A decade ago, give or take a few years, I was listening to a call-in talk show on the radio. It was not, I don’t think, a political show, but that is ultimately irrelevant for my purposes here. Suffice it say it attracted the sort of person who calls into a talk show on the radio.
A person of the apparently male persuasion called in to talk about J. K. Rowling, and especially the illegitimacy of her advantages. Namely: she was a woman; a woman on welfare, and so on. None of her success with the Harry Potter series of books, he implied, was due to the quality of her efforts. He offered no proof, of course, and he obviously didn’t know her personally.
In due course, whether the host asked or the caller offered I am not sure, he started complaining about the trouble he was having trying to get his own work published. The host asked — out of respect or curiosity I cannot say — about his work. He proceeded to describe exceptionally familiar characters and situations; knights and dragons; wizards and witches; and on and on. And then he remarked that he even has a damsel in distress who lets down her hair so that the hero can climb up into the tower in which she was trapped.
My jaw dropped, I stared at the radio, and nearly drove off the road. He had just described several well known stories or scenes. Rapunzel! It seemed fairly obvious to me that he couldn’t get anything published because he hadn’t written anything worth publishing. His writing was probably derivative at best, or outright copied at worst, or somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, Rowling was weaving together familiar elements (like witches and wizards, trolls and dragons), numerous significant themes (life and death, abilities and actions), and fascinating and believable characters into a meaningful and entertaining story that transcends all that it builds upon. This caller believed he was doing the same. He was obviously wrong.
In the end, this incident shows how finding fault with others often betrays the faults of ourselves.