the hero of Cornish's Half-Continent books) encounters early in his adventures.
And yet would I have guessed that if Cornish hadn't specifically mentioned Elektra: Assassin? Not at all. And I doubt most people would see Elektra in Knife either, because ultimately a lot more things went into that character and that world than just one comic book -- as is true of Cornish's character and worlds as well. I think all writers borrow inspiration from other sources: if they say they don't they've just forgotten where their ideas came from (or perhaps are too embarrassed to admit it!). But the more experienced writers draw from a wide variety of sources, whereas beginners tend to cling to only one or two. Which is what sets a fantastically detailed world like Cornish's Half-Continent apart from the score of pallid Tolkien and Peake imitations that have emerged over the last fifty years, and what makes the characters and relationships in Elizabeth Wein's Aksum books so much more rich and diverse and interesting than anything George Lucas came up with.
What about you? If you're an author, what do you consider to be the most interesting or unusual influences on your own writing? Or as a reader, have you spotted any odd influences on other people's work?
ETA: I forgot to include my favorite bit from the Cornish interview, which would be this quote:
One role women certainly do NOT have in Half-Continent stories is that of flesh-exposing objects of pubescent fantasy; I really enjoy clothing them sensibly and beautifully, especially the more "fighterly" types; it is like some kind of relief to dress women in properly protective, practical, functional and aesthetic clobber.What is there to say to that, except "Yay!"