Moderating a busy list (OT)/Q. about Fanfiction

Nat Case ncase at
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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