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Plagiarism from D&D in Shadowlands, by Peter Straub [minor spoilers]

Pielorinho

Iron Fist of Pelor
I've been meaning to read some Peter Straub for awhile, and so last week I picked up his novel Shadowland, which tells the story of a couple of teenagers who learn about magic. It's fairly dark, set in the 1950s, and pretty cool, in a hallucinatory stream-of-consciousness way.

Except.

About a third of the way through the book, one of the teenagers shows another one a list of spells that he might learn from his mentor. And I kid you not. The spells are divided into nine levels, with "sleep" and "light" among the first-level spells, and "maze" and "wish" at the ninth level, with magic jar and telekinesis and invisible stalker and stuff in between.

There's no other mention of our beloved hobby in the book: the spells are mentioned as if they're Straub's original creation.

Has anyone else heard about this? Has Straub apologized for this pathetic plagiarism? Did TSR sue him?

My guess is that Straub, writing this book in the late 70s (it was published in 1980) thought that no one would ever know about his source material, thought he'd get away with a little bit of laziness.

It kinda ruined the book for me, so I thought I'd see if anyone's heard of it.

Daniel

PS I put this in General Discussion b/c I'm wondering about the D&D-related aspects of the book; if it should be in the non-RPG fiction forum, could a mod move it? Thanks!
 

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Rune

Once A Fool
Pielorinho said:
Has anyone else heard about this? Has Straub apologized for this pathetic plagiarism? Did TSR sue him?
bs!
Very interesting. Here's the question in my head:

Is that a very detailed literary allusion, or is it, in fact, plagiarism?

Hard to say. But with as much detail as you say he put into it, I'm leaning toward the plagiarism side of the argument. [edit] And the fact that it's set in the 50's...[/edit]
 
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Number47

First Post
When did these spells become part of D&D? Not until Advanced, right? When did Advanced first come out?
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
Oh come on. The reference to the spells is pretty much 'name only'. If you were to attempt to run a game using it then you'd have a REAL hard time. As for plagarism read 'The Dying Earth' by Jack Vance, written about ten years before D&D. See if the magic system seems at all familiar. Then start talking plagarism....:rolleyes:

It was a bit of a joke and nothing more.

The Auld Grump, grumbling...
 

Pielorinho

Iron Fist of Pelor
#47, that's interesting -- are you sure these spells weren't in a pre-1980 edition of D&D? Because in the book they are (to the best of my 1ed memory) at the correct levels and everything, and include names like "invisible stalker" and "magic jar", names not likely to be coincidence. Somebody is borrowing from somebody here.

Old Grump, you're right that the spells are used in name only, which is part of what makes it so weird: Straub could easily have named his possession spell "Possession," or had a power called "Dreamscape" instead of one called "Hallucinatory Terrain."

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by saying that it was a joke. Have you read the book? I kept hoping there'd be some sort of acknowledgement of his source material, even in a nudge-wink kind of way, but I never saw one.

My comment about TSR suing is simply because TSR was so sue-happy in those days (IIRC); I wouldn't expect they'd let something like this go by.

Mostly, I want to know what story, if any, is behind Straub's use of these spells in an otherwise interesting book.

Daniel
 

mythusmage

First Post
Number47 said:
When did these spells become part of D&D? Not until Advanced, right? When did Advanced first come out?
Nope, Sleep and Light go back to 1974, while the 9th level spells made their appearance around 1977 (IIRC). A tad before AD&D.

But, I must agree with the grouchy one, while the link is obvious, it aint gonna kill D&D. Call it free advertising and get on with your life.
 


Wormwood

Adventurer
I chalk it up to an esoteric geek reference, akin to the passing reference to the Necronomicon in Stephen King's "I Know What You Need".

In any event, let's keep the tempest out of the teapot.
 

Pielorinho

Iron Fist of Pelor
Tempest in a teapot? Whoah, there, big fella -- I'm not calling him a babykiller. I'm just baffled by the presence of a Dungeons and Dragons spell list in an otherwise literary horror/fantasy novel with no other connections to the game.

I'm pretty sure that it constitutes plagiarism -- but if you've read the book and see how it works as an allusion, I'd love to know. Y'all saying it's a joke -- you've read the book, right? Am I just missing the punch line?

It certainly doesn't count as free advertising: no one would recognize the spell list unless they were already a pretty big D&D geek. As near as I can tell, it was just some creative laziness on Straub's part in a pretty cool book. It's as if, for no discernible reason, Neil Gaiman's latest novel was populated by characters named and styled after the cast of That 70's Show. Why would he do it?

Anyway, I guess no one has heard Straub make any comments on this, nor has anyone heard anything from TSR on the subject.

Daniel
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Pielorinho said:
I'm pretty sure that it constitutes plagiarism -- but if you've read the book and see how it works as an allusion, I'd love to know. Y'all saying it's a joke -- you've read the book, right? Am I just missing the punch line?
I could write a book about a fictional software company. If one of their products has a little paperclip that acts as a tutorial program, that is not plagiarism. In fact, it is very hard for a company to prove plagiarism in any work of fiction. If it 'ruined the book' for you, I am really really sorry, and hope you never start reading actual classics - they continually make allusions to things, sometimes far more obscure then these, other times very easily and plainly spotted.

For all we know, Straub put those spells in there for a reason, whether that was agreeing or disagreeing with the Magic system of D&D. Perhaps he is (sort of) on "Jack Chick's side", or, diametrically opposed, he wants to prove the religious fanatics, who claim spell use is evil, wrong.

I am sorry, but as you said, it was a very minor reference, and artistic licence can protect the writer even if he had an actual negative opinion on D&D.

Rav
 
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Pielorinho

Iron Fist of Pelor
Rav said:
If it 'ruined the book' for you, I am really really sorry, and hope you never start reading actual classics - they continually make allusions to things, sometimes far more obscure then these, other times very easily and plainly spotted.

Rav
Thanks, Rav, for the English lesson. :rolleyes: I'm well aware of how allusions work. May I repeat myself?

I did not understand how this one was supposed to work.

For all we know, Straub put those spells in there for a reason, whether that was agreeing or disagreeing with the Magic system of D&D.
Pretty sure that's not it -- as I said, the spells were there in name and level only, and "level" as a concept didn't map exactly to the D&D concept even.

Perhaps he is (sort of) on "Jack Chick's side
I doubt it -- having read the book, I can attest that Christianity is mentioned only in passing, and in a mocking tone.

or, diametrically opposed, he wants to prove the religious fanatics, who claim spell use is evil, wrong.
Again, doubtful: magic doesn't come across as a particularly positive force in the book.

I'm thinking I came to the wrong place here: I forgot how many people are willing to offer their opinions on books they've not read. :)

If anyone has read the book, what did you think of that aspect of it?

Daniel
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
To my recollection, plagarism isn't proven until a certain percentage or more of the work in question is proven directly copied from source material. Now, trademark infringement might be a different story, but to my knowledge those terms were not ever trademarked by TSR, and even if they were, once those terms are not defended after a certain length of time, they become public domain, do they not?

When Gary was in control of TSR, it was not generally a sue-happy company, and only after he lost majority control sometime in the early 1980's did the management prosecute various suits.
 

Ravellion

serves Gnome Master
Pielorinho said:
If anyone has read the book, what did you think of that aspect of it?
So why didn't you ask this question to begin with? Your first post actually was poorly worded (especially, as Henry already put forward, the use of the word plagiarism) if you wanted a reply on what people thought about that passage, instead of, what I gathered, the possibility of plagiarism in the use of spell names. Even though I haven't read the book, the information you gave me was quite sufficient to reply regarding that.

I think it would be a good idea to edit your first post, unless you want more replies which will be more or less equal to mine... I am not the only English lit. major here.

Rav

edit: typo
 
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herald

First Post
Alright Rav,
Everyone knows that ideas as they are being typed out on this board aren't always well thought out all the time.

As an English Major you might want to read a little more deeply to get at the point that he was driving at.


Pielorinho,
I'm sure that Peter Straub is aware of D&D and that the list of spells might be a "tip of the hat" to fantasy readers who read his book as well as one of the many D&D novels that are on book shelves across the world.

But as others have pointed out, Vance had a 9 level magic system before D&D ever did and by that stroke, it would be a hard case to make that anyone could defend that a list of generic spell names could be defended in a court of law.

So, his spell list could include things like, "Sleep" and "Fireball" and Lightning Bolt." Those words are in common parlayance and fair game.

Spells Like "Mordenkainen's Fantastic Widget" would not, because the Character belongs to WOTC, and by that extention Hasbro.
 

Pielorinho

Iron Fist of Pelor
Rav, I apologize if my OP wasn't clear. I do, however, appreciate people giving me the benefit of the doubt, rather than making snarky comments about how I need to get on with my life, what bad things will happen when I read real classics, etc. My OP was asking for context around this thing, not for a critique of my reading skills etc.

I realize that this doesn't rise to the legal definition of plagiarism (is there such a thing?) I also realize that that's not stopped TSR in the past -- remember when they tried to remove all D&D-related Web sites in the mid-90s?

I'm looking for context, is all. It's possible, of course, that Straub was basing his levels of magic off of Vance, which somehow seems less absurd to me; does anyone know whether Vance invented the spell Invisible Stalker, for example?

Daniel
 


Templetroll

First Post
here are some spell names from Vance

Xarfaggio's Physical Malepsy ...
Arnhoult's Sequestrious Digitalia ...
The Spell of Forlorn Encystment ... (Imprisonment in D&D?)
Khulip's Nasal Enhancement ...
The Excellent Prismatic Spray ...
Phandaal's Critique of the Chill

This is a link to a site that allows you to make up such names for spells. There is supposedly a Dying Earth RPG to be made but I cannot find any other info about it.
 

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