The Negative Reader

Drinking Tea and Trashing Books

Alright, I just can’t resist.

This is Everything Wrong with the Mortal Instruments.

Be grateful that every other book blog seems to be swooning over this thing.

So, the Mortal Instruments is a funny series. It lacks the influence of the Twilight Saga or the game changing nature of the Harry Potter books. Yet, it generally enjoys immunity from most critics. Its fans are not legion like the Twilight Saga’s are, but they tend to be smarter. They don’t see the issues with the book because, unlike Twilight Clare actually has a lot more talent, and doesn’t blatantly make statements about how anti human she is.

Which is kind of a shame. Since the TMI really doesn’t deserve the five minutes of fame that it has.

Stephanie Meyer needed no introduction. She was a normal person who had no past in fandom and seemed to have incredible luck at writing the right thing at the right time. There were no scandals hanging around in her past, no records or previous wrongs committed. Just a really weird dream that lead up to Twilight and ended up getting an amount of popularity that was almost staggering.

For a critic, it actually makes the whole thing a little easy since I don’t really need to worry too much about Meyer herself. The only thing that really matters is the work sitting in front of me. Even Meyer’s current scandals, while immature, are just that.

Looking seriously at Cassie Clare requires a lot more speculation on the past, because it is Clare’s history with the Harry Potter fandom, and her connections that she got that essentially made it possible for her to be published. There is no Mortal Instruments without the Draco Trilogy.

Therefore, to understand TMI and it’s connection to TDT, I’m going to needed to talk about some things.

The Draco Trilogy and it’s Many, Many Issues

I’ve mentioned Clare’s past in the HP fandom as well as the Draco Trilogy’s contributions to it and the fact that everything was taking down for plagiarism. There are better and more full write ups then mine, and if you’re bored, you really should read them. The early days of the HP fandom were utterly nuts, so it’s even entertaining.

I’m going to start with something here. I love fanfic. I read it, I write it, I think that everyone who wants to write should use it because it’s a great exercise in writing, and you get a lot of really good feedback. It’s a great want to learn how to keep people in character, to learn to work on plot, and to learn to expand on setting. The problem with so many fanfic authors is that rather than expanding on the knowledge that they’ve gained from writing fanfic, they just sort of…sit on it, or try to keep it the same.

The Draco Trilogy is Clare’s claim to fame, and it’s the reason that she even got published in the first place. So, in some ways, it’s not surprising that she took things from it. The problem is that she took so much from it, and that the Draco Trilogy itself had so many problems.

Now, I first came on the DT when I was much younger. I didn’t have that great of taste, and I was recovering from some of the worst slash fic that the Yu-Gi-Oh fandom had to offer. My impression of it was one of disinterest. I wasn’t fond of Draco Malfoy, and, even at the point that I started reading it, I found the ‘accident in potions class’ to be cliché.

It’s not that uncommon in fanfic to have stories where Draco Malfoy is redeemed. Particularly during the long wait between books 4 and 5. Draco realizing that he’s a jerk stories are still about a dime a dozen, even though the series is over.

In the Draco Trilogy, Draco wasn’t redeemed. Not really. He never stopped being a jerk, and the stories never seemed to really address his bigotry towards non-magical people. In all honestly, he went through very little characterization other than justifying what an ass he was because he was abused as a child. Now, again, this isn’t an uncommon thing. There are plenty of fanfics that sympathize with the Slytherins and how the Muggles don’t know about the precious ‘old ways’ and don’t bother to learn anything about Wizard culture.

The thing with the Draco Trilogy was that it really didn’t even do that flimsy justification. Clare loves her Slytherins. They were always smarter, wittier, richer, and cooler than you, and it’s only when the other characters (other than Ron, since he kind of exists to be made fun of) embrace their ‘Slytherin side’ that they’re shown as clever. They don’t need to change or grow as people because they’re already perfect. To my recollection, she never much even addressed the issues of blood purism in the books. It just sort of…wasn’t talked about.

In terms of characters, no one was in character. The female characters, like Hermione and Ginny, were completely chickified, focusing mostly on their love interests, and most of them didn’t really have anything in common with their canon counterparts. When I first read it, I thought that it was poor and looked for something better to do. Personally, I ascribe the popularity of the series to the fact that, for the most part, the fandom was pretty small and mostly taken up with oneshots and smut fics. Something that had a plot would end up popular, and Clare was smart enough to tease pairings.

Now, it’s not surprising that Clare would take from her successful fanfic. I’ve taken from my successful fanfic, other successful fanfic authors have taken from theirs, but usually what they take from their stories are things that worked. Plot ideas and points, ways of writing scenes, ways of not writing scenes, and even non canon character traits are all things that you really can get from writing fanfic. Fanfic writers can work on the things that they did well, and maybe learn from the things that they didn’t.

Clare on the other hand, tried to take everything.

The Plagiarism Scandal and Clare’s Power in Fandom

Nothing that talks critically about Clare can ever really ignore this. If you were critical of Clare back in the day, this is the reason why you started being critical of her. Now all of you know the debacle. I’ve bought up the debacle several times on this blog but I’m going to talk about something different. I’m going to talk about the effect that this had on the HP fandom.

So, just as a picture. The current incarnation of the HP fandom is positively mellow compared to what they were. Fights about whether or not someone’s headcanon of Hermione as black contradicts canon are honestly nothing compared to the horror that was the shipping war, and no BNF, including E.L. James, no matter what she dreamed she was, holds the power of the Inner Circle.

So, in 2001, was still the big place where stories were hosted (not that there weren’t a ton of others); however, the heart of the fandom was in the journals. Particularly livejournal and yahoo groups. Livejournal was something like Tumblr is now. It was where people could chat with writers, but there was a key difference. Tumblr is a public blogging site. In LJ, you could really be exclusive, and that’s, I think, what really ended up being the power behind the Inner Circle.

The Inner Circle was close. If you were one of them, all of them friended you, you sent private posts and messages to one another, you were supposed to meet up with them in real life. It was every fan’s dream to manage to break into this group, and only a few managed to ever do it.

As a brief illustration of Cassie’s power in the fandom: At one point, after the plagiarism thing, Cassie’s friend (and lawyer) Heidi posted to say that Clare’s apartment had been broken into, and someone had stolen the laptops belonging to her, her roommate and her boyfriend. Heidi asked for donations, and where there was definitely a response, no one is sure how much money was raised (I’ve heard $5000 by some and up to $10000 by others) and no one is really sure how much if it went to the laptop or hospital or anything else. At the same time, a lesser known fan had been trying to get donations for mother, who had a rare form of cancer. Guess who got more attention and sympathy?

This is the climate that the plagiarism scandal appeared in.

So, it’s not surprising that it was met the way that it was. Cassie was popular, and when people like a person, they defend them. Oh there were those who did, but on the whole, the fandom banded together in Cassie’s favor. They argued that she hadn’t done anything wrong, that should have contacted her, that whoever had reported her was just jealous, and just about anything else that they could.

Now, if what Clare had done had just been minor, like a line lifted here or there, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But that wasn’t what happened. What happened was major plot elements, important events, twists and even entire scenes were being lifted. The dialogue that made Clare so popular was suspect because the really funny comments were coming from Joss Weadon or others. This wasn’t a minor case. This was a fanfic that you legitimately couldn’t trust anything good not to be from another source that you didn’t know.

Even now, when people sometimes look it over, no one is sure just how extensive Clare’s plagiarism was.

This, at the very least, warranted an apology. After all, she had essentially lied to her fandom. She told them that this was something that she’d come up with, and they had praised and loved her from her cleverness and wit. This was the time to apologize and to make something else.

Yet, Clare continued to defend herself, and claim that everyone did what she had done. Cassie uploaded the Draco Trilogy on to other sites, and wrote passive aggressive notes that all essentially demanded that the reader note when they saw plagiarism and tell her, and, after a while, it almost became a taboo to talk about it. Despite the level of what happened, it seemed that Clare’s influence over the HP fandom was so great, that there wasn’t anything that was going to stop her popularity.

Once she was published, Clare took down TDT, and her fans did their best to erase all history of the plagiarism, deny it, and edit it out when others mentioned it.

The Draco Trilogy and The Mortal Instruments

Now, a lot of people defend the TMI by say that since the plagiarism thing happened so long ago, we shouldn’t judge Cassie by it. People change after all. Now, I have two problems with that. The first is that Clare never acknowledged that she did anything wrong. Not really. Oh, she snipped, she bemoaned her sad and sorry fate, but she never actually looked at it, even later, and said ‘you know, it wasn’t a good idea for me to do that.’

The second, and more practically, is the Mortal Instruments themselves, and the fact that it borrows so much from Clare fanfic.

Almost everything in the Shadowhunters’ world, is essentially based on the wizarding world. The fact that they’re hidden from the normal world. The fact that they look down on the Mundies (or Muggles 2.0), the Stele that is just like a wand, the fact that you have really big families and then smaller families. If anything it’s as if there are no other people but Slytherins. All the Shadowhunters are racist, all the Shadowhunters think that Mundies are beneath them. This is Clare’s Harry Potter fanfiction. And, worse, there is no Arthur Weasley who, while being ignorant, loves Muggles and Muggle things, and there is certainly no one who is in the position of Dumbledore who actively works against this.

Because, much like her Draco Trilogy, the major issues with the Wizarding world are ignored in favor of stuff happening. Oh, Clare talks about it, but nothing much is done, and nothing much ever really even justifies the reason for the Shadowhunters’ existence. Personally, I always was surprised that the Downworlders didn’t band together to attack the Shadowhunters. Everyone (for good reason) hates them, and Clare, for all that she throws passing references to how bigoted they are, seems as in love with them as she is with her Slytherins.

Major plot points and backstories come from the series, and even when she starts to distance herself from HP in her later trilogy, the connections are all still there, within the characters and foundation of the world itself. The characters who aren’t connected to that fanfic, end up floundering around and essentially doing nothing because Clare doesn’t know what to do with them. Even the situation of the villain being supposed as dead and then returning is nothing more than a plot point from Harry Potter.

No matter how much fans claim that Clare has moved away from this series, the fact is, the Draco Trilogy is the foundation of Clare’s stories, and she’s not going to be giving up on it anytime soon.

How does this hurt her?

Much like Twilight, the very construction of the Mortal Instruments is a faulty one. While it’s not a dream, it’s a semi-plagiarized fanfiction that Clare, while distancing herself from the name, continues to use to scaffold her story. She can’t grow past what happened, so she has to bury it. She can’t move away from her world to make something new and fresh because, in reality, all she has is that fanfic.

Even know that she’s finally finished TMI, she’s moving onto another series set in the same world, and if you think that she’s not going to have Jace involved somehow, you’re insane.

As such, the plagiarism scandal stays in the background, because, while she hasn’t done it recently, it’s going to stay there in the minds of people like me. Because, at some level, we can’t trust her. We can’t trust that every single element of the story wasn’t taken from another source. After all, she’s done it before.

Plagiarism is a big deal; plagiarism breaks trust; and above all, plagiarism is the highest form of dishonesty that a writer can engage in.

But, with this out of the way, it’s time to, with only a few minor mentions of where TDT comes in, to start looking at the work on its own merits.

Whatever those are.

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