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Inspirational Reads

What a Rip-Off

December 29, 2009

Remember back at the beginning of the year when I wanted to read a bunch of books and then, as I finished them, I'd review them on here? Usually I'd do it in the weekend slots since not a lot of people read on the weekends and such. Ha, wow, that fell off shortly after I wrote up my review for Truck: A Love Story (and Kristine insulted me for writing the review), didn't it? Anyway, since I'm not at work this week and only just kind of phoning in the blog thing until I start in with the hardcore writing next week, you're getting a book review midweek.

So, I just finished reading Diana Wynn Jones Castle in the Air today. I read this after finishing up Howl's Moving Castle. I enjoyed the book, but the movie was frankly better. Christian Bale and all.

Anyway, Castle in the's the story of a guy from a middle-eastern-inspired country called Zanzib who is essentially a street urchin with a carpet-selling business, who falls in love with the daughter of the Sultan, finds a magic flying-carpet and a genie and adventure ensues. Wait, where have I seen this before...oh, right, Disney's Aladdin.

Well, what a rip off. I mean, maybe I'll write a story about a girl who eats a poisoned apple and falls asleep and is protected by a bunch of...elves. Yes, that's right. Seven--no! Eight!--elves to protect her. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Hello, what's this? Castle in the Air was written in 1990 and Aladdin was released in 1992, with a final script handed in in 1991? Hmmm...something is rotten in the state of Denmark Zanzib.

This is not, however, the first time Disney has *ahem* borrowed heavily from someone else's work of fiction. Apparently, Robin McKinley's book Beauty was heavily-borrowed from when Disney decided to do Beauty and the Beast, but they changed just enough to keep McKinley's lawyers from settling a large sum of money. Now McKinley's all pissed, and none of her excellent stories can be made into movies, which is too bad because, apparently, her stories of love Vampire-style are really kickass, and would put Twilight to shame (you know, like how any Vampire-based story puts Twilight to shame).

Anyway, the same pretty much happened here to Diana Wynn Jones' Castle in the Air (which is in no way related to Miyazaki's movie Castle in the Sky). Disney changed the story enough that there couldn't be any lawsuits, and by changed it, I mean, they dumbed it down. Way down. They dumbed it down to Disney level. Whichever way you slice it, though, I'm pretty sure Jones got screwed in this lack of deal.

What we have here is the story of Abdullah, a carpet merchant in Zanzib who falls in love with the Sultan's daughter whom he secretly courts after buying a flying carpet. Then, he sees the Sultan's daughter stolen by a nefarious djinn, and then gets captured after dropping his nightcap in the Sultan's daughter's night garden. He escapes (thanks to the flying carpet) and comes across the genie's bottle. With the genie in hand (heh, I made a joke), he escapes the Sultan's armies and flees to the land of Ingary, where he befriends a veteran of the war Ingary just fought with Stangia (I think this is the war that was being fought in the movie version of Howl's Moving Castle). With the help of the soldier and another character (I'm leaving it a surprise on purpose), Abdullah manages to rescue his beloved Flower-of-the-Night (the Sultan's daughter) and defeat the djinn's evil brother, who is the puppeteer pulling all the strings in the kidnapping of princesses and such.

Fortunately, the ending doesn't feel as rushed in Castle in the Air as it did in Howl's. The character of Abdullah, with his constantly flowery speech and overly-polite customs, is quite likable and you can feel empathy toward him while he is trying hard to rescue his princess, but doesn't seem to get anywhere. Also, the way that Jones weaves together several plotlines into one finale is reminiscent of how another of my favorite authors, Tad Williams, which is high praise. The ability to bring all the facets of a complicated story into one, believable ending is difficult to do, but Jones manages quite well in Castle in the Air. Also, it's quite fun seeing how certain characters...appear...toward the latter stages of the story.

The story is a follow up to Jones' story of Howl's Moving Castle, which I also recommend reading (and watching the movie, for what it's worth). The stories aren't necessarily interlinked, but it will make it a lot more fun as you begin to figure out the roles and identities of some of the characters in Castle in the Air. That's a long, drawn-out way of saying you should read both books.

When I finally check-out Jones' House of Many Ways, I'll let you know how that one turns out, too. Until then, happy reading.


Mala said...

I believe Disney can do anything, and I mean ANYTHING! Don't fuck with the mouse. He may look all cute and friendly, but you cross him and he'll cut you, yo!

Hmmmmm, you insulted Twilight AND Jason Bateman.... Let me go grab my popcorn, Bev should be here any minute.

Joshua said...

Sound like good reads. I'll pick them up.

You never cease to amaze with your posts, sir. This was most excellent. With some Nathan Fillion thrown in.


carissajade said...

I'm pretty sure I played out a version of the lion king with my toys before the movie came out, so they stole that too... somehow. I've always heard good things about Howls moving castle... I think i just want to see the movie though.

Ed Adams said...

You make me actually want to READ a book.

I mean, one WITHOUT pictures.

Good job exposing Disney.

Maybe their scripts department is run by Stephen Glass.

Bev said...

I don't mind Twilight-mockery, since I mock my own fangirlish-obsession just as readily as anyone else. Had you really insulted Jason Bateman, however... well, them's fightin' words!

But that is Nathan Fillion, yes?

Thanks for the reviews. I'll add those to my stack of "things I really should be reading when I'm online reading blogs."

Just Another Momma said...

Disney . . . do they think of anything themselves?

Lindsey Himmler said...

I've been hearing a lot about Diana Wynn Jones. I'm really going to have to check her out.

Soda and Candy said...

The original story of Aladdin is part of the 1001 Nights or Arabian Nights stories (also including Sinbad & Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves) - I have a version of this that I've had since I was a child. Wikipedia says Aladdin is a Middle Eastern folk tale that was incorporated into this collection later, by European storytellers.

In any case it's actually much, much older than either Castle in the Air or Disney's Aladdin; I'm sure both of them borrow heavily though it sounds like Castle in the Air tried to pretend it was a different story.

Junket said...

No offense to the fans out there but I am anti-Twilight. I give props to Stephenie Meyer for getting kids to read, but I am so sick of having it shoved in my face all day...every day. That being said, someone wrote a parody called, Nightlight and I was laughing out loud like an a-hole while perusing it at the bookstore.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Mala: Did I insult Jason Bateman? I surely didn't mean to. Although, his performance in Knight Rider was deplorable, at best. (Is that good enough to draw Bev's ire?)

@ Joshua: Bear in mind, they're "juvenile fantasy", but the stories are still fun. Also, the Nathan Fillion was just to make my wife happy.

@ CarissaJaded: Well...roar. Heh. I'm a bit tempted now to write a story with a princess in it, so that I can get a sweet slice of that "Disney raped my ideas right out of my head" pie.

@ Ed: The big thing about the whole story that lined up a little too well with the Disney version was the whole "wishing the genie his freedom", which, as far as I can glean from the original Aladdin story, wasn't a part of it. And, also, I found that Disney dumbed down the original Aladdin story, too. Bah. Vile and insidious mouse.

@ Bev: That is Nathan Fillion, and as I mentioned before, he was added for my wife's mean...for all the lovely ladies what read this here blog. Wow, I'm crafty.

@ Just Another Momma: How to suck the most money out of people? No, wait...that's been going on since the dawn of time. Oldest profession and all...

@ Lindsey: Your steam-punk writing mind would probably really like Howl's and Castle, both.

@ Soda & Candy: Given the "identities" of the genie in the bottle and the flying carpet, those are the only parts of the story that overlap. That'd be like claiming that the Lord of the Rings pretended not to be Snow White because both featured dwarves.

@ Junket: Oh no. No apologizing for being sick of having Twilight rammed down your throat. I think a lot of us are. Like, for example, me. So, feel free to insult away. Also, my wife brought home another parody, I think it was called "Twilite", and she said it was fabulous. She had to read the originals due to the need to plan release parties and events for her store.

adrienzgirl said...

So first I believe what Mala was referring to is your picture of Nathan Fillion. He does have a bit of a Jason Bateman resemblence thing if you will.

And now the thieving bastards at Disney are going to start effing up comics too!

JennyMac said...

I am glad I finished the post because initially I thought that was a photo of Jason Bateman and was about to depart. haha.

Disney..shame on you.

Sound like very interesting books. Thanks for sharing the info.

Pearl said...

As Mala said, you don't fuck with the mouse!

I had to take that as it couldn't be expressed any more succinctly.

So have you read any of Neil Gaimann's stuff? I loved Neverwhere...


Soda and Candy said...

Oh, okay, from how I read it, seemed like you were saying they were more or less the same story. But I gotcha now.

: )

Soda and Candy said...

And by "how I read it" I meant I am a skimming asshole, sorry!

Anyway, have you read The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley? It is a dry, funny bizarro "sequel" to the original Aladdin story.

Amber Star said...

You have a way with words, but Aladdin has been around for ever so in the 1700s.
This link will help with that Disney thing you have going.

I wouldn't have said a word except I remember Aladdin from when I was a girl. That was a while back.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ adrienzgirl: I didn't notice the resemblance until Mala said something about Jason Bateman. And, especially in that picture, he is a bit of a dead ringer.

Disney's also doing their best to cash in on the Harry Potter craze...several years after it peaked. Nicely done, asshats.

@ JennyMac: Well, thanks for making it through. I'd promise to make shorter posts, but I know I'd break that resolution on the first Friday of the New Year. Heh.

@ Pearl: Reading a lot of Neil Gaiman's stuff over the summer has made me want to be a writer again. So, to answer your question, yes. And, you're right.

@ Soda & Candy: Yeah, if you skim over it, I can see that. It seems that, when you compare the "real" Aladdin story alongside the Disney Aladdin version, there's obviously some holes and some variance. But when you lay Disney Aladdin alongside Castle in Air, then there's some extra comparisons, especially the whole "wish the genie his freedom", which I skimmed over in the review because I didn't want to reveal too much of the ending. So, no Castle in the Air really has nothing to do with Aladdin, other than the action is originally set in a middle eastern setting and there's a genie and a flying carpet, and the way the princess and the character of Abdullah meet. It's how similar the Disney version of the Aladdin story correlates with Castle in the Air that bothers me most, not the other way around.

@ Amber Star: Yes, I realize that Aladdin is really old. My point was that Disney borrowed heavily, or at least seems to have borrowed heavily from Castle in the Air, without any acknowledgment for Jones' canny works of fiction.

The secondary gripe would be how Disney dumbed down the Aladdin story, itself, such as purposefully removing Aladdin's mother, getting rid of the evil genie (until the end) and that. Personally, I hate when stories are dumbed down just to appeal to a wider audience.

JenJen said...

I think I might check these out.
And, a rushed ending is something I hate. The pace is consistent throughout, and then, the author hits the gas.

Soda and Candy said...

Ohh. Thanks! Now I might have to look up Castle in the Air!

: )

Lindsey Himmler said...

I thought you should know that I went out and bought Howl's Moving Castle this weekend with my Xmas money. I'm looking forward to it!

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ JenJen: It wasn't that she was hurrying things along, I think. It was more like "Okay, I'm done, here you go" and some of the explanations were a bit...lacking? Otherwise, the story was very well done.

@ Soda & Candy: And I'm going to look up The Land of Green Ginger, when next I hit the library.

@ Lindsey: The movie or the book? Both are wonderful.

Danielle said...

I remember being very irked when I first read Beauty and realized that Disney had stolen the best ideas from McKinley's book, even down to the frigging DRESS.

I mean COME ON. Ihat's just wrong.