More than a year after the original contest, Fully Booked has finally announced the release of its Graphic Fiction Awards compilation. This anthology is set to feature the winners of the competition, from both the prose and comics categories.
I'm honestly not very excited about picking up the book, because I've already read and reviewed each of the finalist entries for prose fiction. At the moment, I don't feel the need to pick these up again at what's likely to be an overinflated price tag, just because I want the volume on my bookshelf. The way I see it, I've read these works already, I've made my feelings known, and I've moved on to other upcoming pieces.
All things said, however, I am curious about one thing.
Somewhere in the middle of my reviews and many others' analyses, it was found that one of the entries -- "A Song for Vargas" -- had lifted some of its lines from the The Last Unicorn, a Rankin-Bass movie based on a novel by Peter S. Beagle. These were some classic lines, no doubt, for them to stick to peoples' heads; They involved a talking skull and its desire for an empty bottle of wine, noting to a startled audience that it remembered the now-nonexistent liquor inside.
In The Last Unicorn, the talking skull serves as the informant for a distinct plot point. In "A Song for Vargas", the talking skull is held as one of the secrets of a mysterious captain. It is precisely this difference that prevents me from automatically assuming that this is a case of plagiarism. Instead, I find myself suspecting that the lines in question just stuck to the author's mind and emerged at some unlikely moment.
In any event, the lines are there, and the uncanny relationship between the short story and the movie is too prominent to be ignored. Anybody who's seen the movie will almost certainly recognize those lines, and I find myself wondering as to what their reactions will be like.
I'm not certain if "A Song for Vargas" will be included in the compilation. Fully Booked's announcement enumerates five of the finalists (including "Atha" and "A Strange Map of Time"), but doesn't mention "A Song for Vargas" in any way. Did they remove it from the running? Did they edit it for better public consumption? Or do they plan to release it as it was submitted, with the dubious lines intact?
Not that I'm trying to disparage anyone in any way, but I fear for the compilation if the latter case is true. This book is supposed to represent the winners of a high-profile writing contest sponsored by Neil Gaiman himself. How is an audience supposed to feel if one of the stories inside showcases a set of lines that were "borrowed" (deliberately or unconsciously) from an existing work?
I'm still not planning to pick up the book. But you can bet that I'll be sneaking a look at some of the copies, if only to see how Fully Booked decided to handle the matter. In the meantime, though, I'll be hoping that somebody doesn't do something that might turn out to be a huge mistake.