I have a bone to pick with Cassandra Clare.
Actually, I have a whole skeleton to pick with Cassandra Clare, but that sounds a little more excessive than is needed.
Originally, when Clare, originally known as Cassandra Claire in the Harry Potter fandom, announced she was getting a trilogy published, I was ecstatic. As a huge, longtime fan of her hilarious and in-depth Draco Trilogy, I knew I absolutely had to read the first book of her trilogy when it came out. Of course, back then, I was woefully uneducated about a lot of things. I wasn’t terribly familiar with classic television shows, and because of this (and probably because I was never fully entrenched in the Harry Potter fandom and simply flitted around the outskirts), I completely neglected to realise that everything I loved about Clare’s wonderfully written trilogy had been stolen.
Okay, technically, everything had been stolen because it was fanfiction. But even though it’s fanfiction, the same rules of literature still apply. You may be borrowing someone else’s settings, premise, and characters, but the writing and concept within your own fic is supposed to be wholly original. Cassie Clare’s was not.
True, if anyone remembers reading The Draco Trilogy online way back in the day, you’ll also remember that Clare posted disclaimers about quotes she’d taken from sources like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Blackadder. But if you Google Clare’s name, you’ll find countless sites, blogs, forums, and even wikis devoted to explaining how she plagiarized most of her work — and then got herself published on the basis of this plagiarized work. And they’re not wrong. Although as far as I am aware, the plots of her fanfiction were still her own (or at least mostly), the writing, which was snappy, witty, and often laugh out loud hilarious, was often not hers. The hysterical quotes my friends and I would giggle about were most often taken (and changed very slightly) from other books, films, or television shows, and often whole chunks of dialogue and description were taken from these sources, with only a line or two attributed. In one chapter, Clare would use countless references and claim them as her own — or at least not specifically explain that they weren’t hers.
Fast forward a few years: Clare befriends Holly Black, who reads her work and refers her to an agent. Clare gets a book deal for her trilogy, The Mortal Instruments. I probably still would have read at least the first one had I been more aware of the plagiarism problem, but not due to excitement. But back then, I only had an inkling that Clare had done something wrong, and at that time, I was inclined to believe fandom was wrong, lashing out at someone who had done great things since her time in Harry Potter land because they were jealous. But when I read the first book of her “original” trilogy, I was positively floored by how similar it was to The Draco Trilogy.
Granted, the plot’s pretty different. But as we all know, a good book relies on much more than plot and premise, and unfortunately, the characters were straight out of The Draco Trilogy. Of course, Cassandra Clare’s Draco, Ginny, Harry, Hermione, etc. were not exactly canon representations, and she did make these characters something of her own. But Hermione Granger still always retains a bit of Hermione Granger, no matter how garbled an interpretation of her is (and let me tell you, although Clare had a lot of faults, I thought that her interpretations of the Harry Potter characters were, though not totally accurate, both compelling and interesting). When I opened the book, I knew that Clary was Ginny. Alec was Harry. Isabelle was Clare’s version of Blaise (who back then was not officially male or female, and could therefore be interpreted by fandom either way). Valentine was a strange mixture of Lucius and Voldemort. And Jace, of course, was undeniably Draco.
Jace is so Draco, in fact, that it’s impossible to see him as his own character. The way Clare characterizes Jace is the exact same way she characterized her Draco. They share lines (the ones she didn’t steal from Buffy, of course), they share nervous tics, they share appearances, and they even share memories. The second I read the scene in which Jace tells Clary the story about the boy and the falcon, I felt an unpleasant jolt of recognition: that story is one Draco tells in one of the Draco Trilogy installments. I couldn’t remember which one. I couldn’t even remember who Draco told it to (Harry? Ginny? Hermione?). But I knew it was if not word for word taken from her fanfiction, it was very, very close.
The frightening thing about The Mortal Instruments series is that its plot is nowhere near as interesting as the plot of her original fanfiction trilogy, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the characters in The Draco Trilogy were familiar faces. The plot was better. The premise was better. And just to give you an idea of how much I mean this, I sometimes yearn to read the original Draco Trilogy, even with all of its horrible problems. I have still not read the third book of The Mortal Instruments, and I refuse to read anything past that.
But my problems with Cassandra Clare don’t stop there. My problems just begin with the fact that once she’s stripped of her witty references to other writers, she becomes a mediocre storyteller. My next problem stems from the fact that Cassie Clare is being paid to be a one trick pony, and is selling out because I’m almost entirely sure at this point that she has no moral compass.
Once The Mortal Instruments series was over (or, at least, I thought it was), I felt that perhaps Clare might be able to leave her old writing behind and embark on something brand new. I was willing to believe that she was hung up and in love with these characters she had created when she started writing The Draco Trilogy long ago. I get it — the Draco Trilogy was a beloved staple of fanfiction, and it took YEARS for the whole thing to be written. It was a long effort, and she made absolutely no money off it. I can understand the impulse to want to be rewarded for pleasing so many people for so long.
But Clare didn’t stop. She didn’t try something new. Instead, she left The Mortal Instruments and started writing a steampunk trilogy set in Victorian England. About — you guessed it — the world she created in The Mortal Instruments. Shadowhunters are still the main characters. It’s still the same formula: girl who is not a Shadowhunter meets Shadowhunter who is sexy and snarky (like Draco/Jace, only with dark hair and Victorian sensibilities), and becomes entangled in that world and, of course, a love triangle. And then in addition to all of this, Clare — horror of all horrors — decided to extend her original trilogy to six books instead of three.
I understand that there is money involved. I do. I also understand that she loves her characters. I am a writer. I get attached to my own creations pretty easily. But the thing is, as a writer, you also have to know when to let things go. Television shows have this problem. It’s called “jumping the shark.” Granted, I don’t think her original series was that great, but still, it was supposed to end in three books. She ended it. And then, all of the sudden, she starts it again. But the problem is that the trilogy is already self-contained: the love triangle has been settled. The plot has been resolved. There is nothing left to happen with these characters that has not already happened. And yet Cassie Clare still does it because she has such a huge fanbase (most of whom, strangely, never read her fanfictino) and she can’t quite seem to let anything she writes go.
So let’s talk now about the books Cassie Clare has out (and is currently writing) now. She has her “trilogy” (which has now become, supposedly, six books about Clary, Jace, and company). She has her steampunk trilogy, which is also about Shadowhunters, but does not relate to the characters in The Mortal Instruments series. And now, according to Publisher’s Weekly, she’s just gotten at least a seven figure advance for YET ANOTHER three-book deal. And it’s about Shadowhunters. Again. With new characters, and, hey, now it’s set in Los Angeles! Newsflash, Cassandra Clare, changing the setting and the names (but not personalities) of your characters does not make a book different from the last one you wrote.
So what’s really my problem? My problem is the fact that Cassandra Clare is a marginally talented writer who has one story and one cast of characters up her sleeve, and yet somehow she’s sold millions and millions of books based on this. My problem is the fact that Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series was partially copied from her fanfiction trilogy, which copied a plethora of other authors, not even including J.K. Rowling, who provided her with the characters, premise, and setting for her beloved trilogy. My problem is the fact that Cassandra Clare is in the authorly equivalent of a time loop, and has come full circle. My problem is the fact that Cassandra Clare is, in essence, writing fanfiction of her own work, and it is getting published and she is getting paid bank for it, when other far more original and talented authors are getting absolutely nothing for their hard work. I may despise Stephenie Meyer and the world she’s created, but at least Twilight and its accompanying works are her own original product; at least she deserves to reap the benefits of the crazy fandom she’s inspired.
So dear Cassandra Clare: write a new goddamn book — one that isn’t a copy of a copy of a copy.