They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Many literary amateurs — in the original sense of the word — take this quite to heart. I really shouldn’t say “they” but “we;” I’ve done it myself, many a time. But when the reader finds some style of expression, some use of language, some plot device or character or setting that speaks particularly to him, naturally he wants to keep it. He wants to hold it close to his heart, bury it deep in his soul, feed it and nourish it and allow it to grow, let it spring upwards towards the light of day again, in his own colors and into his own sunlight. He wants to re-create, according to one who has already created something beautiful and truthful and good.
The truest way to re-create a masterpiece, however, is to study that which the first artist studied. It’s easy enough to read Agatha Christie novels and try to formulate a murder mystery according to her plot patterns, but what first inspired her to write? What books did she read to gather her ideas? Jane Austen’s seemingly-facile turns of phrase and lovable characters may be read and read again, but nothing will make a new Regency-era story come to life until we familiarize ourselves with Anne Radcliffe and the Brontes as well. A true Tolkien imitator should, in theory, not only read Tolkien, but read Norse myths and Arthurian legends and Beowulf — in Anglo-Saxon.
Well, that’s all rather daunting, isn’t it? But I should dearly like to try it.