Reflections Upon Fanfic

In it’s brief evaluation of Fanfic, the bbc Ouch! website quotes professor Henry Jenkins as saying

[quote=”Ouch!url:http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/closeup/harrypotter.shtml”%5Dfan fiction is “born out of a mixture of fascination and frustration”, as the original material captures the imagination but fails to satisfy. Writers placing “marginalized peoples” at the centre of their stories, “play out a drama about acceptance, tolerance, even an embrace of their difference.”[/quote]

In saying this, Jenkins has seemingly captured the raisin d’etre of Fanfic perfectly. It is a medium where fans can take the components of established, published works and examine them through their own writing. This essay will examine fan fiction as a mode, reflecting upon points for and against it.

Fanfic can be criticised on the basis that it is not original. It is an embellishment upon another artist’s work, and some hold that this makes it less artistically valid. Many philosophers hold that one of the main aspects of all art is originality: Bizet did not copy themes from Mozart, nor Tolkien from Tolstoy. Every art work should be utterly unique. It follows, then, that as pieces of fan fiction have as their basis other works, they are less valid.

Indeed, the ouch article points out, “[i][Fanfic exists][/i] in the grey areas of copyright”, meaning that it is not fully recognised under law. It can be seen as immoral in that writers steal ideas from others. This is certainly true, but writing, I would argue, has no formal rules on this subject: it, like all art forms, is forever evolving and changing in a way similar to genres.

Toderov proposed that genres are in a constant state of flux – elements of one genre move into another, then another. For example, in the Harry potter novels we see elements of fantasy, adventure, melodrama, and so on. Writing is similarly fluid: it comes off the page and forms a life in the readers mind. In this sense, it no longer belongs to the writer but is the reader’s property. By it’s very nature, writing invites interpretation by readers.

There are many ways this can be achieved. Usually, a person will read a book, think about its themes, perhaps incorporate them into his or her world view, then move on to another book. Yet if he or she has the power, money and inclination, a person might chose to make a film out of a book. This is similar to the generation of Fanfic, as a director will ultimately have to interpret the text to make the film. It is unlikely that the text’s original author and the director would have the same vision, so the film can be seen as merely taking the original as its basis.

This is exactly what Fanfic seeks to do. Another form of reflection upon an original texts, it gives the writer the ability to explore certain elements, characters and themes. They are indeed valid forms of writing in their own right, merely having used another piece of writing as a reference point, just as film adaptations ultimately do. They are thus paying tribute to the original text for being versatile enough to allow such exploration. To dismiss Fanfic as somehow less worthy than other art forms is therefore folly, and would, in my view, betray one as ignorant and snobbish.

Worth a look: http://www.fictionalley.org – “FanFic in All Shapes, Sizes & SHIPs!”

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