Moderating a busy list (OT)/Q. about Fanfiction
ncase at hedbergmaps.com
Mon Apr 16 11:54:45 EDT 2001
Kind of a response to Sally's question:
When I was 18, I started a sequel to the DARK IS RISING sequence. I
wrote Susan Cooper a letter where I mentioned this, and she wrote
back gently suggesting I find my own world to write in. I was
bothered by this, but respected her wishes and put it away in a
In retrospect, I guess I'd turn the question around, and ask why Neil
Gaiman can win a World Fantasy Award for a story derived from
Shakespeare's world, and Laurie King can write much-acclaimed novels
set in a reconsidered world of Arthur Conan Doyle's, but when a
writer works within a world still under copyright, all sorts of
warning bells go off? Is that really just it, legal ownership and
living authors? Now that, say, John Steinbeck is no longer with us,
is fan fiction in his world more OK? Or do you have to wait some sort
of period of time before it's OK?
I remember someone, maybe Berke Breathed, in a pointed cartoon noting
that Pogo and Nancy were still being drawn by a relative hack years
after their creators had died, and that it was a sacrilege.
Maybe it depends how much the potential copyist sees the work as a
"creation" and how much it is a "context," where the creator becomes
less relevant. Some people are serious students of Tolkien the
creator, while others create their own stories based out of their
experience of his world. Again, it's easier to remove the creator's
wishes from the equation when the creator is long deceased.
It still seems like a problematic question. One of the features of
genre fiction, fantasy and SF especially, is the creation of worlds,
and one of the joys of reading the resulting books is the exploration
of these worlds. It seems strange to say that exploration is fine,
but you have to do it under the author's guidance because its his/her
world, and she has legal right to it. Strange, but certainly sensible
from the author's point of view: it isn't just a world he/she
discovered, but is in fact his/her creation, and bank account besides.
The whole question to me points up the false intimacy of most
writing. When we read a book, especially one that really affects us,
it is easy to say that we no know the writer rather well. Writers
tend to find this presumption, er, disturbing. I think explications
like Jones' discussion of the origins of FIRE AND HEMLOCK in The Lion
and the Unicorn are one of several ways to break down that illusion
of intimacy and maybe put the creation back in its proper place in
the real world. On the other hand, as Neil comments on synchronicity
point up (and Neil, I've been there too), that illusion can be
awfully powerful... and maybe it isn't as much of an illusion as
authors tend to want to think.
>Please, any fan-fic writers out there, don't take this as criticism of you
>or your activities. I'd really be interested to know why you do it when you
>don't have to!
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