The Wind Beneath Their Wings

My corny and equally enigmatic title is meant to point out that even our most creative and original thinkers were in some way influenced by the work of others. How was Columbus influenced by the Bible? Who were Stephen King’s muses? In what way are Britney Spears and Alfred Hitchcock artistically connected?

Infloox is a website which attempts to show how influential people were influenced. While it’s still very much in its beta stage, you can see from its How It All Works page that the site relies upon reader contributions to connect influential people and works to the not only their influences, but to whom or what they’ve influenced.

So we learn that John F. Kennedy was influenced by Winston Churchill, alledgedly reading every word that the British Prime Minister had ever written (click on the detail link beside a person’s name to see the connection, versus a a new topic window for that person). Okay, that one’s not shocking.

But in another example, we learn that Beowulf was read by Tolkien, who was a close friend and University of Oxford colleague of C.S. Lewis, who in turn was an influence upon Sarah Palin. So ultimately Sarah Palin’s thinking is descended from an ill-smelling, obnoxious monster of the cold North whose fame came from eating men alive. Insert your own joke here.

Most influences are credited to their sources, and some are additionally linked to forums. The sources aren’t always easily checked, however, so I wouldn’t hang the hat of your dissertation on this site alone. When I tried to investigate both references to Treasure Island’s influence upon Steven Spielberg, for example, neither would yield a result. Others did, however, pan out.

So how to use this site?

  • First of all, it’s amusing to browse. Each page offers some browsing suggestions in a side bar to the right, and I found myself frittering away a surprising amount of time linking from one person and idea to the next.
  • Secondly, if you’re teaching any of these same famous persons, you might find a kernel of insight here to be explored in more depth. I taught The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for many years, so I knew of the Tolkien/Lewis connection, and I’d read quite a bit about their dialogues concerning their respective series (Lord of the Rings and Narnia). But this may be news to another teacher. C.S. Lewis was additionally influential to J.K.Rowling, and careful readers can pick up on specifics. The four Pevensie children, for example, are poster children for the four houses of Hogwarts; in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe they not only take on the charcteristics of the houses’ symbolic animals, but at some point in the novel they are each overtly linked to those animals. For those who teach this novel, check out the related note-taking chart.
  • Third, you might like your students to discuss why certain people in history may have been so influenced by one of their predecessors. For example, which single famous person influenced Cervantes, Einstein, Columbus, Napoleon, and Kissinger?

So check out Infloox and also take a gander at their blog. I’d love to hear your own thoughts for ways to use this site!

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6 Comments

Filed under Authors and Illustrators, Recommended Resources, Recommended Sites

6 responses to “The Wind Beneath Their Wings

  1. Mark

    I perused the Infloox website and I was struck by how much it could produce the same effect as word-lovers find when looking up a word in the dictionary: “once you pop, you can’t stop”. One word leads to another, curiosity takes the better of you, and you end up reading half the dictionary…

    That is invaluable from the point of view of a teacher. The challenge is to discover where each student currently is, what is his starting point. It may be Harry Potter, or even something unrelated to books. Students love to explore by themselves with computers — they always assume that they will be better at it then their crumbly, old teachers (which is often true)! But with a tool like Infloox, provided the student’s starting point can be found on there, then the game is won! The world is a large place. No matter where you are in it, education is about tasting the delight of pushing back the frontier!

    Thank you for pointing this site out!

  2. infloox

    Thanks so much for posting about the site! In response to one of the comments above, one way that I’ve seen teachers use the site is by assigning a different author to each student (“adopt an author” if you will) and then getting them to research the author’s literary background. Following this, the students post on the infloox site to build up their author. It’s a pretty good way of developing interest in a different way.

    • I like that idea a lot. Ideas like that will not only help the site grow in its value, but may also turn students on to writers who have dealt with life struggles similar to those which students now face.

  3. amy

    I found this information to be very interesting when considering where authors get their inspirations for writing. I am excited to see how infloox will develop even more. I always teach Beowulf so this will be an interesting segway to use for how such an old piece has influenced the modern world.

  4. Ann, I’m with you on that comment. Students think that everything they write has to be so completely new. They should realize that much of what we read and see in movies is derivative and follows certain patterns which have been repeated in endless variations.

    This site also shows students that being well read will increase the likelihood that they’ll have good ideas to draw upon for their creative endeavors.

  5. ann

    I enjoyed reading the blog at infloox. I think students would find it eye opening that authors find inspiration from other people’s writing and style. They so often get “stuck” because they don’t think they are original enough. Sharing this site with students before writing workshop may spark some interesting pieces.

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