On Pesky Childhood Influences: Are Your Ideas Really Yours?

Have you ever had a moment where you realised that an idea you had—one you thought was brilliant and original and entirely yours—turns out to be someone else’s? And I don’t just mean someone beat you to it. I mean you actually got the idea from another person, then forgot about it?

In a story I’m writing I have been planning a pivotal scene: one where two characters finally kiss. I’ve had an idea for a romantic setting for a long time and I thought this might be the opportunity to use it.

It goes like this: two characters swim through some underwater tunnels and surface inside a rocky cave full of dark watery pools. The female character is showing the male character the way. The cave walls are shimmering with glowworms and everything is lit with this magical blue light. They swim around and marvel at how pretty it all is. They end up in a particularly beautiful pool and have the obligatory gazing-into-each-others-eyes moment. Then they kiss (replete with starry backdrop of glowworms).

Okay, I described it in a very simple cliché way, but that was the basic gist of what I was intending.

Then last week when I was looking up information for my previous post, I stumbled across a hauntingly familiar image. It’s the one at the top of this post, from the 1992 Australian animated film FernGully.

I loved this film as a little kid. I must have watched it dozens of times. Still, it was so long ago I only really remember the title and the basic premise of the story. I had completely forgotten about this scene:

The scene with the two characters. In the glowworm caves. Kissing.

I re-watched it. What I had planned was in essence this scene, minus all the Disney-ish cutesy-ness and the love song and the mullet.

I haven’t actually written the scene yet. This was just one idea out of many and I still don’t know if I’ll actually use it or not. But if I hadn’t done that search for FernGully, I might have used it without ever realising I was borrowing from one of my childhood favourites.

Copyright-wise, a similarity like this wouldn’t have been a problem. Disney doesn’t own glowworm cave scenes (as far as I’m aware). There have, however, been similar situations with far more serious consequences. The whole case of Larrikin Records suing Men at Work appears to have been a result of one of the band members unknowingly using a familiar tune. In the song Down Under the flute plays what is allegedly part of the melody from the children’s song Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree… a connection that was only made many years later by the game show Spicks and Specks.

If my story did end up having some romantic cave scene similarities, I doubt anyone would make the connection, let alone care.

However, what was fascinating about this moment was that it made me realise how my mind had retained and been subconsciously influenced by this scene. My conscious mind had completely forgotten it. Other parts of my brain clearly hadn’t.

I often scoff when people talk about subliminal messages or the importance of childhood influences, but moments like this make my scoffing less pronounced. How many things have I been I influenced by that I’m not even aware of?

From a little researching I did online (apologies to any psychology majors – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) it seems this was an implicit memory: a type of long-term memory that doesn’t require conscious awareness. As a child I watched this scene over and over, and this experience primed me to associate romance, and more specifically a romantic kissing scene, with caves and glowworms and swimming. It was only later, when I saw an image from the film online, that I actually became aware of what I’d been influenced by and it became an ‘explicit’ (i.e. conscious) memory.

I’m sure everyone gets moments like this… but what’s weird to think about is that for all the times we realise what we’ve been influenced by, there will be dozens of times when we won’t.

I guess from now on every time I get an epiphany or a scene idea, I’ll always be wondering if it’s just my childhood-self serving up rehashed scenes from 90s films.

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5 thoughts on “On Pesky Childhood Influences: Are Your Ideas Really Yours?

  1. Great Blog entry Nicola. I’m Luke, Marks brother we met briefly at Genrecon in Brisbane. I’m a practicing psychologist and very interested in the reason why fantasy is so powerful in our lives (the good type and the bad type and there is a difference for me). It’s why I write fantasy and also deal with people’ fantasies about themselves and others in my work. I wonder if the writer who envisioned the scene in Fern Gully drew it from an earlier experience of theirs. Is it possible to track the scene back in time and eventually see it in other cultures other lands too? Each scene the same and yet slightly different from the next (lose the mullet), differences that encapsulate particular cultural biases and fashions at any one time but still wrapped around the core image. Why as a child did you get so drawn into that scene? Why does that scene reoccur and not others? Simply because were you saw it when you were young? Science loves to give us terms like “implicit memory” to explain that there is a certain forms of memory that are unconscious, buts a mechanism at best and it can’t explain why certain scenes and images touch us so deeply. Is this the cave water love scene with a thousand faces? Together in water, in a cave, kissing. Enclosed water is the womb like experience of complete dependence and safety, allowing a the release of the self into bliss like unconsciousness of fusion, oneness with another, new love. Isn’t that in all of us to experience at any given moment in time? (If we are open to it). Do our minds, young or old, fixate on certain scenes and images for a reason other than we simply saw them?

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    • Hi Luke, yes I remember meeting you at Genrecon! It’s interesting to try and pinpoint why this particular scene stuck with me. I have always loved caves, and especially glowworm caves (I visited the Waitomo caves in NZ and could have spent forever exploring them). My mother can’t stand them and gets claustrophic, so clearly the appeal isn’t universal. I guess something about those ancient dark otherworldly spaces really appeals to me. And then there’s the romantic element too of course. Interestingly I never like those scenes in romantic comedies where the characters have the big kiss moment in front of a crowd – much prefer them being alone in a cave. Don’t know what that says about me 🙂

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  2. It probably says you like your intimate moments to actually be intimate, not for public consumption. Not all archetypal images appeal to everyone at any given moment in time but they still have a form of broad universality (even gravity isn’t completely universal). That image of being in a secluded, otherworldly place is a pretty direct symbolism for the world created between the two lovers, it refers to the reality that they are now jointly a part of that no one else is privy too, and it doesn’t have to be a cave that represents that. You see them walking down the street hand in hand looking into each others eyes to the exclusion of all other, as if they are in another world (far, far away). But otherworldly places have deeper significance archetypally. It is the unconscious mind, but this isn’t just that deeper part of ourselves that we’re not aware of, like a repository of un remembered scenes, but also the part of ourselves that we don’t wish to express, that we fear expressing outwardly because of the hold of the sanction we may attract from the “Official or Public or Politically Correct or Conservative” world. The persona that we put forth to look “normal” in the world, supresses our hidden often forbidden desires and also a times our true hearts yearnings. When we surrender to love and if its deep enough, we willingly enter into a world were those true yearnings are allowed to come to the surface (there coming to the surface, our process of surrender to them, is the journey of love, the journey into he cave). Our lover is seemingly the only one who sees us for who we truly are and they are the one that also allow us to be who we truly are by creating a safe space (secluded, otherworldly cave like) for us to be “more” of who we are. The heightened “unofficial reality” can evoke wildly different responses from us. It can resist the gravity of the “sensible” dictates of the materially obsessed world, inspiring us to be generous and optimistic and loving, to believe in our dreams and go for them, to see the good in people, be inspired to be a better man, to declare “you complete me!”. It can also inspire recklessness, wild abandon, cruelty, jealousy, obsession and killing rampages. The otherworld is dark dangerous place but it is full of our deep truths like the glow worms on the cave walls. That otherworldly seclusion can be encapsulate in other archetypal symbols, like the deep forest or the deserted beach. In Shakespeare’s, A Mid Summer Night Dream, the forest (the unofficial place) was were all the real action (and magic) took place it was where the confuse lovers found their true love. Then they emerged out into the official world after making the journey they needed to undertake. You may like glow worm caves your mother might respond to something else but we all want (or secretly year for in our quiet desperation) to be transported to the otherworldly place were we can be truly free to be fully who we are. Archetypal scenes and symbols can transport is to these places even if it ever so subtle because they spring from this deep universal human need.

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    • Thanks for pointing this out. I haven’t experienced this problem when loading the site on my own computers/devices, so it might be on your end. However, there is a chance that I’m uploading the images to the site at too high of a resolution, which might be making them slower to load. I do try to reduce the size of them… but perhaps not enough! I might try reducing the file sizes further.

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