This morning I woke up and ran across something that made me absolutely furiously angry, and for my own sanity I had to do something with that anger.
Through this review ( https://furrybookreview.com/the-long-slumber-by-p-c-hatter/) I discovered an author, and with a little bit of investigation found that Mickey Spillane’s ‘I, the Jury’ had been rewritten by this author to be a little more anthropomorphic, presented as ‘I, the Tribunal’.
I will be comparing the two works’ first chapters, sourced from Amazon previews of the works, section by section, which I have retyped by hand – any errors my own – and which I have added commentary to.
Summarizing the first chapter of both works:
Mike Hammer (Kaiser Wrench) arrives at a crime scene. It’s revealed that his dear friend Jack (Jeremy) has been murdered, shot in the gut by a .45. Pat Chambers (Duke Barrow), a friend and actual police officer, shows Mike (Kaiser) around the scene and talks over the case with him. Mike (Kaiser) is enraged and pledges to find and kill Jack’s (Jeremy’s) murderer.
They’re exactly the same. I, the Tribunal summarizes some material and throws in little tweaks to make the details furry – instead of leading a character to a fainting couch she’s led to an upholstered box, because cats like being in boxes – but it is the same scene, beat for beat.
Let’s look at a few sections from the works.
Direct text of I, the Jury:
I shook the rain from my hat and walked into the room. Nobody said a word. They stepped back politely and I could feel their eyes on me. Pat Chambers was standing by the door to the bedroom trying to steady Myrna. The girl’s body was racking with dry sobs. I walked over and put my arms around her.
‘Take it easy, kid,’ I told her. ‘Come on over here and lie down.’ I led her to a studio couch that was against the far wall and sat her down. She was in pretty bad shape. One of the uniformed cops put a pillow down for her and she stretched out.
Pat motioned me over to him and pointed to the bedroom. ‘In there, Mike,’ he said.
In there. The words hit me hard. In there was my best friend lying on the floor dead. The body. Now I could call it that. Yesterday it was Jack Williams, the guy that shared the same mud bed with me through two years of warfare in the stinking slime of the jungle. Jack, the guy who said he’d give his right arm for a friend and did when he stopped a bastard of a Jap from slitting me in two. He caught the bayonet in the biceps and they amputated his arm.
Pat didn’t say a word. He let me uncover the body and feel the cold face. For the first time in my life I felt like crying. ‘Where did he get it, Pat?’
‘In the stomach. Better not look at it. The killer carved the nose off a forty-five and gave it to him low.’
That’s a hell of an opening, isn’t it? Yeah, there’s some racism considered socially appropriate in 1947, to my modern eyes the first person narrator is almost comically restrained – up until he describes his friend Jack, that is… but putting aside my critical eye for a moment, the flow is admirable. The contrast between the shaking body of Myrna in life to Jack’s cold face in death, the way Jack Williams is described, putting the suffering heroism of the man – ‘sharing the same mud bed’, ‘give his right arm for a friend’ – against things of disgust – ‘the stinking slime of the jungle’, ‘a bastard of a Jap’ (which, while relatively mild to modern eyes despite being a slur, is, in the era, an absolute expression of disgust).
This really powerful contrasting structure is paralleled, softly, in the very next line – ‘uncover the body and feel the cold face’ – painting Jack as almost angelic in death, like marble, contrasting it against ‘for the first time in my life I felt like crying’ – a thing of shame, unmanliness, for a character like this – amidst all that toxic masculinity – the very antithesis of the dignified comportment of his dead friend.
I mean I’ve got issues with this prose, but, I can find the artistry. It doesn’t take long at all.
Direct text of I, the Tribunal:
I shook the rain from my pelt and walked through the door. No German shepherd so much as whined. They just stared and moved out of my way. Duke Barrow was standing near the bedroom with ears down, trying to steady the lioness. The expression on his face told me he was trying not to bark, or howl, or both. I strode over and put an arm around Deloris.
‘”Take it easy, cub,” I told her. I led her to the upholstered box and let her curl up inside.
“Kaiser.” Duke motioned toward the bedroom.
The realization hit me that this was not a nightmare. Through that portal was the best friend a tiger could ever have lying dead. Jeremy Wilkins, the lion I fought side by side through the mud and slime of Pacific jungle islands during two years of war was gone. The guy lost his arm keeping an Amami rabbit from spearing my liver. The bastards were little but vicious. Instead of me, the bayonet caught Jeremy’s bicep. When the infection set in, they amputated his arm.
In the bedroom, Jeremy’s body was covered with a sheet, and I pulled it away to see his face. Duke didn’t object as I brushed the strands of his mane away from his face. I never cry, but I wanted to. “How?”
“In the stomach with a .45. Don’t look. They used a dumdum.”
Every paragraph is directly taken, and rephrased. And in so doing, the art of Spillane’s prose has been lost.
‘Walked through the door’ is far weaker than ‘walked into the room’ – into the room provides us with a sense of place, while ‘through the door’ could be going indoors, could be going outdoors, could be almost anywhere. The immediate interjection of ‘German Shepherd’ and ‘whined’ is clunkily forcing a furry veneer over the original prose, switching ‘the lioness’ for ‘Myrna’ removes the impression that the protagonist knows both people personally and intimately – the reduction in detail as he cares for her even removes the impression the protagonist particularly cares about her.
The rewrite is attempting to be more specific – ‘the mud and slime of Pacific jungle islands’ – but it bloats the phrasing, loses the original poetry. Instead of thinking about Jack, the protagonist’s train of thought wanders onto the rabbit – ‘The bastards were little but vicious’, which is, frankly, just an excuse to get the word ‘bastard’ back in – the original remains focussed on Jack’s actions entirely – ‘… when he stopped a bastard of a Jap from slitting me in two’. It gives agency and power to Jack/Jeremy, instead of diluting it in favour of trying to be extra-specific about what happened on that island.
I can go on – but I’ll leave it at the final line. Spillane’s original – ‘Better not look at it’ – comes across as a friend’s concerned advice, but also is the phrasing of someone who is treating the protagonist as someone who has enough power that they’ll do what they want to. Hatter’s rewrite – ‘Don’t look’ – feels like a command. And as for ‘a dumdum’, well, that is more specific than Spillane’s description of how you make a dumdum bullet – a now antique method of creating something like a hollowpoint – but it also entirely removes the savagery of the murder. ‘They used a dumdum’ versus ‘The killer carved the nose off a forty-five and gave it to him low’. The killer, in Spillane’s, is not only murdering Jack, but also that bullet. And in the phrasing, the killing is almost more casual than the act of defacing that forty-five.
Direct text of I, the Jury:
‘Jack, you’re dead now. You can’t hear me any more. Maybe you can. I hope so. I want you to hear what I’m about to say. You’ve known me a long time, Jack. My word is good just as long as I live. I’m going to get the louse that killed you. He won’t sit in the chair. He won’t hang. He will die exactly as you died, with a .45 slug in the gut, just a little below the belly button. No matter who it is, Jack, I’ll get the one. Remember, no matter who it is, I promise.’
When I looked up, Pat was staring at me strangely. He shook his head. I knew what he was thinking. ‘Mike, lay off. For God’s sake don’t go off half-cocked about this. I know you too well. You’ll start shooting up anyone connected with this and get in a jam you’ll never get out of.’
‘I’m over it now, Pat. Don’t get excited. From now on I’m after one thing, the killer. You’re a cop, Pat. You’re tied down by rules and regulations. There’s someone over you. I’m alone. I can slap someone in the puss and they can’t do a damn thing. No one can kick me out of my job. Maybe there’s nobody to put up a huge fuss if I get gunned down, but then I still have a private cop’s license with the privilege to pack a rod, and they’re afraid of me. I hat heard, Pat. When I latch onto the one behind this they’re going to wish they hadn’t started it. Some day, before long, I’m going to have my rod in my mitt and the killer in front of me. I’m going to watch the killer’s face. I’m going to plunk one right in his gut, and when he’s dying on the floor I may kick his teeth out.
‘You couldn’t do that. You have to follow the book because you’re a Captain of Homicide. Maybe the killer will wind up in the chair. You’d be satisfied, but I wouldn’t. It’s too easy. That killer is going down like Jack did.’
There was nothing more to say. I could see by the set of Pat’s jaw that he wasn’t going to try to talk me out of it. All he could do was try to beat me to him and take it from there. We walked out of the room together. The coroner’s men had arrived and were ready to carry the body away.
Wow. Just, wow. I mean this could definitely use some trimming down, but the protagonist comes across like a man in the cold phase of psychopathic rage – ready to kill at a moment’s notice. Almost proving Pat’s point that Mike’s going to start shooting up anyone connected with things.
Beautifully, all Pat can do is ‘try to beat me to [the killer] and take it from there’. The protagonist is portrayed as an unstoppable force of nature and the best the actual police can do is try and beat him to the punch – they certainly couldn’t stop him.
Direct text of I, the Tribunal:
“I want the bastard who did this. I’m going to make him pay, gut-shot and all. No one has the right to—”
“Knock off the dramatics, Kaiser. Right at the moment, I’m debating on whether to lock your butt up for your own good or let you go wild. Not sure if picking up after your mess would be a good thing, but it might just be easier.”
A growl was my only answer.
Duke cracked a smile. “Play nice, and I’ll turn a blind eye to the takedown. Deal?”
The buzzards from the coroner’s office had arrived.
So much weaker. While I sympathise with the need to summarize Mike’s outbursts – there was more earlier, also shortened – because they run REALLY long to a modern eye, the fact is trying to compress it all down just… fails.
I, the Tribunal is listed as a parody – the protagonist, Kaiser, is… disempowered immensely. Instead of this force of nature, Duke gets to boss him around. Duke is in charge – Kaiser is almost leashed.
But that makes me sad, because if we were really writing a furry parody of this scene, there are so many ways we could take it – but I’ll discuss that a little later.
Direct text of I, the Jury:
Both of us were silent for a moment, then Pat asked, ‘what about a motive, Mike?’
I shook my head. ‘I don’t see any yet. But I will. He wasn’t killed for nothing. I’ll bet this much, whatever it was, was big. There’s a lot here that’s screwy. You got anything?’
‘Nothing more than I gave you, Mike. I was hoping you could supply some answers.’
I grinned at him, but I wasn’t trying to be funny. ‘Not yet. Not yet. They’ll come though. And I’ll relay them on to you, but by that time I’ll be working on the next step.’
‘The cops aren’t exactly dumb, you know. We can get our own answers.’
‘Not like I can. That’s why you buzzed me so fast. You can figure things out as quickly as I can, but you haven’t got the ways and means of doing the dirty work. That’s where I come in. You’ll be right be hind me every inch of the way, but when the pinch comes I’ll get shoved aside and you slap the cuffs on. That is, if you can shove me aside. I don’t think you can.,’
‘Okay, Mike. Call it your own way. I want you in all right. But I want the killer, too. Don’t forget that. I’ll be trying to beat you to him. We have every scientific facility at our disposal and a lot of men to do the leg work. We’re not short in brains, either,’ he reminded me.
‘Don’t worry, I don’t underrate the cops. But cops can’t break a guy’s arm to make him talk, and they can’t shove his teeth in with the muzzle of a .45 to remind him that you aren’t fooling. I do my own leg work, and there are a lot of guys who will tell me what I want to know because they know what I’ll do to them if they don’t. My staff is strictly ex-officio, but very practical.’
That ended the conversation. We walked out into the hall where Pat put a patrolman on the door to make sure things stayed as they were. We took the self-operated elevator down four flights to the lobby and I waited while Pat gave a brief report to some reporters.
My car stood at the curb behind the squad car. I shook hands with Pat and climbed into my jalopy and headed for the Hackard building, where I held down a two-room suite to use for operation.’
This does run lengthy. There’s a lot I’d think about cutting, here. But every line adds something, even if it’s an inconsequential flourish. Again, though, we get all the predatory psycho-killer vibes, the desire to be violent. It is… a very bloody sort of poetry. And again, the contrasts! Details like shoving in someone’s teeth with a gun barrel are put up against how the cops ‘have every scientific facility at our disposal’. On the one hand, civilization, and on the other hand, barbarity, and they’re put so close together the sparks fly.
Direct text of I, the Tribunal:
“Your guess is as good as mine. Even one-armed, who would have the balls to torment a lion?”
Cops aren’t stupid, but emotions can hinder logic. So, I can say I was a little slow on the uptake. That was the reason Duke pulled me in on the case. The department has their rules. Sometimes, those rules hinder an investigation. Jeremy didn’t mind, I did. That’s why I became a private detective instead of going back to the force. I write my own instructions.
Before we left the apartment, Duke stationed a patrolman on the door to make sure no one came by looking for souvenirs. We took the self-operated lift to the ground floor. I left him to deal with the reporters milling outside and climbed into my old crate of a car and headed to the office.
It is shorter, it is flatter and written in a much less soulful way, but it is the exact same material. Outside of calling Jeremy a lion, this section isn’t even furry. There are no changes – the bit about ‘Jeremy didn’t mind, I did’? That’s paraphrasing material from earlier in the text of I, Jury, where Mike muses that ‘Jack was such a straight guy that he never made an enemy. Even while on the force.’ And thinking about how there was nothing else for Jack but police work.
Parody, as per Merriam-Webster, is ‘a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule’.
I don’t think this is a parody. Nothing in the above sections felt comic, nothing felt as though it were being ridiculed, it felt like a straight copy with an attempt to make it of interest to the furry fandom with sections cut down to simplify the process.
Structurally, as you can see above, the details line up almost exactly, where a section of material summarized down or clipped for length starts or ends it picks up on the rest of the material exactly.
So maybe this isn’t a parody. And it isn’t a pastiche, either. I can’t even call it a calque.
The marketing blurb for this book does not mention Mickey Spillane. Reading the reviews on goodreads, almost all readers appear to be engaging with this and the other books in the series as if it is a fully original work.
This is not an original work. In fact, to produce something with such a direct set of parallel structures, from the story flow to the paragraph by paragraph composition, would require an author to have a copy of the original text on their lap while they rewrite it line by line.
Effectively, this is literary tracing. The furry fandom has drama around tracing on a fairly regular basis – people taking art, reducing it to a simpler form, tracing the lines, and presenting it as their own work. And among artists that is a huge deal because they put in so much sweat and blood into developing the necessary skills.
Among writers, we don’t call it tracing.
To plagiarize, as per Merriam-Webster, is ‘to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.’
Author of these works? If you’re out there?
I wouldn’t be writing this if every marketing blurb for every book you have included a prominent phrase along the lines of ‘a furry-styled rewrite of <author’s> <book title>’ that every reader had to see before reading your work. I wouldn’t be writing this if you were posting these things for fun on a personal website or on social media where it’s made clear it’s a fan effort done with love and adoration of the original.
In fact, I’m sure that you’re only motivated to do this out of a sincere appreciation and admiration of the originals. But what you don’t realize is that you are misleading people.
Instead of doing the work yourself, you let someone else do the hard job of actually putting together these stories – it’s like you’re a mountain climber, but you let someone else carry you 90% of the way, then you marched to the top and planted your flag, and are happy to let people assume you climbed the whole way yourself
Your readers, judging by goodreads responses to your work, are clearly not aware that you are taking someone else’s work and rephrasing it line by line. And the fact that you are perfectly happy to continue doing this without correcting any of them for years is…
In fact, calling what you do parody is ugly – Space Balls is a parody, The Naked Gun is a parody – what you have done is taken someone else’s work and reworked it line by line, put your name on it, and sold it to people who mostly have no idea you’ve done this. The only thing you’ve added is a thin veneer of ‘furry’, making characters surface-level anthropomorphic, and I’m sorry, but I don’t think that is remotely enough.
It feels like you are taking advantage of your reader’s ignorance, targeting them for their special interest in furry literature, and it seems like you are seeking to profit from them both in terms of attention and money.
I doubt you’re in serious legal trouble, although I strongly doubt the literary estate of Spillane would remotely like what you’ve done. Personally, I don’t respect what you’ve done at any level.
To stop addressing the author.
I have copied material, verbatim. I think I copied out Neuromancer’s first chapter or two line by line when I was a little younger, trying to understand how Gibson wrote like that.
I didn’t tweak that and present it as my own. I didn’t simplify the text. In that particular case, I didn’t even try and rephrase things in my own voice, I just copied it out.
Because engaging with the text, word by word, helped me learn why the infamous opening lines, ‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel’ didn’t feel as strong for me as the following paragraphs where Ratz is tending bar. The way his smile was described as ‘A webwork of East European steel and brown decay’. Just typing it out again, now, almost makes my fingers shiver in delight.
I regard it as similar to tracing. Tracing is pleasurable. It is nice to sit with a piece of paper and make something that looks coherent, and the process of tracing an image teaches you in the moment how lines can turn into the representation of something else. And copying out prose, or rewriting it line by line, is a beautiful way to try and sit with the author as they composed that text. To try and embody how that prose was formed.
It is almost always an act of intense affection for the work being copied out. I think it’s actually very valuable and I should probably do more of it.
But copying things out that you will never show anyone else, ever, is hard work for no reward other than the pleasure of doing it.
And writing is hard work!
Copying something out, line by line, rephrasing it to be a little furrier, is… easy, when compared to actually doing the hard work to make something new.
So what would that hard work look like? That interests me, because Spillane’s work contains a strange and brutal beauty, and if I were to try my hand at it, but furry…
Firstly, I’d go through the canon and pick the parts I like best. The murder method from this book, the victim from that book, the perpetrator from another. Really mix it up so another fan of Spillane wouldn’t be able to immediately guess what was going to happen next. Mix up the plots, get real fan-ficcy with it, y’know? So that’s the plot. And in that mix-up, maybe I’d find some places to make being furry really integral – stuff to do with scent, or interspecies dynamics, or maybe some little detail means the killer couldn’t have been a predator like everyone thought, it’s an herbivore. All that stuff. This wouldn’t necessarily be a parody, but it would certainly become a pastiche. I might borrow line-by-line for a few iconic spots, but very, very sparingly – purely to highlight the iconic moments.
Then I’d analyse the characters. I haven’t read much Mike Hammer but, honestly, now I’m tempted to because this guy comes across like sixty tons of steel at the head of a locomotive of toxic masculinity with a tiny little fragile heart he is so absolutely desperate to protect he will tear someone’s throat out to do so.
Predator of some kind is a good choice, my take? Dog. And I’d play it off like Mike’s a bad dog, because when you whip a bad dog it don’t get good, it just gets meaner, right? Lots of lines like that – really connect up the morality angles. Maybe go slightly Art Spiegelman Maus – all the Anglo-Saxon Americans are dogs, the various other European diasporas being other species, so Pat Chambers – Pat’s probably Irish – can be a stoat or something, who is not physically capable of restraining Mike’s psycho-killer rage. So when dealing with Mike, I would push that helpless sense we saw in Spillane’s work where Pat is unable to restrain him to an absolute extreme. Maybe go cartoony – have Pat try to take Mike’s gun by scurrying up under Mike’s coat and ducking and diving in and out of his sleeves or something like that. Something that builds on the physicality, that gets away from a mere token ‘this is an animal person so they sit on a cushion like a house pet instead of on a chair’ that doesn’t mean something. If they sit on a cushion, they can’t see over the table, so do they all eat their meals under the table like pets feeding on scraps? Because if so, while very much a cartoony silly thing, that’s way cooler than just having a low table, in my opinion.
Finally? If I were trying to do a rewrite/parody? I’d do it with joy. I don’t think it’d be fun to sit with dozens and dozens of books trying to rewrite them line by line like that. In fact, I think it’d drive me crazy. And that means finding what makes the work special to me, and taking it apart and building something wholly new with the pieces. Something that expresses my joy, what I think makes the original special, not a rote copy that has all the art bled from it just so I can print it up and hold a copy and look like I did something special.
It’s a few hours later, I’ve expressed a lot of feelings, and I think I’m not quite so angry about this anymore.
That’s all I have.