Arwen Undomiel's picture
Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 25, 2013 - 10:35pm

OK, first off: I'm working on two projects (well, actually, I'm working on only one and drafting another.) Both are young adult novels. The first one is science fiction, set in Cuba and borrowing the plot framework of "Evita", which has a clone as its protagonist. The second is an urban fantasy homage to LOTR.

In the second one, two charcters are named Thorin (a main/supporting character) and Gandalf. They are fleshed out versions of two dwarves who appear in the Dvergatal ("Catalogue of Dwarves") in the Voluspa, a poem written in Old Norse. Many of the e mentioned in that list don't appear anywhere else in the Norse legends, including the two I mentioned. So I want to use them (or characters based on them, since they're just names).  Which means that if there's a Gandalf, he'll be a dwarf who uses a staff, not a wizard like in Tolkien. 


Vigg and Gandalf) | Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin....

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm

Now, those names aren't the only ones I'll be using off that list. But, my question is: Am I allowed to do this? (http://en.wikipedia.org/en/Norse_dwarves#Dvergatal_the_list_of_the_Dvergr)

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 25, 2013 - 10:37pm

*dwarves*. Sorry, I made a spelling mistake.

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JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 25, 2013 - 11:03pm

Sounds like a bad idea. The Tolkien estate is notoriously litigious, and the last thing you want is a C&D sent to a nervous publisher.

That being said, why not just make up new names? Reading about a character named Gandalf would just annoy me.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 12:14am

I think I wasn't clear. I'm not talking about a character who's anything much like Tolkien's Gandalf.

The Voluspa and Dvergatal are ancient and my character is a Dwarf, not a wizard. Plus, this book is a homage to Tolkien, which means I'm going to reference him and his sources a lot. The thing is, Tolkien didn't use the Dwarf-- what he did was invent a wizard, this "Odinic wanderer" as he described his character, and give him the Dwarf's name. The Dwarves Gandalf and Thorin are mythological figures. There isn't much about them, in fact nothing, beyond their names, but they are still mythological figures. Tolkien didn't invent those names.

Also, AFAIK, Middle-Earth Enterprises own the trademarks to the characters of The Hobbit and LOTR, which includes their recognisable characteristics ie Gandalf's grey cloak and hat, and Thorin being a king, and things like certain phrases and the words "mithril" for a kind of metal and "hobbit", for a race of little hairy-footed humans. The Tolkien Estate has virtually nothing to do with the rights to Hobbit and LOTR anymore.  That means if Gandalf the Dwarf doesn't have a grey hat or a cloak, or Thorin isn't a king, I'm not infringing on anyone's trademark.

 

 

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 12:18am

I don't read much fantasy, but I do love the LOTR trilogy. Strictly as a reader, I would be instantly turned off if I read the name Gandalf in a non-LOTR book. Whether or not copyright infringement is an issue, the most important thing you need to remember is your readers. Gandalf is an iconic character, and despite being a dwarf with different different clothing and skills in your book, your readers (and let's face it, your primary demographic is going to be people who have read LOTR) will not take well to using Gandalf in a non-LOTR related book. LOTR fans are rabid, much the same as Star Wars and Twilight fans. Those types of fans do not want those characters to be used in any other books aside the ones that were written for them. And to be very honest, keeping those well known names may very well demote your book from fantasy fiction to fan fiction, which I highly doubt you want. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally fan fiction based off of Twilight. As I'm sure there were copyright issues, E.L. James probably understood the ramifications of releasing a book with the same characters with the same names. I would highly, highly suggest not using those names, at the very least not Gandalf. Even if someone has never read the books, I'm sure they've seen the movies and he is every part of LOTR as Frodo is. I say this as a reader who does not read fantasy. Only one who has read LOTR, and it's been quite a long time since I've read them.

 That means if Gandalf the Dwarf doesn't have a grey hat or a cloak, or Thorin isn't a king, I'm not infringing on anyone's trademark.

- Understood. Unfortunately though, you'll be infringing on your reader's reverence for Gandalf and Thorin.

Paying homage to your favorite books, movies, etc... is fine, but I think that subtly is the way to go. I'm in the process of writing two novels, both crime fiction books that are the first two in a series, and I pay homage to some books I like and movies I like. But, they are subtle and only hardcore fans of those books and movies would know. I wrote a story called This is What Living Like This Does which is a lyric in a Taking Back Sunday song. Of all the people who've read it, and it is published now, only three understood the reference. A fan of your work will appreciate a subtle reference much more than an obvious one. The obvious reference will come across as cheap, lazy and copying. I only write all of this out of complete honesty, not to discourage you.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 1:25am


LOTR fans are rabid, much the same as Star Wars and Twilight fans

I know that. I'm one of the rabid LOTR fans myself. I got into an argument with a classmate over whether LOTR or Harry Potter was better. Do you think there's any difference whether it's urban fantasy (where, because it's our world, most other non-fantasy-world characters would know/have heard of LOTR, and be more likely to say things like, "Wait, I didn't know Gandalf was a dwarf!") or high/sword-and-sorcery fantasy, where these references will be acknowledged in a different way? Because my project is going to be an urban fantasy, and the characters from our world WILL be saying stuff like that, if I go ahead with the Norse names.

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R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 12:28am

I can't argue that. I've never read Harry Potter. I just couldn't get through the first book, although I have heard they get much better as the series goes on.

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JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 26, 2013 - 1:07am

I got into an argument with a classmate over whether LOTR or Harry Potter was better.

Did the winner get the other one's Lunchables? 

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 1:31am

Did the winner get the other one's Lunchables?

No, no-one got anyone's lunch. The bell rang and then we (the other girl and I) had to go to class, so neither of us won. I said something along the lines of that LOTR was better because it had Gollum, who's a much creepier minor villain than anyone in HP! This was about four-five years ago, when I was still in high school.

 

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R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 2:08am

. Do you think there's any difference whether it's urban fantasy (where, because it's our world, most other non-fantasy-world characters would know/have heard of LOTR, and be more likely to say things like, "Wait, I didn't know Gandalf was a dwarf!") or high/sword-and-sorcery fantasy, where these references will be acknowledged in a different way? Because my project is going to be an urban fantasy, and the characters from our world WILL be saying stuff like that, if I go ahead with the Norse names.

- Unfortunately I don't think there'd be a difference. I've read stories that have nothing to do with Twilight or vampires that use Bella as a name (I reference Twilight because the fans are so rabid) and I still think of the Twilight Bella, and that name is fairly common. But Gandalf? Way too uncommon and associated with LOTR. I think what may happen is your readers will question your authority and have to stop reading and look up whether Gandalf was, in fact, a dwarf before a wizard. And even then, your readers will has to suspend their vision of Tolkein's Gandalf to visualize this Gandalf, which will be very hard to do. It may work if your characters recognize both Gandalf's and differentiate between the two, but I still think it will be a stretch for your readers.

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Seb from Kent, UK January 26, 2013 - 8:36am

Imagine reading a science fiction novel where the protaganist was a cocky space-pilot called Vader, the antagonist was a bounty hunter called Skywalker, and the love interest was a seductive dancer called Yoda. It wouldn't work. Homage is one thing (Tarantino does it all the time), rip-off is another. The only reason Tarantino can get away with calling his latest lead character Django is because he is now better known than Sergio Corbucci - the only way you could call someone Gandalf would be if you had a better reputation than Tolkien, which, let's be honest, is unlikely. Not impossible, but not likely, especially within your own lifetime. Your best bet is to use another name, as everyone else has already said. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 9:55am

I don't think Django counts.. that's better known as a real person's name (nickname) than as a fictional character. OK, so what if I pick out another name from the Dvergatal? There are heaps of names in there.

And what about having a dwarf character who hates being called "Thorin Oakenshield", because he happens to be a descendant of the dwarf Eikinskjaldi ("Oak Shield"), who's named Thorin (since his ancestor's a descendant of Dwalin who's a descendant of Durin, meaning that he's also related to Thorin.) and the joke is really getting old? I really want to keep the Norse mythology (and Tolkien) aspect, by naming a character after one of Tolkien's (not one of his invented names though) because I'm a huge fan. Plus, that will provide lots of material for humour. And my plan is for the humour to be a big part.

And laughing at "seductive dancer called Yoda" :).

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Linda from Sweden January 26, 2013 - 10:54am

You can name one Andvare after the most famous of dwarves in norse mythology. He had a magic ring which – after being forced to give it to Loki – he places rather a nasty curse on. He can also turn into a pike, which is pretty cool, but it also allowed Loki to capture him with a net he got from Rán (which happens to be my favorite character).

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bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. January 26, 2013 - 12:27pm

Am I allowed to do this?

Allowed, yes.  Should you?  Well, as stated above, everyone is going to think you're ripping off names from Tolkien, no matter where your source material comes from (even if it comes from the same source material that Tolkien used).  No matter how well you describe the dwarf with a staff Gandalf, everyone is going to picture a shorter version of Ian McKellen.

I think you should use different names so that you can make your characters your own characters.  Translate them to English, use the lastnames only, or something that makes it 'yours'.  Gandalf is too iconic of a name.  

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 12:51pm

When I think of Loki, I picture Matt Damon in Dogma. 

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Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee and loving it! January 26, 2013 - 1:00pm

Yes... this reminds me how upset I was with Lucas when I realized he ripped off Asimov. Imagine reading a book about an expanding evil (galactic) empire that can only be stopped by people with special mental abilities, and where the most powerful evil character (the Mule) converts Han Pritcher (was he a ship captain?) to his side, and where Luke something is a simple soldier mentioned only a few times. Lucas was not paying tribute but ripping off the Foundation Trilogy. 

My two cents: just don't do the Gandalf thing.

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OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading your mother's diary. Your sister's too. January 26, 2013 - 2:27pm

I'm also not sure why you're so hell bent on using established names that's clearly going to immediately undermine all of your hard work. If humor is a big part of it, you'll figure it out. Funny people are funny. You won't need to rely on LOTR gimmick jokes if humor really is a big part of it all. You'll create a world with your own jokes.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 27, 2013 - 12:09am

@Linda: Andvare/Andvari?  Good idea. Thanks! Thats actually a very good name :)

@Otis: Please explain why jokes based on LOTR are bad? People do it IRL after all, and this story is set in the modern day. It would be Writers deliberately name their characters (usually minor) after other characters all the time, to pay homage to other works. Maybe (obviously) Gandalf is too obvious a reference to Tolkien, though. So I'm scrapping "Gandalf" and calling him "Andvari" instead. :) (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShoutOut)

A Shout Out is something subtle (a name, line of dialogue, or prop) in a show that refers to fans or family members of the cast or crew, or to another source of inspiration. 

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 7:57pm

Jokes aren't bad to use, in fact they can enhance the story quite a bit. I believe the problem lies in the lack of contrast between the joke and the story. Urban fantasy and traditional fantasy stories are closely linked and making reference to Gandalf in an urban fantasy story will, in my opinion, come off as lazy and not humorous. What makes a joke funny is the contrast. As I said in a previous post, I write crime fiction. Crime fiction and fantasy fiction are two completely different worlds. Let's say I had a character that looked like Ian McKellen. The running gag could be that he looks like Gandalf. The other characters could call him Gandalf. But, because the nature of the story, and the genre, readers wouldn't have to suspend their imaginations of the true Gandalf to make the connection. They'd say, 'Oh, here's this character that looks like Ian and they call him Gandalf. Haha,' and they'd move on through the story. They wouldn't expect him to be a wizard and perform magic because that stuff doesn't necessarily happen in crime fiction. I had a character in my story that quoted Pulp Fiction. At first, I thought it was funny and paid homage to my favorite film, but the problem was that Pulp Fiction is too closely related to crime fiction. As it was, it came across as lazy writing and because this particular character was a black guy, people pictured Samuel L. Jackson when in fact his physical description was more like Ving Rhames, which then brought up another problem because now people were picturing him instead of the character descriptions I was trying to paint. The idea of using on going gags can become, after awhile, burdensome and routine for the reader. The idea is that you want to create characters so compelling and vivid that future writers will want to pay homage to your characters. 

Now, there is a bit of a loophole. What POV are you writing in? If you're writing in 3rd person the idea of an on going LOTR gag probably won't go as well as you think. The third person's voice is yours, the author's. The mention and comparison to Gandalf coming from you, as the author, will, again, come across as lazy. But, if you're writing in 1st person, the voice is not yours, but that of the narrator. Your narrator could, in effect, make those references to Gandalf without you, as the author, losing your authority. I do this. My MC will sometimes say that another character looks like a particular actor or actress, but it's written in 1st person, so this is the way he perceives things. Also, the references are consistent of his character, voice and the content of the story. And, those references are made about very minor characters that the reader may only see once or twice throughout the course of the story. For characters that are a constant throughout the story I don't do this. I create an original, hopefully memorable, character. But even then, it can still be considered lazy writing.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading Clockers by: Richard Price January 26, 2013 - 8:00pm

A Shout Out is something subtle (a name, line of dialogue, or prop) in a show that refers to fans or family members of the cast or crew, or to another source of inspiration. 

- This is a good quote, but a shout out is just that, a shout out. It's not a running theme or gimmick throughout the story. It's a one time thing that happens then the story moves forward.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 10:59pm

 

First person. I always write in first person- I write YA fiction and prefer first person anyway. And I'm scrapping "Gandalf" anyway. What about making jokes about Thorin Oakenshield? As in "So, you're a dwarf- are you a king? Have you lost a treasure hoard?" and  "Is that your actual last name, or just a nickname?" comments. Actually appearing in the text only once, but the character is mentioned as actually hating this kind of thing, because he's heard it so many times- the narrator, who knows him quite well, says something like this:

I could see that Thorin was fed up. He was probably thinking: Oh great, not another one. Why do humans in this world always think they're being funny?

 

The comment is answered, of course, in an exasperated tone, with something along the lines of "Yes, that's my actual last name. It's a Dwarven tradition. See, my ancestor's name was "Oakshield" in English and dwarves take their ancestor's name as a last name. No, I am not a king and my treasure hoard is safe, thank you very much. "

 

Seb's picture
Seb from Kent, UK January 26, 2013 - 8:38pm

Why not be more subtle if it's a shout out? For example, a scene in a laundrette, surrounded by washing machines (small round doors, spinning in rings, etc.) with two old guys sat talking, just passing cameo characters. No names, but your narrator refers to them as he sees them - one guy is tall with grey hair and a beard (thereafter referred to as 'Grey'), the other is short and has a handbag (call him 'Bag'). Now you have Grey and Bag, have them talking about how their friend Ron lost his wedding ring. That's a shout out.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 9:40pm

Seb: What about the example in my above post? The character in question is the narrator's legal guardian (yes, the narrator is being raised by a Dwarf). The movie Office Space had a character named Michael Bolton, who reacted in a similar way to the example above whenever the singer Michael Bolton was mentioned. Only in that case it was less "Ha ha, never heard that one before" and more "raging mad."

Frank Chapel's picture
Frank Chapel from California is reading Arrest Us Entries January 26, 2013 - 10:22pm

It'd be funny if your Dwarf, Gandalf, was plagued by erroneous stories of him being a wizard. Then you'd have to do two things. 

1. Clearly steer the book into some sort of satire on fantasy.

2. Prepare for cease and desist letters from Tolkien estate.

 

Also if yer that concerned about the legality of such things, visit or buy the NOLO guide to the public domain, i've read it hundreds of times and it's indespensable.

 

 

Arwen Undomiel's picture
Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 26, 2013 - 11:39pm

 

It'd be funny if your Dwarf, Gandalf, was plagued by erroneous stories of him being a wizard. Then you'd have to do two things.

1. Clearly steer the book into some sort of satire on fantasy.

 

I'm going to tell everyone this; I'm scrapping the name "Gandalf." (Yay!) I have a character named Thorin Oakshield, a Dwarf mercenary who everyone thinks is a king. And everyone thinks the narrator has a relative called Bilbo. It's going to be something like this series of books: http://www.jackiefrench.com/phaery.html, which is a satire on bowdlerised fairy tale retellings and cute-but-saccharine fairy books for little kids.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee and loving it! January 26, 2013 - 11:44pm

Can you just play with the name? As in Gandwulf, or Grandlaf, Gandleaf? People would realize it's a little bow to Tolkien, without being offended.

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Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons January 27, 2013 - 2:15am

You can use ancient mythology and play with it. But it's too soon for LOTR characters to be used like that.  Go with something older.  

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 27, 2013 - 2:42am

I think the line is blurred here because "Gandalf" is a name from mythology, but a name that has become associated with an iconic character. So, as I said several posts before, I'm changing "Gandalf's" name to Andvari. 

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fport from Canada is reading The World Until Yesterday - Jared Diamond January 27, 2013 - 4:53pm

@Arwen
Don't take it personally when everyone is having fun with the part they like most in the thread and disregards anything the original post was about. You know you have made it when someone calls you a cannibal or posts some repeating graphic.

His name could be Andropopokovforbokengandalf the short and everyone calls him Gandalf much to his chagrin because it causes overwhelming expectations about his prowess. They also call him Gandi, Alf and Short depending on which bright wit is talking which is then the homage to Gandalf which other people never thought of in association.

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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 27, 2013 - 10:56pm

ha ha ha. Speaking of mythology, does anyone ever adapt mythology wholesale in fantasy? I haven't seen any examples except Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

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Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 28, 2013 - 2:55am

I'd say it is okay to name him Gandolf, but don't call him that. Not sure about the setting you are making, but I know that most of the people who I've seen paper work with their legal name on, don't go buy it. They go by a nickname, their middle name, or some derivative. 

Arwen Undomiel's picture
Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 28, 2013 - 4:31am

Can anyone answer my question re mythology?

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Seb from Kent, UK January 28, 2013 - 6:51am

Speaking of mythology, does anyone ever adapt mythology wholesale in fantasy? I haven't seen any examples except Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Then you need to read more books. And better ones, at that.

Arwen Undomiel's picture
Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 28, 2013 - 7:15am

Actually, came up with another one. Chronicles of Prydain. Pretty good, from what I've read.

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Seb from Kent, UK January 28, 2013 - 7:35am
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Arwen Undomiel from Sydney, Australia January 28, 2013 - 7:47am

Thanks, will try to check those out. They might give me an idea of how to work this in.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. January 28, 2013 - 2:47pm

Neil Gaiman in the Sandman comic book series has the best use of gods ever.  Also, his book American Gods and Anansi boys.  Gaiman is really fucking amazing at doing it.

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Linda from Sweden January 28, 2013 - 4:04pm

I can't believe I still haven't read the Sandman comic, but judging purely by American Gods, I am still willing to concur.

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 28, 2013 - 4:15pm

What about Douglas Adams' Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul? If you read one book about mythological figures, make it that one. Also, Laird Barron references a lot of mythology, and it is great stuff, but it's horror.

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Linda from Sweden January 28, 2013 - 4:40pm

Normally I would be all over horror, but I just moved into an attic apartment in a very old building, and have therefore put myself on an intellectual diet of drama and comedy. Might check it out later though, when it no longer gets dark at night. Looking into Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul right now, and I'm embarrassed to say I haven't even read Hitchhiker's Guide yet.

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JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 28, 2013 - 6:14pm

I'm sorry, what? It almost sounded like you said that you haven't... read... Hitchiker's...

 

I'm sorry, I need a moment.

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Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 28, 2013 - 7:09pm

Linda don't feel bad. I couldn't get through the 2nd chapter, seems very over rated.

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden January 29, 2013 - 2:39pm

I'll try not to, but I'm pretty sure Jeffrey is judging me for it.

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bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. January 29, 2013 - 3:02pm

They're not overrated, they're just not for everybody.  The Dirk Gently books, though, are great reads too.  In fact, I actually like them better.  

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JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life January 29, 2013 - 3:20pm

I loved Holistic Detective Agency so much it will be one of the few pieces of literature to be permanently iconized on my skin. It has physics. Ghosts. Pizza. Cigarettes. Cats. Poetry. Deerstalker hats. And more... but I won't give away the ending. Just read it!

Linda, you have been judged, and found wanting.

Dwayne:

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading everything Dickens wrote January 29, 2013 - 5:34pm

Well, I don't know if the trilogy is overrated, but the Dirk Gently books are certainly underrated; those two books are better than at least two, if not three of the trilogy. But it's not because the trilogy is bad, it's because the trilogy aren't really novels. Because of how they were written (and constantly rewritten for radio and then tv and then back to book and then back to radio... hell, Life, The Universe and Everything wasn't even supposed to be in the trilogy, it was written for Doctor Who... the provenance is a mess) what they're really strong in is the set-pieces: the restaurant at the end of the universe, the vogons, the heart of gold, krikkit, what's wrong with Fenchurch's feet, the guide. But for most of the novels (though certainly not all, it has its moments) you simply hop around from one of these to the next, often without explanation. And indeed everytime they confront the fact that they don't know what's going on or why, Adam's cleverly turns this into the next set-piece: zaphod's brain, the real ruler of the universe, wonko the sane... They are full of brilliant and funny stuff, but they sacrifice cohesion to do so.

The Dirk Gently books are novels proper, well-plotted and interesting stories that draw you through. Still with lots of brilliant and funny stuff, but actual stories as well.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Lexington, Kentucky is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 29, 2013 - 8:34pm

@Linda - Jeff isn't judging you in any meaningful way, he has some odd need to always sound judgemental.

@Jeff - Don't be that guy.

@XyZy - It was just too absurdist for me to care. There is a guy and an alien and a towel, here is a highway destroying the world, and I give a darn why?