Fishing from the same stream

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Fishing from the same stream is a literary phenomenon that is common among authors- particularly ones from the sci-fi and fantasy genres- that is the source of great discussion from fans, journalists, and lawyers alike.

Many people believe that the use of this is plagiarism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Terry points out that the stream is like a boiling pot- different writers use its contents, but ‘’do not steal each other’s ideas’’. That is not how ideas function. A school for wizards- that works. It was no-one’s idea per se, but it captures the imagination, and is good to use in novels. The reason clichés are so popular is that they are the nuts and bolts of a writer’s toolkit- the ideas are emblazoned on the public consciousness, and are simply used separately by different writers. As the creator himself said, when questioned about the Rowling/Plagiarism debates: "[When people ask:] So, are you accusing JK Rowling of plagiarism? [I] sigh deeply and say: No. Don't be silly, that's how genres work. Writers have always put a new spin on old ideas. I can think of a dozen pre-Hogwarts 'Magic schools'. Some of them are pre-Unseen University, too. It doesn't matter. No one is stealing from anyone. It's a shared heritage."

And by its very nature, fantasy fiction draws on the whole vast panoply of the world's mythology, history and folklore, which by its very nature is common heritage and cannot be copyrighted.

See The Folklore of Discworld (with Dr. Jacqueline Simpson) for further examples of this phenomenon in Discworld.


  • If your gang consists of two people - if it is, in fact, a gangette - one will be the brains of the outfit and one will supply the muscle and speak like dis. They must both, of course, wear black suits. If there are three of them, this still applies, but the new one will be called Fingers.
  • The mediaeval idea of the Invisible College was a secret society which a seeker after wisdom had to find for himself in order to learn all about sorcery, wizardry and magic. At all stages the neophyte wizard was warned that magic was a tricky thing that could bite back and cause damage. As the price for the Devil providing teaching, one pupil in every class was taken to Hell (the Dungeon Dimensions?). Echoes of this concept inform both Unseen University and Hogwarts.
  • The Hiver draws from an ancient Celtic spirit of evil and destruction, previously used by author Alan Garner in his fantasy novel The Moon of Gomrath. If readers of both books have noticed similarities, they would be dead right.
  • Both Night Watch (2005) and Life on Mars (2006-2007) centre on an honest copper - named Sam! - thrown back thirty years in time to right a wrong and enable him to return to his present, exactly as he left it. Sam is confronted with the slightly primitive policing techniques of the past, and introduces elements of sensitive modern policing on a force not quite mentally equipped to accept it. Life on Mars has plenty of big differences, perhaps most importantly the recurring theme of Sam trying to determine if he has really travelled in time, or if the whole thing is a hallucination.
  • In Lindsey Davis’ Roman crime novel Saturnalia, the Lord of Misrule at Saturnalia is “randomly” selected by getting a fateful bean in their lunch. Compare this to those earthly avatars of the Hogfather, who were “randomly” selected for sacrifice by getting the bean. And the Roman Saturnalia and Discworld's Hogswatch are, of course, aspects of the same universal midwinter festival.
  • The English translation of the fourth Tintin album, Cigars of the Pharoah, makes mention of a “Djelababi tribe”. Whether Pratchett read this story (first printed in 1932, and re-drawn for colour publication as an album in 1955) is unknown, but it may also be that there are only so many English language puns to be made from what English-speakers think of as Egyptian-sounding syllables.

Fool’s Guild Mysteries

The Fool’s Guild Mysteries series, written by Alan Gordon and beginning with Thirteenth Night in 1999, feature the fool Feste from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night solving murders and other mysteries. Feste, given the real name Theophilus, is a member of a secret spy ring of jesters who try to keep peace and control the leaders of different countries. The Fool's Guild of these novels is portrayed as a mockery to the church, and they refer to Jesus Christ as "Their Saviour, the First Fool”.

This is very similar to some of Pratchett’s post-Men at Arms ideas about the Fools and Clowns Guild of Ankh-Morpork, which survives because the Guild's graduates go everywhere, end up in some very high places, and periodically report back to Doctor Whiteface. But Alan Gordon himself says he was not inspired by Pratchett, and his first Fools' Guild short story "The Jester and the Saint” was published in December 1995, and so pre-dating Pratchett’s ideas about the Fool’s Guild working as a spy network (which are most clearly laid out in the Discworld Fools' Guild Yearbook and Diary 2001).

Both authors are also fishing in the stream of history: in German the Narrenzunft or Fools' Guilds were local organisations in towns in the Black Forest region, formed to celebrate Fasnacht, a pre-Christian holiday in midwinter that became co-opted into Mardi Gras later on.

Family Guy

An animated sitcom created by Seth McFarlane about Peter Griffin and his dysfunctional family. First broadcast in 1999.

  • One of the main characters is Brian, a talking and (slightly) anthropomorphic dog who is by far the most capable, intelligent, and mature member of the Griffin family. In one episode he is distracted by Lois throwing a ball and yelling "fetch", and he is unable to override his canine instincts and chase it, though he's aware enough of this to curse Lois. This resembles the scene in Moving Pictures (1990) where Victor Tugelbend uses the same trick with a stick to get Gaspode and Laddie to safety; Gaspode similarly curses Victor for his deception.
  • Death is a recurring character in the series, appearing as a traditional skeleton in a black robe toting a scythe. He lacks the essential gravitas of Discworld's Death.
  • In another sequence resembling Moving Pictures, another episode features an evil robotic version of Hannah Montana climbing up a very high building carrying a monkey. Both are inversions of the famous sequence in King Kong.

American Dad

Another animated sitcom created by Seth McFarlane. Set in the same universe as Family Guy, following ultra-conservative CIA agent Stan Smith and his family. First broadcast in 2005.

  • Stan's daughter's boyfriend Jeff Smith is an underweight, scraggly bearded hippie. In one episode he claims his "mother ran away before I was born" - a joke used by Pratchett for Rincewind in Sourcery. (Jeff also plays a not-very-good wizard in an online fantasy roleplaying game.)
  • In another episode, Stan's wife Francine and daughter Hayley are competing in a cooking contest, but are both beaten by Roger, the "grey" alien who lives in the family's attic. Roger disguises himself and uses the name Emmylou Sugarbean. This and Glenda Sugarbean are likely just creating the same cutesy last name; there’s not much other than cooking that links the two characters.