Watchmen and Sirens of Titan: Coincidentally Similar?

This summer I was a camp counselor, and a pretty bad one, which meant I spent a lot of time reading when I should’ve been playing card games with my campers. One of the books I devoured during this time was Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. When I finished reading Watchmen, something about the ending seemed vaguely familiar- but eventually I drew the connection that it was much like some of the material in The Sirens of Titan. Vonnegut’s 1959 novel is a science fiction whirlwind in which a man named Winston Niles Rumfoord organizes world peace through an orchestrated siege from Mars; the Earthling population bands together to fight the invasion, setting international conflict aside. There’s obviously a great deal more to the plot- but this does raise some questions: was Moore influenced by Vonnegut? Or are the similarities in their stories a complete coincidence?

I’m in no way trying to imply that Watchmen is a direct rip-off of The Sirens of Titan. The two texts vary greatly: Watchmen is a graphic novel while Sirens of Titan is a more standard novel, Watchmen involves superheroes while The Sirens of Titan does not, and Watchmen is set largely in New York City while The Sirens of Titan’s setting shifts around between Earth, Mars, and Titan (the largest moon of Saturn). The differences between the works extend beyond this list; it’s evident that while the works share some interesting traits, they are not mirrors by any stretch of the imagination.

While there are certainly differences between the works that clear Moore of plagiarism accusations, Watchmen and The Sirens of Titan share some striking similarities. After some rooting around on the internet I found a post on a forum that also raised concern for these similarities. Beyond the obvious designed-alien-attack-to-unite-Earthling-citizens, there are further parallels between the two works. One of these pointed out by the forum post linked above is the similarity between The Sirens of Titan’s Winston Niles Rumfoord and Watchmen’s Adrian Veidt. Both characters are said to possess both exorbitant amounts of intelligence and wealth. Both characters design a siege upon humanity (which involves the death of a great number of humans) in order to end Earthling conflict. Even further, both characters have a large animal companion; Winston Niles Rumfoord has a large dog named Kazak and Veidt has Bubastis. The forum cites Winston Niles Rumfoord’s religion (introduced after the siege) and Veidt’s Veidt Method as being parallel but I think this is a bit of a stretch as the principles of each are vastly different.

Moving on, the character of Rumfoord also shares some interesting traits with Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan. Both have superhuman abilities (Rumfoord materializes in random places around the Solar System) and both perceive all of time simultaneously. Rumfoord and Dr. Manhattan possess knowledge of the past and the future but are powerless to influence either. Furthermore, they also have romantic partners who are frequently upset by their understanding of time (Rumfoord’s wife Beatrice and Laurie).

Both pieces also feature minimal female characters, none of them truly possessing their own agency. They each also contain a scene in which a woman is raped; in both instances the sexual assault serves mostly as a device to further the plot. I personally think these coincidences are most likely attributed to societal thought and the power dynamics between genders- which is a little more disheartening than Moore simply being influenced by Vonnegut. Nonetheless, the parallel remains.

Was Moore influenced by Vonnegut? That is a question I cannot truly answer. In researching Moore I couldn’t find any direct statements that he admired or read Vonnegut’s work, but I think the evidence speaks loudly. I would venture a guess that Moore admires Vonnegut’s work, whether or not he intentionally borrowed ideas from The Sirens of Titan. Both works explore ideas of morality and time at their core. The idea of creating harmony on Earth through extraterrestrial attack is a large plot-line to share; when this shared plot device is accompanied by the other similarities between Rumfoord, Veidt, and Dr. Manhattan, the parallels seem too numerous to be simply coincidence. Shared plot-lines or not, I found both works to be genius in both concept and execution- masterful creations in their own right. It also left me wondering: are there other examples of this kind of influence across literary genres?  When does a work cross an acceptable line in borrowing from another work? Is it only if the borrowing work is unsuccessful that it constitutes a rip-off? And most importantly, if Moore did draw influence from Vonnegut’s work, should he have acknowledged that within Watchmen?

 

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