The phrase "standing on the shoulders of giants" was famously used by Newton to Hooke (1676): "What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.", but actually it dates back to the 12th century, when John of Salisbury wrote
Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.
The expression "bust a cap" for "shoot" dates back to at least 1879: Andersonville, John McElroy, p. 510. It was first used in a crime drama no later than 1932. (An episode of the radio series "Police Headquarters".)
The Queen Of Hearts's "Off with his/her head!" catchphrase in Alice in Wonderland is nowadays exclusively associated with that work, even though it was actually a Shout-Out to a then-famous line from Colley Cibber's now-forgotten abridged version of Shakespeare's Richard III.
The Horcruxes from the Harry Potter universe are seemingly random, ordinary items in which the Big Bad has hidden part of his soul — permanently destroying him is impossible unless you first destroy all seven of these items. The idea goes back to the concept of the Lich (undead, skeletal magician of vast power) and his phylactery from Dungeons & Dragons, and that presumably goes back to Russian folklore and the character of Koschei the Deathless (an undead, skeletal magician of vast power), who hid his soul in a needle, and put the needle in an egg, and the egg in a bird, and the bird in a hare, and the hare in a bear, etc. etc, Russian-doll style. This is even found in Classical Mythology with characters such as Meleager (not the Heroic Age one) whose life was linked to a brand : when the brand was consumed by fire, Meleager died.
The Golden Bough lists several examples of external soul, a few of them coming from Arabian Nights (containing stories from early medieval period).
A double literary example: J.K. Rowling is often asked (often enough for it to be in her official FAQ) whether she took the character of Nicholas Flamel in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from The Da Vinci Code. In fact, Flamel was a real life historical figure, a philosopher from the 14th century rumored to have created a philosopher's stone and gained immortality. Additionally, Philosopher's Stone came out in 1997 (with the movie version coming out in 2001), while Da Vinci Code wasn't published until 2003.
Some people have accused Rowling of ripping off Neil Gaiman's Comic BookThe Books of Magic, which also features a young, dark haired, bespectacled wizard-in-training who has a pet owl, and is, indeed, a few years older. However, Gaiman has kindly explained that both books draw on the same wizardly archetypes and Rowling thus cannot be blamed for coming up with a similar concept and character. However, the idea for a Books of Magic movie has been pretty thoroughly killed because it would be universally derided as a Harry Potter ripoff.
Summer Magic, the first of the Journal of Luke Kirby series, debuted in UK comic 2000 AD in 1988, two years before The Books of Magic. When the Luke Kirby stories were republished as graphic novels, a lot of people did assume that it was a ripoff of The Books of Magic.
Similarly, many people accuse Discworld's Unseen University of being a Hogwarts ripoff, and have pointed out that Ponder Stibbons looks an awful lot like the Potter kid. While Terry Pratchett does bury references to all sorts of things in the Discworld novels, and encourages fans to try and find them, this one is just plain untrue. See the quote on the main page for Pratchett's exact word on the subject. Like Gaiman, he has defended Rowling from the more rabid of his own fans, but has also said that he's afraid that Discworld movies would, if made, be confused with Harry Potter ripoffs. Of which there are a few.
The TV adaptation of Hogfather, despite portraying Stibbons the way he is in the books, escaped this sort of misunderstanding. Then again, that may be because it didn't see enormously wide release.
It certainly helps that as far as personality goes, Harry and Stibbons have almost nothing in common, as well as the fact that Stibbons is in his mid-twenties, as opposed to the teenaged Harry.
He was presumably a teenager in his first appearance in Moving Pictures, where he's a student preparing to sit for his final exams. He's also a very minor character in that book.
While we're on the subject, the 1986 horror movie Troll contains a young boy named Harry Potter (played by Noah "Atreyu" Hathaway) who enters a world of magic, befriends a witch, and fights a troll. This is probably a coincidence, though. Rowling has explicitly said as much (regardless of what you may have heard) and stranger coincidences of exactly the same sort have happened. Excellent further reading on the matter would be the story behind the name "Eleanor Rigby" in The Beatles Anthology.
An isolated castle containing a magic school, with a forest nearby? A protagonist who has no prior knowledge of the magical world? A rival who comes from a leading magical family? A hook-nosed Potions teacher who favours the rival and despises the protagonist? A kindly, grey-haired Head who is fond of the protagonist? Classes in Charms and broomstick riding? Yep, that's Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch, six volumes published 1974, '80, '82, '93, 2005, 2007.
Many of Rowling's elements also appear in Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family, first published in 1960, and especially in Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard Of Earthsea, first published in 1968.
There actually are people who think Rowling invented house elves, hippogriffs, or the concept of familiars. This despite the fact that the wizards' pets in the Harry Potter series are clearly just pets (albeit sometimes with unusual abilities), not familiars as such.
Funnily enough, the concept of familiars in the Potter Verse is largely Fanon. While several characters own pets that have evident magical powers or at least Amplified Animal Aptitude, nowhere in the books are they called "familiars" nor do they seem to have any particular significance in wizarding culture. As far as the books are concerned, Hedwig, for example, is just a pet and not some kind of mythical animal companion as fanfiction would have you believe.
Diminutive faerie folk who do household work for you until you give them clothes? That description is a perfect fit for both Harry Potter's house elves and the much older story of The Elves and the Shoemaker.
For that matter, anyone familiar with the history of the Girl Guides/Scouts would recognize them from the origin-story of the "Brownie" rank, named in the 1920s for an 1870 short story by Juliana Horatia Ewing. Two sisters were told the legend of brownie helpers, but when their efforts to attract real brownies failed, they resorted to doing the housework themselves and passing it off on the mythical creatures. Prior to the name change, that rank was known as Rosebuds.
A really pathetic example is here. Unbeknownst to most, J. K. Rowling put Biblical scripturenote it's Luke 12:34 on the tombstones in Deathly Hallows. And now that website is citing J. K. Rowling as the author of a line spoken by Jesus.
Many people think that Wizard's Hall by Jane Yolen was ripped-off of Harry Potter despite being written six years earlier. Yes it has a wizard's school as its main setting, but the characters are much weirder... in only the best ways.
An episode of QI (with Daniel Radcliffe himself guest starring!) showed that several of Rowling's proper names can be traced back to real English words. "Hagrid" comes from "hag-ridden," to have dreams about witches and witchcraft. "Dumbledore" is an Old English word for a bumblebee. And "muggle" was originally jazz slang for marijuana! And it was most certainly not from "The Legend of Rah and the Muggles."
"Muggle" has also been in use since at least the 1920s in its present sense of "unskilled person".
Some people seem to think that Diane Duane's Young Wizards books are ripoffs of Harry Potter, when actually Diane Duane began publishing her books in the early '80s. The only thing they have in common is "ordinary kid becomes a wizard and fights evil", but the reprints of the books have often been marketed as "something to read after you've finished Harry Potter." Duane has actually stated on her blog that she avoids reading the Harry Potter books in case anyone accuses her of ripping off Rowling's ideas for her latest books. The same has happened with the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, and other young adult fantasy authors whose books went out of print for a while but experienced a resurgence in popularity after Harry Potter became a big hit, even though their books existed decades before Rowling began writing.
Rowling has also been accused by rabid fantasy fans of "stealing" the idea of the Invisibility Cloak from Tolkien's Ring; they're clearly unaware that the idea of a magic ring, cloak, Tarnhelm or whatever is a staple of the folklore of many lands, and that Tolkien didn't invent this idea any more than Wagner did when he used it about a century before Tolkien.
Bizarrely, even Discworld itself has given us an example of this with the character of Genghis Cohen. Now, obviously, that's a reference to Genghis Khan, but most Pratchett fans don't know that "Genghis Cohen" is also the name of a philatelist in The Crying of Lot 49.
The character was originally introduced as Cohen the Barbarian, quite possibly a play-on of Conan the Barbarian.
Some fans thought that Inigo Skimmer of The Fifth Elephant was a reference to/parody of Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, as both are Professional Killers. Pratchett corrected this, pointing out that Inigo is an old name and that if he was thinking of anyone, he probably got the name from Inigo Jones.
Terry also got a bit sarcastic with people commenting on The Wee Free Men who seemed to think the concept of sheepdog trials was invented by the film Babe.
Incidentally, the example of Witch-king is itself inspired by William Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which a prophecy states that no man born of woman would ever kill Macbeth — as it turns out, the guy who kills him was delivered via Caesarean, and thus technically not "born" of woman. Tolkien felt that Shakespeare had missed an opportunity, and so had a woman (and a non-human male) fulfill his version of the prophecy.
Another instance of Tolkien writing something as a specific modification of Shakespeare (and, specifically, Macbeth) is the Ents. Tolkien got all excited while watching the play after the witches predict that Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be/until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him. When the great twist turned out to be "men with leaves in their hats", he angrily returned home and decided that he would write a story about walking trees, thank you very much.
The idea of a ring that grants invisibility while the user inevitably becomes corrupt was used 2000 years earlier by Plato in The Republic, as the Ring of Gyges.
All the Dwarves' names in The Hobbit were taken straight from a list in the Poetic Edda, a collection of medieval Icelandic poetry. And Gandalf's, too.
Tolkien was a professor of Old English, and much (and arguably, most) of his inspiration came originally from Anglo-Saxon poetry and culture. Apart from the obvious linguistic influences, the Ents, for example, were heavily influenced by the prosopoeic narrator of Dream of the Rood (a talking cross); you haven't lived until you've heard that poem recited in an Ent voice by an Oxford don.
Today, Sherlock Holmes is easily more well-known than C. Auguste Dupin, despite that Dupin was the first detective of his kind who solved crimes simply with his own superbrain, more swiftly and easily than the police department who would only very grudgingly come to him for help, who never had a love interest, and whose stories were told by his Sidekick.
Indeed, Holmes is heard at one point to belittle the Dupin stories, presumably as a backhanded homage to Poe by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Some believe Poe could have been inspired by Voltaire's Zadig (1747), who does detective-like work.
William Gibson himself almost had this writ large; while writing Neuromancer, he went to see Blade Runner and was in tears by the end, because there was his entire milieu, on screen and before he was even done! He was very relieved when the movie tanked...
The Beam Me Up, Scotty! trope page once claimed that "All that glitters is not gold" is a misquote of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which has the line "All that glisters is not gold." Actually, the line didn't originate with Shakespeare. Both Chaucer and Cervantes used variations on it. The first version using "glitters" appears in John Dryden's 1687 poem The Hind and the Panther. When Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, the line was already a well-worn cliché (which is why the next line of the couplet is "often have you heard that told"), so there's no real reason his version should be considered authoritative.
There are probably people who think Tolkien made that one up, too.
As it turns out, Homer's Iliad may well be the oldest example of the expression "to bite the dust", rather than the western movies and the song by Queen that people generally associate with the expression.
The first use of a ruined Statue of Liberty wasn't Planet of the Apes, but the novel The Last American by John Ames Mitchell, published in 1889 — only six years after the statue was complete.
Douglas Adams apparently got very tired of people asking if he nicked the biscuit story in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) from Jeffrey Archer's A Quiver Full of Arrows (1980) since it actually happened to him in 1976 and he suspected its subsquent appearances in other people's fiction was "inspired" by him recounting it on chat shows.
The character name "James Bond" first appeared in the Agatha Christie 1930s short story "The Rajah's Emerald", though this may or may not be where Ian Fleming got the name — Christie's character is almost the exact opposite of the more famous Bond. It's known that Fleming got Bond's number from the London-Dover coach which passed his door, which is numbered 007 to this day.
Fleming said that he took the name from the author of Birds of the West Indes, a book which he kept on his cocktail table at his house in Jamaica, where many of the Bond novels were written. The book is still in print.
The Marple adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery combines Fleming's explanation with the Christie character; in it, Miss Marple briefly encounters Ian Fleming at the resort she is staying at, and during their conversation while waiting for a lecture on native birds to commence he remarks that he's writing a spy adventure but is stumped for a name for his hero. Cue the lecturer, who just happens to be called James Bond...
Historical Real Life example: perhaps the most well known of the few American survivors of The Alamo (who made it because he was a messenger sent away to tell of what was going on, and therefore wasn't there for the carnage) was named James Bond.
Vampires whose bodies are largely composed of sparkly minerals? Check. Abusive vampire/human love affairs with nonstop bed-breaking sex? Check. Improvised cesarian section on a human who's impregnated with an unprecedented vampire offspring? Check. Actually a good novel? Check ... if it's The Stress Of Her Regard (1989) by Tim Powers, and not that crapsack series with the black covers.
There are probably many Harry Potter fans who think that J. K. Rowling invented veela. They are a staple of East European folklore.
For that matter, the Hate Dumb that blames Stephenie Meyer (and before her, Anne Rice) for "ruining" vampires by turning them into brooding sexpots. Varney hated his vampiric nature so much that he decided to fling himself in a volcano at the end, and both Stoker and LeFanu's Carmilla used the vampire as metaphors for dangerous sexuality. This stuff is as old as the gothic horror tradition, folks.
Aristocratic, jaded vampire socialite who likes to seduce and use people of both sexes? Look no further that Ruthven created by John Polidori, physician of Lord Byron (who Ruthven is based on).
Many people have criticised the new Sherlock Holmes film for its depiction of a boxing and flirting Sherlock Holmes, seemingly ignoring the fact that in the original books, he did all of those things and more.
This is largely due to pop-cultural osmosis, in that the depictions of Holmes and Watson most people are familiar with (sedate, cerebral Holmes; fat, stupid Watson) are largely a result of the Basil Rathbone film adaptations of the 1940s.
Thoughtcrime is usually associated with 1984, written in 1949. While Orwell may or may not have read it, the idea of punishing treasonous thoughts and encouraging people to report on their neighbours acting suspiciously was proposed as a serious rulership strategy in The Book of Lord Shang, written between 400 and 200 BC.
Guess what I'm describing here: years after a world-changing event, a mysterious group causes humankind to evolve into a single entity, with sides of Apocalyptic imagery. I'm describing Childhood's End, a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, which Hideaki Anno admitted was an inspiration for Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The Book of the Named predates Warrior Cats by about twenty years, though it has the disadvantage of having been almost entirely out of print from the mid nineties until recently. While most fans of the latter who get around to reading the former pick up on the differences very quickly, that hasn't stopped some who don't know better from crying foul against Clare Bell. Tailchaser's Song is arguably even more like Warrior Cats, though it owes a lot to Watership Down and Lord of the Rings.
David Gerrold had to get clearance for the original Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" (1967), from Robert A. Heinlein, whose 1952 novel The Rolling Stones had a quickly reproducing Martian species known as 'flatcats.' Heinlein pointed out that the idea had been used much earlier, in Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler. "A story about guinea pigs, beaurocracy [sic] and multiplication. First published in the September 1905 issue of American Magazine."
Isaac Asimovpopularised the idea of robots which by their design are incapable of harming humans (in sharp contrast to the usual clichéd depiction of robots as mechanical Frankenstein's-monsters), but there was at least one earlier depiction of such robots, in the Adam Link stories of Eando Binder.
Asimov did, in fact, formalize the method by which Robots would be prevented from going off the rails in the form of the three laws of robotics as an in-universe "industry standard" enforced by law and professional standards. Before that there were certainly non-rebellious "good" robots in literature but is was a much more free-form hand-wavey thing, not a specific set of logical rules that aped 20th-century human morality within a certain margin of error. Adam Link was notable for being an artificial protagonist, but his 'goodness' was more of an amorphous, innate thing combined with being 'raised well' than Asimov's hard-and-fast design rules.
People have accused the Dragonriders of Pern of being a rip-off of the Inheritance Cycle / Eragon books. However, "Weyr Search," the short story that forms part of the first Dragonriders book, was published in 1967, 16 years before Christopher Paolini was born. Also, Anne McCaffery is quoted on the back cover of Eragon, praising it.
As a matter of fact, the afterwords of most of the books in the Inheritance cycle specifically mention that Christopher Paolini was inspired by the Pern series.
Many critics have noted the similarities between Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, which is also about children being forced by a dystopian government to battle to the death in a remote wilderness as some of the children begin to rebel against the system. Collins has said she wasn't aware of the Japanese novel/comic/film franchise when she began writing her trilogy, but was made aware of it by the publisher and instructed not to read the earlier story. As a result, while Hunger Games has a number of points of coincidental similarity with Battle Royale, the other two books bear little resemblance to the Japanese tale.
Fans of Battle Royale who accuse The Hunger Games of plagiarism are seemingly unaware of earlier Deadly Game stories such as The Running Man, and believe Battle Royale invented the concept. Nor was it new when Stephen King wrote it; Robert Scheckley wrote a short story with a similar premise, "Seventh Victim", in 1953, which was adapted to the Italian film La Decima Vittima (The Tenth Victim) in 1965. And of course, there were the ancient Roman Gladiator Games (which Collins herself cited as an inspiration).
Some people accused The Dresden Files of mocking Twilight's beautiful sexy vampires with the White Court, which are... beautiful sexy vampires that actually feed on emotions, including lust. This leaves out that the first appearance of a White Court vampire was in Grave Peril, which came out several years before the first Twilight book.
And the idea of a psychovore (a vampire which feeds on emotions) is far, far older than The Dresden Files, at least fifty years older; for instance, it appeared in short story "The Mindworm" (Cyril M. Kornbluth, 1950).
Lord help you if you're an author who wrote a Young AdultParanormal Romance before Stephenie Meyer published hers. Fans and detractors alike tend to dismiss these novels as ripoffs. This hasn't been entirely bad, as some teen paranormal series written in the 90s got rereleased in an attempt to cash in on the growing vampire trend. The most notable example is The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith, which was rereleased in 2007, as well as receiving a reboot and a TV adaptation in 2009.
Many people think that Plato was the first to use the word "Atlantis". While most historians agree that Plato created the legend of the lost island of Atlantis, which first appeared in the dialogue Timaeus, there was a book called Atlantis that predates the dialogue by about one hundred years. Only fragments remain of this book, which was written by Hellanicus, and there is no evidence that this book had anything to do with the legend of a lost civilization.
Although Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1966) is seen as the first "non-fiction novel" of investigative journalism, Operación Masacre by Argentine journalist and author Rodolfo Walsh was published nine years earlier.
At first glance, Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls is a storm of cliches: A horror novel about gorgeous, sexually ambiguous vampires in New Orleans. The book was published in 1992, when those tropes were a lot fresher than they are now, and between them Brite and Anne Rice wrote the book on modern vampire fiction.
George R.R. Martin often gets praise for the "originality" of his Crapsack World, when many times he is just lifting aspects of life in the real Middle Ages verbatim (the Siege of King's Landing, for example, borrows heavily from the different historical sieges of Constantinople). To give credit where it is due, there are so many epic fantasy novels that are just rip-offs of The Lord of the Rings or heavily stereotypical Victorian novels (like Ivanhoe) that an author that actually draws inspiration from real history does feel like a breath of fresh air.
The Brahmastra, a magical weapon of immense power that could completely obliterate its target with a single shot, but as a consequence, would wipe out all life in a vast radius of the attack, rendering the area a barren wasteland and causing all bystanders to become sterilised. Sounds like a Fantastic Nuke, right? Well, it could be...if it didn't come from Hindu Mythology's ancient Sanskrit scriptures that predate the Manhattan Project by millennia.
Appropriately, Oppenheimer quoted the book of Hindu scripture when the Manhattan Project first tested the atomic bomb. Many people also assume that he was the source of the quote, making this a double example.
And, if fringe theorists are to be believed, the Brahmastra was actually a nuke, making nuclear weapons an example of this too!
An extinct species is brought back to life through genetics. For safety reasons, its metabolism is tweaked so that it will be incapable of producing certain amino acids, making it dependent on others for food. The safety measure fails due to the creature finding alternate sources. Sounds familiar? The Godwhale, T. J. Bass, 1974.
Sex-education books actually go back at least as far as between 400 BCE and 200 CE, when the still-famous Kama Sutra was written (or compiled).
Kit Williams' treasure hunt book Masquerade was supposedly something which "nobody had done before"; but Agatha Christie, in conjunction with the Manchester Daily Dispatch, had done precisely the same thing (with the short story "Manx Gold") 40 years earlier.
Long before Eric Knight's "Lassie Come Home" which inspired numerous movies and TV show. There were two earlier accounts of collie dogs by that name who rescued humans.
The fictional story "The Half-Brothers" by Elizabeth Gaskell
A real life incident of a Collie-mix who rescued a sailor during World War I.
Norwegian author Ingeborg Refling Hagen managed to make her own list of tropes, and relied heavily on Fridge Brilliance in her own Magnum Opus (a four-volum series describing her own authorship) as early as 1949. Here, she spanned much of European literature back to Ancient Greece, and found common themes for discussion. Her own fridge moments are thoroughly described. She would have been a magnificent troper had she had access to the internet.
Works that could be considered Science Fiction have been around as early as the 17th century, such as Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World and Johannes Kepler's Somnium.