There’s a lot that’s sensible about Ewan Morrison’s much-linked-to Guardian piece about the history of fanfic. It’s nice to see people being reminded that fanfic isn’t some dark perversion that began with the Internet—that activities recognizable as “fanfic” have been happening since the eighteenth century, if not before. (Yes oh yes even before that, Grail folklore, Shakespeare/Holinshead, etc etc yes yes.) But the section on fanfic in early SF fandom is full of nonsense, so much so as to call the rest of the article into question. Morrison’s assertion that “from the 1930s to 50s fanfic existed almost exclusively within the sci-fi communities, in clubs such as the Futurians (1937-1945)” is entirely indefensible: what, the Sherlockians and other non-SF hobby groups simply stopped committing fanfic from 1930 to 1960? Even more to the point, most of what got called “fanfic” in early SF fanzines was simply straightforward amateur SF, not amateur fiction written with-or-in some professionally-published author’s characters or universe. Morrison also says that “many fans from such groups, such as Isaac Asimov, went on to become published authors, blurring the distinction between amateur fan and professional writer,” which makes as much sense as claiming that when a carpenter learns to play the violin, it blurs the distinction between carpenters and violinists. Then we have this:
In 1952, the world’s first book of fanfic about fans appeared. The Enchanted Duplicator by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw was a metafiction based on Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, but which described a world populated with sci-fi fans. It chronicles the adventures of hero Jophan in “the land of Mundane”. All of the characters in the book are renamed versions of real fans from the London SF circle of the 50s and the book was created entirely for their pleasure.Where Morrison got this last bit I certainly don’t know, but it’s nonsense. Some of the characters in The Enchanted Duplicator are clearly based on real people—Willis said on more than one occasion, including to me, that “Profan” was substantially based on Eric Frank Russell—but they aren’t limited to members of the London Circle. In fact Willis and Shaw both lived in Belfast and, while they’d visited London fandom, they had as many (or more) connections with fandom in the US as with fans in Britain. There is no basis at all for claiming that “all of the characters in the book are renamed versions of real fans,” and the work was certainly not created “entirely for [the] pleasure” of London Circle fans. Finally, as about five seconds with the Google could have informed Morrison, Willis and Shaw disclaimed the connection to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which neither of them had read at the time; Willis wrote in 1965 that it “arose out of a conversation…about a radio play by Louis MacNeice based on the quotation ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.’” This kind of complete garbling of well-documented history—at a rate of roughly one error per sentence—suggests that the rest of Morrison’s article should be taken, at the very least, with a big grain of salt.