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5 insanely popular stories that might actually have been copied

From Star Wars to LOTR, we dig into the truth behind famous stories, held in legendary status for all our geeky lives, possibly not being original.

Charles Caleb Colton once said, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’. While that might be true, getting credit for it (and royalties) would sure make the flattery a bit sweeter for the original creators of ideas – ideas that were ‘taken inspiration’ from to make stories that went on to become some of the most successful franchises of their (or even all) time. While we are not trying to say that this decreases any of the greatness of these franchises, an official nod, often given, is a good way to acknowledge the effort behind the original creation and encourage future creators to come up with equally cool and amazing original stuff. Nonetheless, today we talk about some such ‘cases’ of inspiration that were later identified, either officially by the inspired author or unofficially by the fans in general.

Star Wars – Valerian and Laureline

Upcoming movie ‘Valerian and the city of the thousand planets’ is based on French science fiction comic series Valerian and Laureline. People looking at the trailer might not immediately have noticed familiarity with some of the most popular science fiction franchises of our time. But there is a widely accepted opinion that Valerian was a huge inspiration behind a lot of stuff in Star Wars.

Not to say that the epic story from a galaxy far far away was entirely borrowed or ripped off in any way, but there are quite a few similarities that are undeniable. While there are no mentions of Valerian anywhere in any Star Wars text or other media, Writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières’ – and the fans of the French series – have no doubt about the role it played in the development of the epic saga. As comic book publisher Kim Thompson puts it, “”In 1977 Mézières sat down in a movie theater to enjoy a new movie called Star Wars and was astonished to see how many of the designs and concepts — and, indeed, the whole motif of a lived-in, funky future — seemed awfully familiar,” Thompson wrote, “Polite inquiries to the Lucas camp went unanswered, but over the years word leaked back that the Star Wars designers (some of them French) had indeed maintained a nice collection of Valerian albums.”

Comic by Valerian's creator in Pilote (1983)
“Funny to see you here!”, says Leia, to which Laureline responds: “Oh, we’ve been coming to this club for a long time!”

Iconic elements like Princess Leia’s slave bikini, the Millennium Falcon, the unmasking of Darth Vader to reveal a grotesquely disfigured face, a clone army, Han Solo in carbonite find their counterparts around 4-5 years before in Valerian comics. Creator Mezieres wasn’t exactly amused. Check this cartoon that he submitted to Pilote in 1983.

Harry Potter – Everything from British folklore to Macbeth

J.K.Rowling has herself admitted to being influenced and inspired by a large number of sources for a wide variety of things in the Harry Potter universe. Starting from British folklore, which she admits to having taken quite a liberty with, she goes on to accept influences from Iliad (saving Cedric’s body), Macbeth (The prophecy), The Bible, The Chronicles of Narnia (The entrance to Platform 93/4) and more.

While the world might have been inspired heavily from multiple sources, it has won hearts the world over
While the world might have been inspired heavily from multiple sources, it has won hearts the world over

Although it is fairly acknowledged that no modern writer of fantasy can escape being compared to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the similarities between Harry Potter and LOTR are more than superficial. Wormtongue and Wormtail, Shelob and Aragog, Gandalf and Dumbledore, Nazgûl and Dementors, Old Man Willow and the Whomping Willow and the similarities between the main antagonists, Dark Lord Sauron and Lord Voldemort ( the fear around saying their names aloud, both are often referred to as ‘The Dark Lord’; and during the main action both are recovering lost power after being considered dead or no longer a risk). Fans of both franchises although generally take it as an honourable nod.

Lion King – Kimba the Lion

No, that’s not a typo. And no we are not talking about Disney’s inspiration from Hamlet. Disney went ahead and heavily borrowed from a Japanese anime from legendary creator Osamu Tezuka, who also created Astro Boy. Yes, Kimba and Simba is a real thing. Early sketches of Lion King even included Simba in white. It doesn’t just stop there – characters like the shaman monkey, the comic relief hyenas and a bird friend are all present in both the anime and the Disney feature.

Kimba the Lion
No Kimba, today kids do not know you.

The antagonist received a sex change treatment, going from Kimba’s aunt to Simba’s uncle. One of the most iconic scenes from the movie, where Simba talks to the spirit of his father appearing in the cloud, has an almost exact counterpart in Kimba. The sad thing here is if events had occurred the other way round, we doubt that Disney would let it go this easily. To their credit, Simba at least means ‘Lion’ in Swahili.

G.I.Joe – Fury Force

Rather than drawing a comparison between the former abandoned Fury Force, it makes more sense to draw a comparison between the antagonists. Both organisations – serpent-themed, almost idolising the organisation and fighting semi-government organisations – too similar to be a coincidence, right? That’s because it isn’t. Comic book artist Larry Hama was working on an idea for a comic called Fury Force, where Nick Fury’s son Fury Jr. would be seen leading an elite S.H.I.E.L.D group against HYDRA.

Cobra Vs Hydra
Snakes all over! (Source: Pinterest)

Marvel didn’t pick up the idea back then, but when later Hasbro approached Marvel to write a comic to go with their relaunch of the G.I.Joe series of toys, Marvel promptly brought out the Fury Force concept, rehashed it to fit with the G.I.Joe storyline, created a villain and voila, G.I.Joe was ready.

Lord of the Rings – Der Ring des Nibelungen

Yes, we went there. Before hardcore fantasy fans go up in arms against us, check out this study that points out the similarities. In fact, Tolkien was so irritated by the comparisons that after the Swedish translator for LotR effectively labelled the two rings as the same, he went on to state “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases”.

Scene 1 of Das Rheingold
Scene 1 of Das Rheingold

Both stories have a ring of power, the motifs of the riddle-contest, the cleansing fire, the broken weapon preserved for an heir, and of course the theme of ‘the Lord of the Ring as the slave of the Ring’. Check out this extract from Das Rheingold, the first of the four music dramas that constitute Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, that almost exactly describes the power of the One Ring:

There is one Ring only.
The Ring came by a curse, which is now transferred.
It confers unlimited power on its possessor.
Its ownership will now bring no joy, only misery.
It will gradually consume its possessor with anxiety.
It will be sought by all who do not possess it, yet will bring its possessor no contentment. Its possessor is given the title of Lord of it […]
Possession will be living death and it will bind its possessor even in death: the Lord of the Ring will become its slave.

Keep in mind that these are not cases of plagiarism that have been officially reported or being contested in a court of law. Most of these references are public opinion, and even if extensive reports and analysis exist for some of them, that does not give any of these instances an official acknowledgement of being copied. For that, we might have to wait for a more honest crop of creators.

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.