this is gonna be weird

minnow at minnow at
Sun Nov 21 13:57:57 EST 2004

>> There are some secondary characters in some books whom I feel need
>> and giving their own stories.  I shan't give examples because it wouldn't
>> be fair, but it sometimes feels as if there ought to be a Society for the
>> Protection of Spear-Carriers (to take the word from Alexei Panshin's *Rite
>> of Passage*).

>A lot of 'respectable' fan fiction is in this category, isn't it? 'Retold
>from the point of view of...-fiction' is a sub-genre in itself. *Beowulf*
>from the point of view of Grendel; *Hamlet* from the point of view of
>Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; *Jane Eyre* from point of view of Mrs
>Rochester; *Heart of Darkness* from the point of view of the Africans; *The
>Wizard of Oz* from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.
>'Fan-fiction' very often shades into critique with these examples (Chinua
>Achebe wasn't paying Conrad a compliment with *Things Fall Apart*, for
>example). They seem designed to identify and explore some blind-spot in the
>original work: just *why* didn't R&G's deaths weigh on Hamlet's conscience?
>Maybe that element of critique is part of what distinguishes it from
>fan-fiction? On the other hand, it makes them feel kind of ungrateful, which
>fan-fiction doesn't.

I don't think of any of those as fan-fiction if they are published books; I
would say that the difference between "fan" (as "amateur") and
"professional" writing is whether or not it is making money for someone.
The content is of less importance, in that respect, whether it is a rip-off
from someone else's work or a new look at a situation being told from a
different viewpoint being almost beside the point.

"Self-published" was what "fan-fiction" would have been called before the
internet and computer, if it had got that far from the exercise book with
"History, Form L.IV" written on the front and the first three pages torn
out.  If one wanted to play with someone else's work and have the result
read by anyone other than three good friends at school and one's younger
sister one had to find another person (and one from a hard-headed business
concern, at that) who agreed that one's baby was sturdy enough to face the
cruel world and would earn its living; or else one had to pay one of those
splendidly dubious concerns on the fringes of publishing who would agree to
take one's precious memoirs of sixty years as an MFH or treatise on the use
of ornamental fringes and turn it into a real book with covers that one
could give all one's hapless nephews and nieces for Christmas -- for a mere
three hundred pounds.  Now the need for it to find a buyer, or to be paid
for through the nose, is no longer a constraint.  As Katta writes:

>Well, having read some of "anything else" as part of the staff on a literary
>magazine: most of fanfic *is* as good as anything else, but most of
>"anything else" never gets read by anyone but the family and the poor people
>at literary magazines.
>Fanfic has no slushpile, which is why it seems to contain less talent than
>original fic.

Most of fanfic is as *bad* as the "anything else" that you and your
magazine rejected, surely?  It seems daft not to admit that some writing
just is Bad Writing, and that some people *simply cannot write and ought
not to do it*, and it's an awful waste of their time if nobody tells them
so (kindly and politely but firmly) so that they can go away and do
something else that they might be better at, and stop being an
embarrassment to their friends and later on to themselves.  The people on
magazines who read the slushpiles and reject things could be seen as doing
that wannabe author a favour -- and if he's Spider Robinson or Charles
Stross or J.R.R. Tolkien he will not take "no" for an answer anyway.  DWJ
didn't stop writing just on account of one agent deciding not to read her
story for five years (and being too rude to return it) because "nobody
wants to read that fantasy stuff", after all!

I can't help feeling that in at least some of the cases of fanfic I have
been given to read, the person who wrote it cannot have any friends.  If
s/he had, those friends would surely have had a duty, as friends, to say
(gently and kindly but firmly) "this really isn't any good and you ought
not to put it where people who don't love you dearly will see it and be
despising about it".  Just the same as telling someone that the pink frilly
dress she has fallen in love with may be a thing of beauty in itself, but
it makes her look like an elderly dog's dinner and she ought not to buy it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm sure that there is some excellent fan-fiction,
well-written and worthy of respect, just as some of the stuff in the
slushpile is going to be rejected not because it is garbage but because it
is in the wrong slushpile and ought to be trying to find a place in a
different magazine or with a different agent.  The thing quoted by deborah
and Kyra shows that there is also dross, which in pre-computing days would
not have been published, and I can't help thinking "and a good thing too!"
about the examples I have come across.  Goodness knows there are enough bad
books out there in covers without a need for more and more of them being
made available.

I also have a vague feeling that if one had to write the whole thing out by
hand, or even re-type it, or even print it out, to give it to anyone else
to read, one might be a little less inclined to broadcast the result.  If
every copy took a bit of effort or money (in the form of paper and ink),
rather than a theoretically infinite number being generated entirely
without cost by a single click on a button marked "send", how many copies
would most fanfic writers make?

>A question which may have some bearing on the issue of definition: does
>*Mistress Masham's Repose* owe more to *Gulliver* (from which it directly
>takes the Lilliputians); or to *The Box of Delights* (of which its villains
>are so reminiscent)? If it counts at all as fan-fiction it's on the strength
>of the former; but it feels more derivative on the basis of the latter.

I suspect that both works, one of which was published in 1947 and the other
of which apparently came out in 1937 but is copyright 1957 -- I find
Masefield's publication history very confusing sometimes, since I have to
assume the BoD was changed between hardback and paperback, but the Puffin
is 1962 -- are drawing on a sort of sea-of-villain prototype rather than
the one drawing on the other.  I find it hard to imagine T.H. White sitting
reading TBoD in his fastness and his forties, though I suppose he might
have done.  Is he known to have been an enthusiastic reader of books for

>And now, to the Archers...

I shouldn't bother: it has been truly dire this week.  And last.  And come
to that, last month.  I can't think why I go on listening to them, except
that they're on when supper is in the final stage of preparation and one
can't read a book and dish up at the same time.  At least one can but it
tends to get gravy on the book, which is a Bad Idea.

Is there Archers fanfic?  :-)  I have this urge to write a script in which
Clive Horrobin breaks out of jail and turns up in Ambridge with an Uzi, a
lot of ammo and nothing to lose!


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