4. The Age
January 5, 2004
Shows such as Star Trek, left, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right, have spawned fans who write their own adaptations on the web.
Fans of successful stories fancy writing, too, but their adaptations are causing angst, reports Helen Razer.
In the marketing milli-second that parts the latest Harry Potter book from an impending Harry Potter movie, lunch box or confectionery range, J. K. Rowling's mass audience has found a way to amuse itself. Hungry for Hogwarts, and always eager to follow fresh narratives, addicts of Harry have found a way to take the edge off: they simply create new stories themselves.
Explore the internet or dive into 'zine culture and you'll discover more than 100,000 pieces that employ the characters and settings founded by Rowling in her HP series. Some of the work is stunning, much of it is drivel, and all of it risks inspiring the fury of Warner Brothers and Harry's other trademark holders.
Despite a threat of legal notices and continued aloofness by the more upright literary community, this work is flourishing. HP-inspired fiction has even given rise to its own stars, some of whom rival Rowlings's own talent for rococo prose and colossal word count. These exuberant HP writers are the latest heirs to a literary tradition known as fan fiction, or fanfic. The genre is staffed by fans of a specific book, television show or movie. Using established characters and surroundings, writers arm themselves with a healthy sense of creative entitlement and let it rip.
Novel-length fanfics, or shorter fanficlets, take their inspiration from a smorgasbord of artefacts. Jane Austen's heroine, Elizabeth Darcy, nee Bennett, can be heard quarrelling sullenly with her dull new husband. The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man needs a pacemaker for his hurtling heart. TV's protagonists, from A Country Practice to Buffy, each find themselves radically adjusted as per the needs of their most avid, literate, fans.
With the mid-'90s advent of no-cost publishing for internet users, fanfic accelerated. Homages appeared in such volume that some authors and owners of intellectual assets took exception. Anne Rice, creator of The Vampire Chronicles, famously wrote on her website in 2000 that the practice of fanfic "upsets me terribly". Her howl, reportedly backed by a volley of "cease and desist" emails from lawyers to fanfic authors, did not endear her to fans.
These fandoms predate the world wide web by at least 20 years. Dean Kiley, teacher of new media production at Swinburne University, traces the origins of fanfic to the mid-20th century embrace of the mimeograph machine. "The 'zine, the do-it-yourself, deliberately-crude, thrown-together, these-are-my-obsessions-what-are-yours personalised magazine revealed a lively consumer eager to dismember mass culture and might be viewed as fanfic's direct ancestor."
The unruly genre had its formative blast in the late '60s. Not only did the US sci-fi program Star Trek give rise to a slew of convention-hoppers wearing red pyjamas, it gave an army of fans something to write about. Star Trek fanfictions, which continue to appear, spawned another sub-genre early on. The literary form Kirk-Spock depicted the captain and his ensign in romantic or erotic situations and is abbreviated to K/S.
The "slash" within K/S is now used to describe any fanfic that describes homoerotic encounters. Slash fiction now arguably forms the bulk of all published fanfic. Slash, it should be noted, is not tatty porn. Much of its coy tone owes more to mid-century bodice-ripper novels than, for example, the Letters page in Penthouse. Further, its more eminent exponents write with precision and confidence. Slash has a canon and a system of mentorship, or "beta reading", that ought to inspire envy in any emerging novelist.
The curious thing about slash is that women write most of it. Tens of thousands of heterosexual female writers give their creative energies to love stories figuring Mulder and Skinner from The X Files; Steve and Oscar from The Six Million Dollar Man, and even Dr Who with heavens knows what sort of male alien.
British academic and slash author Ika Willis is hesitant to pinpoint a single reason for feminine command of the genre. "Slash writing is probably predominantly female for the same reasons that most low-status, amateur creative activities are," Willis says. "There is a tradition of women's creative work, like quilting, being circulated in informal communities rather than entering the art market."
Kiley agrees that the "comparative lack of commercial pressures and professionalising constrictions" enable female authors to "feel empowered to write in more personal ways". How does Willis explain her own passion for erotically pairing male characters Blake and Avon, from BBC schlock sci-fi series Blakes 7? "When writing male erotic fiction, women have a much less defined metaphorical system," she says. "None of us knows what it's like to have a penis, so we have to explain how it feels in its context, what the emotional side to it is.
"It's really freeing, both as a female reader, because you're not always being put off by reactions like 'I hate when people touch me there!' and as a writer, because you're much freer to create your own sexual language."
Melbourne slash mentor Nova says material by women writers "is about male relationships, as much as it's about sex . . . One aims to evoke familiar sexual and emotional responses by means of an alien body within a borrowed story".
Whether it's Kirk nibbling on Spock's pointy ear or a more G-rated excursion with Harry, the fanfic just keeps coming.
Countless unauthorised authors of all ages are modifying their favourite cultural objects to suit.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.