Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Fan Fair? - Cathy Butler
If the citations in the Oxford English Dictionary are any guide, fan fiction is a relatively new phenomenon: the earliest use of the term dates only from 1944.
You know what I mean by “fan fiction”, right? I’m referring to stories featuring existing fictional worlds and characters, but written by someone other than the original author. The Internet is awash with Harry Potter fan fiction, Doctor Who fan fiction, Twilight fan fiction, Star Trek fan fiction, and so on. As that list suggests, it’s a practice that flourishes particularly in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, but it’s by no means confined to them. Just think of the people who’ve written books about Jane Austen’s characters (P. D. James is the latest, in Death Comes to Pemberley), or new adventures for James Bond (Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks, amongst others). Indeed, there are whole genres that have no original. Every writer of Arthurian stories, from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory right up to Katherine Roberts (whose Sword of Light, about Arthur’s daughter Rhianna, was published at the beginning of this month) is a fan fiction author of a kind.
However, the term “fan fiction” is usually applied to the work of amateurs. That word need not imply any lack of quality, by the way: I use it here in its older sense, of a person who does something for love rather than money. (That’s the only concession to St Valentine in this post, by the way, so make the most of it.) Fan fiction writers are people who love a world or a character so much that they want there to be more of it, and if the author is inconveniently dead or has perversely lost interest, why then, they will do it themselves! What began with mimeographed fanzines in the 1960s has proliferated into a huge and dynamic literary culture, largely because the World Wide Web has allowed fans to publish widely and read voraciously. Not that the professional/amateur distinction is quite as impermeable as it used to be. Some writers have a foot in each camp. The publishers of the Doctor Who novels are said to have talent-spotted at least one of their regular authors from amongst the ranks of Who fan fiction writers; while the YA author Cassandra Clare cut her teeth writing Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fan fiction.
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’ve never been tempted to write fan fiction myself, and I’m not famous enough to have had it written about my books – but I wonder how I’d feel if it had been? I know one fairly eminent fantasy writer who’s dead set against fan fiction treatments of her world. She sees other people using her material as a kind of theft. Worse, it sullies that world, confusing readers between canonical and heterodox stories.
On the other hand, there are published writers who feel fine about fan fiction – or even enthusiastic. Imagining new stories is a legitimate form of readerly pleasure, they argue; and once the book has been bought by a fan, it’s theirs to do with as they will. And, of course, it’s flattering to think that people like your imagination enough to want to spend more time there.
So, what about you? Are there any fan fiction writers or readers here on ABBA? Or authors whose books have been ficced? How do you feel about it?