Don’t Be Such a Copycat!: From “And Then There Were None” to “Ten”

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. However, that can only go so far before it is criticized as lacking originality; some might even claim it only creates a worse version of something that may have been praised as being the best. Nonetheless, it all depends on whether or not something is an identical copy of an original work or if it is just based off the main idea of the original plot. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is recognized around the world as a great novel due to its sophisticated plot. Given this praise, many others have taken on the task of emulating Christie’s work with similar mystery novels. Gretchen McNeil’s Ten is an example of such a novel. She uses the plot and the character development to write a novel that appeals to contemporary teenagers. McNeil’s story by no means surpasses Christie. Nevertheless, her twist on the story allowed for a captivating novel. Through imitation of the plot, character development and puzzle elements, McNeil successfully wrote an inspired novel based on Christie that is just as suspenseful and captivating.

The biggest similarities between these two novels begin with the most important attribute: the plot. McNeil’s novel is plotted identically to that of Christie’s, in which ten characters are united through a random event in which they later discover they will each be killed as a means of vengeance. They all meet on a remote island, which is only accessible by a boat that mysteriously never returns once they all reach their destination. Nevertheless, there are some slight alterations in McNeil’s novel that adhere to the changes in time period. Foremost, Christie’s novel was written in 1939, which can be observed based on how the story is set up. All the characters are older and rely on their own instincts and impulses as a means of attempting to survive. However, in McNeil’s story, these minor details are somewhat tweaked. Her characters are all teenagers, which implies that these characters are not as mature and depend on some sort of guidance. Additionally, there is a small component that might not be easy to catch, that being the mentioning of the use of technology. McNeil writes, “’The phones,’ Kumiko said slowly like she was speaking to a child, ‘are out’… The concept sunk in. What were they going to do? No phones, no cells, no internet.” (80-81) Considering this novel was written in 2012, there is a major difference between the eras that Christie’s novel was written versus McNeil. The technology that is available today did not exist during the time that Christie wrote this novel, which in itself adds an interesting element to the story because the characters must find other means to attempt to communicate with someone to get them off the island. By contrast, 2012 falls within the era in which technology has boomed, thus it was an insightful detail for McNeil to incorporate. Had she not included this minor detail, it may have been more difficult for readers to understand how the teenagers would figure out how to get off the island since technology is accessible and it would not make sense if they did not take advantage of it.

Another similarly structured concept based off of Christie’s work is the character development throughout the novel. A lot (if not all) of the characters in McNeil’s work were similar to those of Christie’s. For example, readers meet Minnie in the very beginning. She appears to be normal at first, but readers quickly learn that there is something off about her. McNeil writes, “Meg recognized the sharpness in Minnie’s voice. It usually signaled a rapid change in Minnie’s mood, which happened all too frequently these days, especially when she stopped taking her antidepressants.” (2) It is easy to note that Minnie was an unstable character without her medications, thus showing she has some kind of mental disorder (later proven to be bipolar disorder). This kind of mental instability is shown in Vera. To further support this, Christie writes, “She cried out in a high shrill voice, shaken with wild bursts of laughter… They stared at her uncomprehendingly. It was as though the sane well-balanced girl had gone mad before their eyes.” (186) Although Vera’s character appeared normal, readers were aware that any sign of vulnerability could bring out her madness. In a similar sense, both these characters portray instability. Vera’s unpredictability derives from her obsession for Hugo, and how she was willing to do anything for him. With regards to Minnie, her instability is due to her bipolar disorder, which is a serious medical illness. However, the authors choose different endings for these characters: Christie had Vera surprisingly killing the only person left alive with her, but her own insanity led her to suicide. In the case of McNeil, this ending needed to be changed because readers were already aware of Minnie’s weakness, thus having her be the killer would take away from the suspense since that would be the reader’s first guess. Nevertheless, McNeil’s incorporation of this concept with the ultimate killer in her novel was subtler, and thus just as successful.

While Christie successfully demonstrated how insanity can lead you to suicide in the case of Vera, McNeil keeps the element of surprise but with a different killer. She still emulated the idea of insanity but in a different form. She continues writing, “Claire sent her diary with a note. Make them understand what they did, Tom. All of them. So that’s what I’m doing. Making you understand.” (278) Even though it is understandable that Tom would want to seek vengeance for his sister’s suicide, the way in which he handled it was twisted. Every time his sister was bullied or mocked in school, he made sure that those people paid for their actions, thus further demonstrating that his sense of protectiveness extended to the point of insanity. In this sense, Tom emulates Wargrave, who was Christie’s prime murderer. Wargrave blatantly accepts his madness when he says, “I have wanted-let me admit it frankly-to commit a murder myself…I must-I must-I must-commit a murder!” (Christie 287). Both characters act upon a vengeance that is led with partial reasoning and majority lunacy, but the ways in which these authors go about creating their characters and their development differs. McNeil is just as successful as Christie in surprising readers about who the true culprit is with the incorporation of a lunatic brother who seeks to avenge his sister’s suicide. However, the variability between these character developments adds for a more complex plot twist.

Christie was very clever in regards to the way in which she incorporated different elements to supplement the puzzle. She went about doing this by using a nursery rhyme, where it starts of with ten soldiers and ultimately none are left standing in the end. This was the most powerful element Christie incorporated because it kept readers on edge about who would be killed next and how the murder would follow the death described in the nursery. On the other hand, McNeil did not incorporate a detailed story that the murders would follow. It was not until later on in the story that readers may or may not have caught on to Claire’s diary, which depicted how the murders would go about. Nonetheless, it was subtler, and had she not written out the main character’s train of thought it would have completely slipped a reader if they were not actively seeking out a clue. She writes, “He said if I really loved him, I’d help him because if I didn’t, it would be like I was shooting him through the heart… The writing. The deaths. A suicide note on the back of sheet music. Images of a gavel like they use in the debate team. Math problems scrolling across the screen. Vengeance is mine.” (202) In this scene, Meg, the main character, is trying to explain to herself how Nathan was shot in the heart, because it sounded familiar to her. It was only after she recalled that she had read it in Claire’s diary that she realized that Tom was following his sister’s words in an implicit way. This in itself was a lot stronger than Christie’s approach because it required readers to pay extremely close attention to the minor details, details that would have completely slipped the mind if the main character had not thought about it. This further shows how McNeil was meticulous about when to give out clues to readers in such a way that Christie lacked.

As is the norm between these authors, whatever one lacked the other one was good at. Christie did a good job in incorporating little china figures as a means of counting down the deaths. She continues writing, “In the middle of the table the little china figures. Ten of them there were…When I was clearing up, there wasn’t but nine… But now, when I came to clear away… There’s only eight!” (105-106). It was Roger who noticed that the china figures began to disappear as the murders took place. Although one could argue that there was no point to the china figures, it helped readers keep track of how many characters were left standing. McNeil did her best to imitate this concept in order to allow her readers to follow, but the method in which she decided to go about doing this was not as effective. She used a slash mark in red paint in order to keep tally of who remained alive. This technique was not as effective because it did not really follow the plot of her story. Christie’s made more sense because it complimented the nursery rhyme that she incorporated, whereas McNeil seemed to have added it in a means of turning the mystery novel more into a horror story. As a result, this was a poor execution of the puzzle element because it disrupted the flow of the story.

Imitation ultimately comes down to creativity. Authors need to find ways in which to use inspirational novels as a starting point to their stories, but not to the point where it can be misinterpreted as plagiarism. This is a trending style that goes on in contemporary culture, and whether or not an author is successful ultimately depends on the readers and their perspectives. Agatha Christie opened up pathways for upcoming authors in the decades that followed the success of her novel to an author like Gretchen McNeil. While McNeil took a lot of the basic plot, character and puzzle elements that Christie used, her novel was not a carbon copy. Rather, she managed to use these elements and change them into her own, succeeding in some and falling short in others. Overall, her emulation of Christie’s greatest work was enticing enough to be a successful mystery/horror novel.

Works Cited

Christie, Agatha. And Then There Were None. New York: Harper, 1939. Print.

McNeil, Gretchen. Ten. New York: HarperCollins, 2012. Print.

Murder: In the Name of Justice

“He choked — choked badly. His face contorted, turned purple. He gasped for breath — then slid down off his chair, the glass falling from his hand” (Christie 74). So begins Justice Wargrave’s murderous machinations on Soldier Island. In the novel And Then There Were None, Justice Wargrave’s sociopathic tendencies allow him to have several personalities. His Id is active when he plans the murders of ten strangers, his Superego is strongest when he is fighting for justice and the sanctity of the law, and his Ego is in play while he is around other guests, putting on a “normal” facade. These identities shape him to be the perfect character to commit the murders flawlessly and without remorse.

The Id is characteristically “the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse” (Schacter 481). This is an adequate description of Justice Wargrave’s murderous tendencies, which were active even when he was a child. After his vile plot was complete, he put a message in a bottle to describe his background and to truly explain how clever he was. In the letter, he admits: “I was born with other traits besides my romantic fantasy. I have a definite sadistic delight in seeing or causing death. I remember experiments with wasps–with various garden pests… From an early age I knew very strongly the lust to kill” (285). While he talks of justice and upholding the law, his deeper, darker, and truer thoughts consist of gaining pleasure from ending life. He mentions that he has always wanted to commit a murder. These thoughts are not typical in the average person’s day-to-day life. He has a unique connection to the Id within him in which he is comfortable indulging its desires and dark fantasies. According to psychology, everyone has some part of an Id influencing their thoughts and actions, which could almost make Justice Wargrave a bit more relatable to readers. However, the way his mind functions differs markedly from the minds of the vast majority. Most would never follow through on horrifying thoughts of murder. Because of his rare psyche, he is a cruel and heartless character to anyone who does not commiserate with him.

The Superego “… can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt” (Reber). This side of Justice Wargrave is witnessed when he makes judgements and upholds the law under any circumstance. His entire fascination with his murderous plot was to bring people to justice who normally could not be proven guilty. He disapproves of the nine hidden criminals escaping fate so easily. One of the ways he punishes their misbehavior is by playing mind games to bring out past guilt. At the commencement of their stay on the island, a recording is played throughout the mansion informing all guests of one another’s misdeeds. Their reactions are telling of their past crimes and the guilt that followed: “The voice had stopped. There was a moment’s petrified silence and then a resounding crash!… At the same moment, from somewhere outside the room there came a scream and the sound of a thud” (48). Some guests react to the shocking accusations more calmly than fainting or dropping a tea tray, but nonetheless, every guest is affected by the fear that their murky pasts may be discovered. In the midst of this chaos, the Judge once again relies on his Superego to explain that he was falsely accused: “‘Nevertheless, on the evidence, he was certainly guilty… I did my duty and nothing more. I passed sentence on a rightly convicted murder’” (65). Wargrave is accused of sending an innocent man to death, but he defends himself by saying that the primary judgement was correct and that the man was indeed guilty. With the aid of his Superego, he has the power to take control of a turbulent situation and bring about the righteousness of the law unto a room full of felons.

The Ego “attempts to mediate between id and reality” (Freud 110). This is precisely what the other guests see from Justice Wargrave during their stay. That is to say they see the mask he wears in their presence to bury any and all suspicion. He is mindful of the fact that if any part of the Id festering inside of him leaks through the careful concealment, the original plan will fall through. Because the stakes are high in this particular operation, he knows he needs to tread carefully and be manipulative in order to succeed. On one such occasion, he endeavors to take over a crazed situation with seemingly reasonable suggestions. While other guests scramble to discover information about their host, Mr. Owen, Justice Wargrave enters with a calming, resolute voice and the start of a solution: “‘We are all his guests. I think it would be profitable if each one of us were to explain exactly how that came about’” (57). Immediately, a sense of security and hope spreads through the party as their focus shifts from their present trepidation to actively working toward a resolution. With the sheer complexity of his mind and the full extent of his knowledge, Justice Wargrave effortlessly manipulates a crowd of strangers to change their mindsets, bettering his chances at succeeding without a hint of suspicion. His ego, in the psychological sense, helps the id’s ambitions become reality in a way that satisfies the needs of both the Id and the Superego.

Throughout the enigmatic life of Justice Wargrave, he has been self-aware. At a young age, he yearned to commit a murder. He has known that his thoughts are unique and that, if shared with others, they could lead him to a miserable future of isolation. Caution was crucial to his survival and success. By separating himself into three personalities working together; the Id looking for primal satisfaction, the Superego staying true to the law, and the Ego mediating between them and finding the best solution, he became an unsuspected but completely unstoppable force that could literally get away with murder. Not one of the guests on the island could compare to his vast abilities, and he knew that not one of them had a chance of staying alive. Carefully planning every miniscule step in the process and annihilating the criminals one by one, he is delighted with the final product and it satisfies every abnormal need he had previously felt. Even today, sociopaths walk among billions of people without being discovered. Their dark genius may never be understood by anyone who cannot identify with their rare situation. These people and Justice Wargrave have the power to take control of others in many instances without their conscious knowledge. With her acute understanding of sociopathic behavior, Christie creates the profoundly credible character of Justice Wargrave, a calculating and bitter executioner.

Works Cited Christie, Agatha. And Then There Were None. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1940.Schacter, Daniel. Psychology. 2nd ed., Worth Publishers, 2009.Reber, Arthur S. The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology. 4th ed., Penguin Books, 2009.Freud, Sigmund. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. W. W. Norton & Company, 1990.