this is gonna be weird

Ika blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Mon Nov 22 05:48:33 EST 2004


Deborah has already made a lot of the points I would have wanted to make,
except better than I would (thank you Deborah!), especially the bit about
the three axes of distinction: I disagree with Paul (I think it was Paul -
apologies if not) that calling *published* novels using other people's
characters "fanfiction" broadens the term beyond usefulness. To me,
"fanfiction" has both a narrow sense and a broad sense. The narrow sense
(fiction created by fans for fans), which refers mainly to its mode of
distribution (internet/zines) and reception: this is where, say,
Resonant's Harry Potter stories differ from Wide Sargasso Sea. But in
terms of what it *does* - its literary qualities and the way it engages
with previous texts, outside of considerations of distribution, reception
and copyright law - it doesn't seem possible to me to draw a strict
distinction between Wide Sargasso Sea, or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are
Dead (or the Aeneid, which is derivative in terms of style and plot as
well as characters) and fanfiction. You could call them all 'secondary
epics' just as well as fanfic, I suppose: it would be just as
(in)accurate.

As for why I read fanfiction - like Katta, partly for the same reasons I
read reviews and criticisms and other forms of responses to texts,
including this list. It's a way of finding out how other people responded
to works. A character - as I've got to know partly from reading and
writing fanfiction - is a complicated entity, created in relation to the
fictional world he inhabits as well as in relation to the assumptions,
desires and identifications of the person reading him. Barthes talks
somewhere about a text having 'baffles' and screens and dead-ends, that
guide each reader in a specific, unique pattern through the text. Seeing
someone else's "pattern through" Chrestomanci - seeing *how* they think he
interacts with his world and the characters around him - is fascinating,
and is part of the same process as coming to know the character in the
first place. (Well, maybe not Chrestomanci, as I haven't read any good
Chrestomanci fic yet - am about to follow up the recommendations of this
list, for which thanks, but am slightly put off by seeing him paired with
Lucius Malfoy [OMG that's so wrong!!] in one of the stories.)

Ven said something about not recognizing the characters in fanfic - that's
not something that's specific to fanfic, is it? I was talking to an
Earthsea fan this weekend who was saying that Ged "isn't Ged" in the later
books. Ob DWJ: I felt like Cat and Tonino were much younger in *Stealer of
Souls* than they were in *Charmed Life* and *Magicians of Caprona*, and I
still haven't quite puzzled that out yet (what do other people think about
it, btw?) Because they're DWJ's characters, though, all of that adds more
nuances and layers to their characterization as individual people in my
head; that can happen with fanfiction, too, or you can just reject certain
stories ["Why is that person called Howl? That's not Howl!"].

Charlie said:

> '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.

Sometimes it does - a lot of fanfiction is critical, either of specific
characters or of blind-spots in the work. (The best compliment I ever got
on my Harry Potter fic was a woman who wrote to me and said "I used to
like Dumbledore, but after reading your story I'm beginning to loathe
him".) I was involved in a long discussion (mostly in theoryspeak) of
fanfiction as violence on the Barbelith Underground somewhere - I can dig
the link out if anyone's interested.

God, I didn't realize I had so much to say! Originally I just meant to
pick up a couple of metaphors:

(1) Quilts. I compared slash fiction to quilt-making (in an interview for
an article on slash for *The Age*, if any Australians are still keeping up
with this thread) in a completely different context, which some of this
thread is reminding me of - viz., the idea that if something is any good,
it will be distributed through official/capitalist channels and generate
profit for someone. For me, fanfiction is like quilting and other crafts
(and it's not a coincidence that those are often communal creative
activities and almost exclusively female activities), which are culturally
devalued - that is, they're not "Great Art" because no
gallery-owner/dealer/publisher is making money off them.

(2) Teabags (and here I get back on topic!). Paul wrote:

> They're both [spontaneous sequels and commissioned sequels]
> cases of reusing teabags, perhaps, but one is reusing a
> teabag because they believe it still has a good cuppa left in it,
> while the other is reusing the teabag because they want a cup made
> with that particular teabag and don't care about the quality of the
> result. Or something.

The trouble with the 'teabag' metaphor, I think, is that it suggests that
fanfiction is always going to be the same as the original, but weaker.
It's unusual for fanfiction to have the same plot as the original text -
Wide Sargasso Sea,* for example, takes the events of Jane Eyre for
granted, and gains a great deal of its impact from people knowing *JE*,
but that's a very different thing from telling the story of how Joan Bear
went to work as a governess to little Amelie and ended up marrying Mr
Porchester after a brief dalliance with Sinclair Lake....

*I'll keep referring to WSS because people are familiar with it, even if
they haven't read it, and there *is* amateur fanfic that works in a very
similar way, but it's unlikely that more than one person on this list will
have read it.

I suppose I feel like a lot of this thread has criticized people for
ripping off elements of a work *and passing them off as their own*.
Reading a book which is 'derivative' in the sense that it expects the
reader to go "Wow! A thief, a Gay Mage, a warrior and a disguised princess
on a quest for a magical cup - what a brilliant idea for a book!" is very
different from reading a book that *includes* the reader in its play with
conventions (and fanfiction, by definition, does the latter. Usually:
there's a very bad Blake's 7 story on the internet somewhere which is
basically The Monkey's Paw with the characters' names changed to B7
characters' names, and that depends on you not having read The Monkey's
Paw...)

F'rex, I know very little about the Norse Gods, and I didn't understand
8DL for years; I still don't have a clue who the lady in the flames is or
what the ending is about. 8DL depends for its intelligibility, to some
extent [though not all: I still loved it, from first reading, and still
do] on writer and reader knowing the same material. All books/films/TV
shows do, to some extent (you have to be at least roughly familiar with
the conventions of the form to 'get' it): fanfiction's just at the far end
of a spectrum.

And I promised to get this back on topic, didn't I <g>? It doesn't seem as
related to teabags as when I started, but I wonder whether one of the
reasons DWJ is so hard to fanfic is because of the structure of her
sequels/companion novels. The majority of book fanfic seems to come from
series (Harry Potter), or at least places where there's a lot of fictional
source material in the same universe (Lord of the Rings/Silmarillion). And
both of those examples are sort of linear: "and then this happened, and
then this happened..." But even when DWJ *does* write a sequel or a
prequel, it's very turned-around and back-to-front. YoG focusses on a
different set of characters, races and institutions to DLoD: Castle in the
Air has a very different take on/view of Howl and Sophie to HMC; LCC
incorporates all the facts we know from CL, but it's a different 'world',
kind of. I'm not sure quite how to explain it, except that the DWJ 'canon'
isn't really *structured* in such a way as to give an easy 'in' to
fanfiction. There isn't an 'and then... and then...' structure to hook
onto. The other main thing that fanfiction often does is to take minor
characters and use them to comment on the major ones, as in *Wicked* and
*Rosencrantz & Guildenstern* and *WSS*, and you *could* do that - but then
DWJ already builds companion books or sequels or prequels round minor
characters, and she doesn't do it just to comment on the first-published
book. So you have an example of "what to do with minor characters", and
it's not what you want to do. Which means that if you *are* a fan of DWJ,
and thus (presumably) like what she does with her characters and her
worlds and want to emulate it by writing... you sort of can't, because the
only thing you could do would be to write a standalone novel alongside the
others, like Castle in the Air or Year of the Griffin. Which then becomes
plagiarism rather than fanfiction - a different sort of 'derivative'.

Cool, a theory! <g>

That would also explain why most of the DWJ fanfic around is Dalemark, I
suppose: I still haven't read Drowned Ammet & CoD (I got distracted onto a
novel about race riots in Yorkshire and Alice Sebold's rape survivor
memoir: oh yes, I intent to contribute to the "doom and gloom" thread <g>)
so I haven't read any Dalemark fiction yet. So I shouldn't really comment.

Love, Ika

PS: This thread is, paradoxially, making me all the keener to get stuck
into my long-planned, treat-for-after-the-PhD, DWJ fan novella. I have no
idea whether it'll work, but I think it's going to be really interesting
to find out *why* it doesn't work...

-- 
'Marx was right! Capitalism tends inevitably towards monopoly, and rich
people suck!'
- Mo, _Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For_
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