On Creativity – Tropes and why we love them

A ‘trope’ is a recurrent literary theme, motif, or structure of a plot when it comes to writing novels and stories. Most tropes are presented by authors again and again, in differing formats and story-lines, and yet, though readers generally recognize them and sometimes even preempt certain happenings and resolutions, they still continue to prefer the same type of story-line and continue to read and enjoy such books and stories again and again.

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Most tropes are over-used, and yet, they still sell. Why? I must admit that I myself find that I tend to gravitate towards reading familiar tropes, especially when I’m in a certain mood where I need a nice comfortable reliable story… and yet… is writing a novel and basing it on this much-recycled outline acceptable? I mean – where is creativity?? And what about originality?

Take for example the Rags to Riches trope – here the main character is usually a young unknown person who, through some circumstance or other, ends up becoming rich and famous. Some well-known examples include Cinderella, Pretty Woman and Slum Dog Millionaire.

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Another well-known trope is the Love Triangle – this one actually needs no explanation does it? Everyone enjoys a good love story, but throw in some unrequited love, a couple of misunderstandings, a pinch of jealousy and heartache, and there it is, the usual popular T.V drama series cocktail!

A third trope, which never gets old, is what I call the Ugly Duckling story-line. Think about My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality or The Devil wears Prada, and you have it. Basically this kind of story also usually ends up becoming a ‘moral lesson’ = Unkept girl has a make-over and transforms into a beauty, then realizes that looks are not everything… but she still looks pretty now anyways.

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Want another one? How about the Unknown Hero who saves the World trope? I guess I don’t even need to give examples for this one… *cough*Spiderman*cough*Superman*cough*Marvelingeneral*

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And what about all those post-apocalyptic dystopian teen-movies which seem to add up all of the above?! The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Giver… ugh! I read the books before there was even a hint of any movie, and I realized early on that they were all the same, and yet I still gobbled them up! Why!?

I guess we all love the familiar, we all dream of becoming rich, popular heroes and that never changes.

Yet, artists, BEWARE. Writing/creating something familiar while portraying it in an entirely new and creative manner is one thing, re-writing the same thing over and over and over again, is another. ‘Familiar’ is a tricky word, since it is most often dangerously close to ‘mediocre’, not to mention ‘boring’. 

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire – Review

We all know The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Penned by Oxford Professor Lewis Carroll (whose real name was actually Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1865, this quirky children’s fantasy has inspired multitudes of adaptations, movies, artworks, music and even fashion styles.

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Having been an avid fan and reader of Gregory Maguire ever since I read his novel Wicked, which had inspired the popular musical, and his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is an adaptation of Cinderella, I immediately jumped at the chance to read his latest work, After Alice. As is apparent from the title itself, the story is inspired in part by Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, and yet, Alice is NOT in fact the narrator or the main character.

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We meet Ada, Alice’s neighbor, who was in fact very briefly mentioned by Alice herself in the eponymous tale. Ada is a troubled child, constrained by Victorian precepts and tenets and by her unconventional household. In hushed whispers, we hear that her mother is a drunk and possibly suffering from postnatal depression. Her father, the Vicar, scarcely takes any notice of her, her baby brother is a squalling brat, and her governess is a simpering fool. In short, Ada has to fend for herself. Her only friend is Alice, whom, Ada discovers, has disappeared.

Maguire paints a very vivid picture of Victorian England. On the one hand, we travel with a surprised Ada to Wonderland, trying to catch up with Alice whilst encountering the consequences of her passage. On the other hand, we also meet Lydia, Alice’s older sister, throughout whose eyes we face such issues as the slave trade, women’s rights, and the British Victorian mentality. Fantasy is interposed with reality in a very interesting narrative. Picturesque and informative, Maguire’s style is nostalgic to Carroll’s, and yet totally his own.

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Now for the negative part – I must be honest, I have mixed feelings regarding this novel. I started reading it with very high expectations, having previously already been wowed by Maguire’s fairytale adaptations, his ingenuity, creativity and whimsical perspective. Also, being an avid Alice in Wonderland aficionado, I generally try to read, watch, or purchase anything related to my favorite fairytale. While Maguire’s story was marvellously written and illuminating with regards to Victorian society and beliefs, I found it sadly lacking with regards to the Wonderland part of the narrative.

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Carroll’s iconic Wonderland is spectacularly special because it simply makes no sense. As the Cheshire Cat once maintains in Alice in Wonderland, “We are all mad here.” And that is the beauty of Wonderland and the point of fantasy and fairytales – they’re not realistic, because they don’t have to be. Maguire on the other hand, tries to make sense of Wonderland, introducing puns and explanations where none are needed. Wherever he cannot find an explanation, he merely copies characters, situations and almost entire dialogues from Carroll’s original novel.

This article has been published on EVE.COM.MT – If you want to read the complete review, please goto – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/18/after-alice-a-book-review/