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February 10, 2015

Fanfic at The New Yorker
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM * 74 comments

I feel like I should mark it on my calendar: four days ago, The New Yorker published The True History of Jewish Wizards at Hogwarts by Nathaniel Stein. There’ve been earlier edge cases at the magazine, like their Bill Gibson/Sabermetrics mashup, but all of them have had plausible deniability. Stein’s piece is clearly fanfic. Arguably, it’s self-insertion.

Why does our beloved genre and its epiphenomena keep breaking through into the mainstream? IMO, because we have so many cool toys, and writers have near-zero resistance to them. The privileging of the mainstream was a social construct built around a distribution channel, and Main Street’s been in bad shape for a while now, but there’s nothing theoretical about a case of the plot bunnies. Ask any writer who’s had one. The only way to get rid of a plot bunny, even a disreputably fannish one, is to write it.

Comments on Fanfic at The New Yorker:
#1 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 10:59 AM:

Though if the plot bunny is too small, sometimes it leaves annoying half-stories behind, waiting for a second bunny to breed with.

I consider, too, how many writers have admitted they wrote X because Book Y included things they just had to react to - positive or, more often, negative. Books and writers end up in a huge conversation. That aspect of fandom (fix-fics especially) is the most explicit version of this, in that names aren't changed, but it's a strong enough creative cause to almost deserve a muse unto itself.

#2 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:40 AM:

Lenora Rose writes in #1:

... but it's a strong enough creative cause to almost deserve a muse unto itself.

I disagree. Fanfiction obviously needs to use a muse that already exists, one that somebody else created.

#3 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:52 AM:

I admit that The Big Bang Theory is in the business of mining SF culture for ideas. But still, the 5 February episode, "The Troll Manifestation," marked the first time I recall hearing "fanfiction" used on a broadcast-network TV show. And used it like the audience was already supposed to know what it means. (Though the meaning was also made plain through context.)

Amy Farrah Fowler's friends discover that she writes Little House on the Prairie fanfiction. To her embarrassment, they insist on reading it aloud.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:00 PM:

... And do something hitherto unimagined with that muse, which the fanfic creator thinks is a perfectly logical outgrowth of the original.

Another way to look at it is that reading happens in a provisional headspace that's partly created by the writer of the original work, and partly created by the person who reads it. When the reader also uses that space to think in, fanfic tends to happen.

A lot of processes work that way. I swear, the point at which conventiongoers are likeliest to come up with program ideas is when they're looking at the first-approximation program six weeks before the convention.

#5 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:21 PM:

Possibly also worth noting: The New Yorker has seen fit to review works of fanfic at least as early as April 8, 1944 (The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Ellery Queen). Of course, they used words like "parody" and "pastiche" rather than "fanfic," but there's no question that that's what it is. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were earlier examples; it's a tricky thing to search for, and this is just what I managed to find with a few minutes' effort.

#6 ::: Dave* Twiddy ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:21 PM:

I'm curious to see which major media producers (which movie studio, in particular) will be clever enough to add execs in charge of fanfic. Eventually, somebody will get a clue that fanfic production is a great way to gauge the degree and direction of franchise popularity. It may be this has already happened, and marketing departments are scouring A03 and similar sites. Then the next logical step is to try to shape the force-to quietly commission fanfic in an attempt to astroturf.

#7 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:51 PM:

They already commission official fanfic; tie-in books are really popular and often really good (she says, considering the eight feet of shelf-space taken up by Star Wars expanded universe books).

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:53 PM:

Q. Pheevr: Is a work like The Seven-Percent Solution fanfic or is it a continuation of the canon by a different author?* Is Amis's Colonel Sun (a crappy work, by either Amis's standards or Fleming's) an extension of the Bond canon or a fanfic? What does one call a Holmes story by Stephen King? (Apart, that is, from brilliant.) Laurie King's novels, perhaps, constitute a separate canon since Holmes is a secondary character rather than the protagonist.

Returning to SF/F proper, what do we call the Three Bs Foundation novels? Supercanonical or profanfictional?


*Granted, Nicholas Meyer is such a Holmes fanboy that he made Spock a descendant of the immortal detective.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 12:59 PM:

I'd be really surprised if Supernatural and Teen Wolf don't have people keeping an eye on their fanfic, but I'd also be surprised if it were a formal duty assigned to a full-scale employee. There would be liability issues.

#10 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 01:07 PM:

I'm a bit puzzled by the context of the story: why did Rowling need to confirm that there were Jewish wizards at Hogwarts? I would not have thought that this was ever in doubt, as the books feature a student (Anthony Goldstein) with what seems a manifestly Jewish name.

But on the actual topic: was the word 'fanfic' in use in the 40's? There's no doubt, of course, that transformative fiction, fiction that uses already existing characters and settings, goes back to time immemorial. Transformative fiction done as a labour of love within a fannish community goes back at least to the 1890's with Sherlock Holmes. (Perhaps also Jane Austen? I'm not sure when that started.) But fanfic as a Thing, with its own patterns and conventions, as the basis of a community in its own right, gets going in the 60's (I believe originally with The Man from Uncle, though it was Star Trek that made it big), and that's when it acquires a special connection with SFF. So I'm not sure it's really a matter of our thing becoming mainstream; rather it's something that was always mainstream, but which we have developed in a special way.

#11 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 01:26 PM:

Andrew M @10 It was a direct response to a question asked by a fan on Twitter.

#12 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 01:44 PM:

Ah, OK. But it's still a puzzle why it was reported in the news.

#13 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 01:58 PM:

Andrew @12
Essentially every pronouncement by Rowling regarding Potter is newsworthy, at least by the standards of "a lot of people want to know and will put eyeballs on your site if you post about it."

#14 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 02:00 PM:

Andrew @10: "There's no doubt, of course, that transformative fiction, fiction that uses already existing characters and settings, goes back to time immemorial."

I've argued that the New Testament has a lot of the trappings of Mary Sue fanfic - the protagonist is the offspring of the protagonist from the first book, replaces the first protagonist in terms of function, is Very Good and Widely Loved by the Right People, persecuted by the Bad Guys, and Dies Tragically and Nobly. (The best-selling book in the world, therefore, would be fic!) Greek dramatists also essentially remixed each other's plays a lot, from what I understand. I think that's really cool, though part of that is that I like the image of Aeschylus and company hanging around in a bar going "yeah, well, MY Hera is way more in character than yours!"

#15 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 02:03 PM:

Q. Pheevr @5: I wouldn't be at all surprised if there were earlier examples

Nahum Tate's King Lear?

#16 ::: Dave* Twiddy ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 02:19 PM:

Teresa, #9: That raises the specter of covert Fanfic Stuggles, in which everyone knows the studios are monitoring and interfering in the fanfic communities, but they can't admit it, leading to paranoia and witch hunts as leading fic authors accuse and counteraccuse each other of being secret corp shills.

If I were to write a story about this future cyberpunkish A03, it was would be fanfic fanfic.

#17 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 03:27 PM:

Okay, Dave* Twiddy @ #16 has now earwormed me somehow with "Fanfiction faction, what's your function?" to the tune of Conjunction Junction. Not sure why it happened, but feel that I must share it's awful glory with other people of the word.

#18 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 03:47 PM:

Bill Higgins @ 2: on the one hand, you made me laugh with your comment, on the other - my point is that the creative impulse to make fanfiction isn't really that different from Robin McKinley reading the Sheikh, getting peeved that what looked like a promising girl-centred adventure got derailed into a harem romance (IIRC) and using that anger to write a girl-centred desert-themed adventure. Or Catherynne Valente's rage that so many portal fantasies end with people going home - and wanting to go home from in some cases obviously superior worlds - and using that to drive "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making". or Emma Bull's "Falcon" having some aspects that are an obvious reaction to Alfred Bester's "the Stars My Destination". Or Doyle and Macdonald's admitted desire to refute an aspect of Star Wars AND of Catholic Heresy in their first Mageworlds Trilogy. (And those are the ones I can cite because the writers have admitted to.)

Thus, the Muse's name is almost certainly "Reply", and she is much older than fandom.

(If she were created by the largest fanfiction culture going instead of being a much older and stronger impulse, she'd also almost certainly be a gay male...)

#19 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 04:31 PM:

Was Leigh Brackett's Mars fanfic of Burrough's?

#20 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 04:31 PM:

If she were created by the largest fanfiction culture going instead of being a much older and stronger impulse, she'd also almost certainly be a gay male...

Actually, there are hints of that in the older precursors of fanfic; Achilles and Patroclus are not (at least obviously) lovers in the Iliad, but are in Aeschylus and other ancient fanfic writers.

#21 ::: martin schafer ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 04:45 PM:

#3 "marked the first time I recall hearing "fanfiction" used on a broadcast-network TV show"

I know Willow referred to writing Duggie Hauser fanfic on Buffy. I though that was broadcast as well as cable in our area. But I could be misremembering.

#22 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 07:08 PM:

One of my professors in college talked about how in the early 20th century the movies became what he called the "consensus narrative" of the world, a mantle which television took from them in the 50's. I think we have for the last decade or more been witnessing the breakdown of that consensus narrative. (And sure enough, the current golden age of television auteurs mirrors the 60's and 70's era of the Hollywood indie auteur, freed finally from the shackles of having to be all things to all people, or at least enough to a perceived middlebrow mainstream.) I'm not sure if I think that that breakdown is a new thing or if the consensus narrative is the aberration, first enabled and then destroyed by changing technology.

#23 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 09:17 PM:

The multifandom fanvid "A Different Kind of Love Song" includes clips from more than a dozen shows that have portrayed fanfic, fandom, etc. I remember the West Wing bits about .... was it Lemon Lyman? I don't recognize some of the shows referenced in the vid (about 3min45sec into the video there's a catalog of places the clips come from).

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 10:06 PM:

I really like that, Sumana. Thanks!

#25 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 10:55 PM:

Lenora Rose, #18: Completely tangential to the topic, there's a Poul Anderson short story (the title of which I can't be arsed to look up at the moment) which is a bodyswap portal tale in which the twist at the end is that both characters choose to stay in their swapped places, each one for extremely plausible reasons.

Sumana, #23: That's terrific! I guess the NUMB3RS episode that was set at SDCC doesn't count because it was about fandom, not just side-referencing it. (Although we do find out in the episode that David is a comics geek!)

#26 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:02 PM:

Does this remind anyone else of one of the charming little pieces that Michael Swanwick used to publish in the New York Review of Science Fiction, in which he imagined "seducing" the mainstream into writing a Shared World Anthology?

#27 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:17 PM:

Lee @25: Oh, yes, there were some before Valente wrote that (Diana Wynne Jones has all the versions of one character from multiple parallel worlds get moved one world over, and almost all of them love the change -- though the book's point of view is not that of the portal character and it's at best a side plot), and even one of her favourite examples has a partial inversion of the trope. (The movie Labyrinth, which actually ends with Sara admitting she does need the goblins and her magical friends, even though she's already home, and them popping up in her room.)

#28 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:30 PM:

is the news media just a very big shared world anthology?

#29 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:32 PM:

Too true, even when the "plot bunny" is a rant about something actual.

I just did one of those on the "Viral Archery" nonsense. The Muse was riding me for ages. I tried to put it away, and Bear nudged me. Not my best work, but it had to come out.

Thing is, as Teresa has said, Story happens. It will come out. We are lucky enough to live in an age when people can share them with more than voice, and in one where they can do it with greater broadcast than an APA, or a novel. The barriers to entry are smaller.

Which means it can't be bottled up.

#30 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:44 PM:

Kevin Riggle #22: I would say that consensus narrative is a function of human society; it will show up among any community which has sufficiently wide-band communication to construct it.

#31 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2015, 11:53 PM:

Lenora Rose #18: Or Catherynne Valente's rage that so many portal fantasies end with people going home

In a similar vein, one thing I loved about Wrede's Dealing With Dragons was that the main character does not do the standard Hero's Journey thing of returning home in triumph to Show Everybody how they suceeded despite it all. She's found a nice life for herself, she's sticking with that, and all those would-be rescuers get short shrift.

#32 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 01:27 AM:

Also, #0: Why does our beloved genre and its epiphenomena keep breaking through into the mainstream? IMO, because we have so many cool toys, and writers have near-zero resistance to them. The

OH NOES! THEY R STEALIN' OUR JETPACKS! :-)

#33 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 10:09 AM:

Fragano @8:

Those two words burrowed around in my head and eventually spawned a little something....

Higgledy-piggledy
Bear, Brin, and Benford wrote
Foundation tales after
Asimov died.

Doing profanfiction
Supercanonically
They had permission so
Do not deride.

#34 ::: Arthur Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 10:14 AM:

Fanfic goes back at least to Joseph Andrews.

#35 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 10:49 AM:

August Derleth's Solar Pons stories are clearly fanfic, although set ~ 40 years later than the canon:

Several of the Pontine tales have titles taken from the famous "unrecorded" cases of Holmes which Watson often alluded to, including the matters of "Ricoletti of the Club Foot (and his Abominable Wife)," "The Aluminium Crutch," "The Black Cardinal," and that of "The Politician, the Lighthouse, and the Trained Cormorant."

#36 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 11:42 AM:

Arthur Hlavaty @ 34 . Funny thing, that. I was just going to mention Shamela. In which the Muse's name is distinctly not only Reply, but also WTF Bwahahahaha.

#37 ::: Peter Aronson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 11:49 AM:

All through later antiquity and the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment, people were doing rewrites and continuations of Virgil's work, particularly The Aeneid. There seems to be something particularly about unfinished stories that attracts other writers. I'd be inclined to consider at least some of this fan-fiction.

#38 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 12:15 PM:

The earliest piece of fanfic for a particular text (1) that I know is Robert Henryson's The Testament of Cresseid (approx. 1460-1500), which begins with an explicit reference to Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Earlier things tend to be dependent on a tradition rather than on a specific text - e.g. we call the Aeneid Homer fanfic, but it's really more generally Trojan War fanfic, picking up on a setting in which lots of people had already written poetry, though Homer's was the most lasting.

I think this does make a difference; because modern fanfic is tied to particular texts, it generally respects canon, unless it is explicitly AU, in which case it has to decide what it is being AU about. Older transformative fiction quite cheerfully changes things just because the author likes them better another way.

(1) Except the Bible: but actually that's more RPF, since the authors of Joseph and Asenath, Paul and Thecla etc. presumably believed that their characters really existed.

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 12:44 PM:

JB Woodford #33:

*APPLAUSE*

#40 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 02:01 PM:

Fanfic goes back at least to Joseph Andrews.

There were fanfics of Homer being written in the 7th Century BCE:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclic_Poets

Not to mention Virgil . . .

#41 ::: Harlequin ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 05:22 PM:

I think the concept of fanfic as something separate from other kinds of fiction can't be anything but recent, because the idea of plots and characters belonging to a single author is recent. Most of Shakespeare is a mix of traditional fanfic (rewriting plots and characters of other authors), adaptation, and real-person fiction. Though, as others note above, some other works of the time period and earlier are clearly motivated by the fanfictional impulse that loves the original but wishes it was just a little bit different...(wait, why are there suddenly tentacles flying everywhere?)

There's a giant list of things that are arguably fanfiction here at bookshop's LJ.

Meanwhile, I note that the kind of fanfic the New Yorker chose to publish is distinctly not the most common kind of fanfic, as it 1) is written by a man, 2) contains no romantic relationships, 3) appears to have a healthy sense of irony about the whole business, and 4) displays a dismal lack of knowledge of canon.

#42 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 05:54 PM:

I think the concept of fanfic as something separate from other kinds of fiction can't be anything but recent, because the idea of plots and characters belonging to a single author is recent.

Yes, absolutely. Fanfic as we know it implies the distinction of fanfic and canon. Transformative fiction is ancient, but fanfic is a specific form of it, and relatively new. There are many ways of re-using existing material, and while they have commonalties I think there are real differences between them which shouldn't be lost sight of.

Most of Shakespeare is a mix of traditional fanfic (rewriting plots and characters of other authors), adaptation, and real-person fiction.

I'm doubtful about calling Shakespeare fanfic, because as far as I can see he is generally retelling existing stories, rather than creating new stories with existing characters and settings. (Though I guess A Midsummer Night's Dream could be called Greek myth fanfic. And The Merry Wives of Windsor is an early example of the subgenre in which someone writes fanfic of their own characters - more recently practised by Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card, among others.)

#43 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 06:08 PM:

Harlequin @41: Also, 5) Consists of a simple transposition of an ordinary everyday situation with one thing changed/into a different universe, playing it very straight and with almost no inventive improvisation.

#44 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 06:52 PM:

#10: Man from U.N.C.L.E. is probably the earliest visual-media example, yes, but I'd put Wizard of Oz fandom into the mix as well, and I think that fits chronologically between the rise of Holmesian pastiche/fanfic and the advent of media-based material that U.N.C.L.E. kicked off.

#45 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 08:18 PM:

John C. Bunnell #44: AIUI, Baum's copyrights for The Wizard of Oz basically did not hold in several foreign countries, notably Russia. This resulted in large numbers of "tie-in" novels abroad, some wandering very far afield from canon.

#46 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 09:03 PM:

You know the writers of Supernatural were at least aware of the fan fiction from the episode where the Winchesters discover that they star in a 20-some book series of pulpy novels, which have an active (and slashy) fanfiction community.

Which raises the question, why is it so hard to do this kind of thing without treating fanfic writers as lonely, pathetic, undersexed or oversexed? On Supernatural at least it just looked like bad business to mock their most passionate fans, though I wouldn't blame the writers for being a bit creeped out by the fandom.

I did really enjoy Rainbow Rowell's mainstream YA novel Fangirl, whose protagonist is a fanfic writer dealing with anxiety and family problems; her fan writing is treated as something valuable and helpful to her, not something pathetic.

#47 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 09:20 PM:

I believe the current Ms. Marvel is a fanfic writer, except in her world it's RPF; also, to complicate matters, she herself is a superheroine.

#48 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2015, 10:23 PM:

Around December last year I realized Santa Claus is fanfic.

#49 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2015, 05:47 PM:

Sarah:
It's RPF, likely based on the published comics exploits of the persons in question, which are, in-context, considered to be accurate enough to serve as evidence in court. (She-Hulk V1 #2 -- notably, this would an exception to the hearsay rule).

#50 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2015, 09:04 PM:

And to clarify BSD #49, it's previously been established that the Marvel Comic Universe itself (at least, the main Earthly timeline) contains comic books chronicling the actual superheros of that world.

#51 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2015, 11:16 PM:

For values of "previously" equal to decades of real-world time. (Three decades at least, maybe as many as five.)

#52 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2015, 07:37 AM:

David Goldfarb #51: Hmm. I thought it was my college years (late 80s-early 90s), that they did a miniseries purporting to be in-universe comics, featuring "real people dealing with superheroes, instead of the usual focus on the supers". However, that was about the time I gave up on comics due to expense.

#53 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2015, 11:11 PM:

Random trivia: Fanfiction.net is in the top 100 websites in the world based on traffic. At times, I've seen it in the top ten.

#54 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2015, 12:00 AM:

Rea @40:

Can there really be fanfic prior to concepts of copyright and exclusive authorship? Prior to printed book publication and wider literacy, weren't most stories part of an oral tradition which was modified by each performer? And weren't written narratives regarded in much the same way, modified by each copyist without second thoughts? Certainly the many many versions of the New Testament would argue that this is so.

If a concept of fanfic requires a widely adopted concept of exclusive authorship and copyright, then there can't really be fanfic prior to the 18th century. Without a "canon", you can't have a "fanfic" in other words.

Of course, one can make pretty good arguments the other way.

#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2015, 02:37 AM:

Josh Berkus @54

Cultures vary. Islam has a rather more strict attitude to the actual Qu'ran than Christianity has to the Bible: only the original language counts. It's arguable that some parts of the New Testament are fanfics—The Book of Revelation could be seen that way—and every religion seems to attract people who think they know the characters better than the original writers.

The patterns are there. There are deep divisions based on the significance of divergent texts and interpretations. Some developed to open warfare. The Bible has the Apocrypha, and there are surviving fragments of early texts. If the Apostles had had web pages, you can imagine what the various Letters would have become.

And why are there four Gospels? It's almost as if all we know of Star Trek is a selection of fanfic.

#56 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2015, 05:29 AM:

Josh Berkus @54

I think there can be fanfic without authorship rights. I think a distinction can be made between retelling a story with modifications to fit the tellers situation, versus telling a different story using elements from the cannon.

As an example, compare Disney's "Cinderella" and T. Kingfisher's "The Dryad's Shoe". Both are based on a classic folk tale of unknown (and unknowable) authorship, both are clearly in the "voice" of the current author (Disney and T. Kingfisher respectively), but where I would say that Disney's version is a retelling and not fanfic, I can see T. Kingfisher's version as fanfic.

One of the major reasons why is that T. Kingfisher subverts the customary narrative. She uses a familiar setting and characters, complete with internal story pressures to force it along the familiar narrative, but the characters have their own motivations which allow them to escape that narrative and get what they really want, not what the traditional story gets them.

Or for a more transformative example, consider Sondheim's "Into the Woods", which combines characters, elements, and other bits and pieces from several classic fairy tales. If it isn't fanfic, why not?

#57 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2015, 07:25 AM:

Buddha Buck #56: I think there can be fanfic without authorship rights. I think a distinction can be made between retelling a story with modifications to fit the tellers situation, versus telling a different story using elements from the cannon.

"Into the Woods", which combines characters, elements, and other bits and pieces from several classic fairy tales. If it isn't fanfic, why not?

Because you're begging the question about the authorship thing? I'd say it's not fanfic because the material it's based on lacks the expectation of authorial/content-owner control. I find myself wondering how the ancient Greek playwrights, who clearly did have some sense of "authorial ownership", handled modifications of their work ranging out to plagarism.

And it's not just about authorship, either: If you go back far enough, the very idea of an immutable "received text" gets progressively more iffy. Yes, oral tradition can involve huge memorizations, but text constancy becomes much more practical with writing. Even then, it's not necessarily easy.

#58 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 01:35 AM:

Dave Bell @55

Exactly! The New Testament reads so much like an AO3 collection out of context, it's probably the best argument there is for "fanfic before copyright". Now, the Tanakh (Old Testament to you goyim) did have a strong "canon" tradition. But the Gospels are not fanfic of the Tanakh, at all.

On the other hand, if we look at received and reinvented oral tradition as the historical norm (which it is, by count of years), and exclusive authorship as a recent aberration, "fanfic" is the majority creative process. Discuss, with examples. ;-)

Buddha Buck @56

I would say that Disney's version is a retelling and not fanfic, I can see T. Kingfisher's version as fanfic.

Why? That seems quite arbitrary.

#59 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 08:37 AM:

Me #57, addendum: text constancy becomes much more practical with writing.

... oh yes, and printing as well. Cuts the mutation rate way down.

#60 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 08:55 AM:

David Harmon @59: except that it introduces transmissible typoes as a new method of mutation. One of the ways of tracking ancestry for early printed books is when an accidental typo in Edition A gets copied verbatim when the type is set for Edition Q, and then you know that all the ones with that precise error are descendants.

Sometimes it's not even a typesetting error originally, but an inksmudge changing what the letter looks like, etc. And occasionally printers hypercorrected something that shouldn't'a oughta been corrected, again making something that can be passed down through later verbatim transmission.

Sort of the type version of the game of Telephone (which, of course, already existed in people learning things orally and passing down what they thought they heard/learned).

#61 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 09:55 AM:

Elliott Mason #60: Errors in handwritten text are nearly as transmissible, more likely to change meaning (without being obvious) and surely far more common.

#62 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 01:09 PM:

Elliott Mason @60: you remind me of the famous story of Samuel R. Delany and Terry Carr. Delany's story "Time Considered as a Helix of Semiprecious Stones" had a typo in the first word so it was printed as "Day ordinate and abscissa on the century." Delany tried to change it for the publication in Wollheim and Carr's The World's Best Science Fiction: 1969. Terry changed it back because he knew how that story began.

As Mark Twain said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.”

#63 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 01:31 PM:

A fanvid I love that implicitly discusses remakes, wonder, and history of Western visual scifi: "It's Still Science Fiction to Me" (vid notes).

#64 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 01:33 PM:

Lee @#25: not sure I understand what you mean about that particular television episode not counting.

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 03:11 PM:

Sumana, #64: Let me unpack that a bit more. There was a NUMB3RS episode which was set at SDCC and revolved around the attempt to steal a particularly valuable artifact, and I was hoping to see a clip or two from that in the vid. But then I thought more about it, and I realized that if the purpose of the vid was to celebrate the casual side-references to fandom and geekiness in everyday pop culture, then that episode didn't really fit the theme.

There was another NUMB3RS episode which revolved around a MMORPG game with some LARP elements (which was cool, not least because they took some care to display the diversity of people who played the game, ranging from Charlie's girlfriend Amita to a lively grandmother), but it would also not have fit the theme of the vid, for the same reason.

#66 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 04:24 PM:

I'd also note that I don't think the maker of the "Different Kind of Love Song" vid was particularly aiming to be comprehensive. :)

I suggest you make a vid to celebrate the stuff you love! You could include those clips from NUMB3RS!

#67 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 04:49 PM:

Been a while since I did this. Let's see...

Harry Potter fanfics at fanfiction dot net: 700,000, more or less. (The main page and the filter function show different totals, but bugs are a tradition at the Pit.)
Just in English: A bit over half a million.
Completed: A bit over a quarter of a million.
Novel-length (over 100,000 words): About 3,500.

That's 3,500 Harry Potter novels written by fans, in English alone, at one site.

(About half of these, BTW, are rated Mature.)

#68 ::: Inquisitive Raven ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 05:39 PM:

Does anyone have any idea why FFN is called the "Pit of Voles"? I can maybe hazard a guess about it being called a "pit," but why "voles"?

#69 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 05:48 PM:

@Inquisitive Raven no. 68: Because of a remark by someone whose name I have lost down the memory hole that if infinite monkeys given infinite typewriters will eventually accidentally produce Macbeth, then whatever lurks at fanfiction dot net ain't monkeys.

#70 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 06:20 PM:

Urban Dictionary claims that the term was coined on the Television Without Pity forums after ff.net banned "adult" content in the fic posted there.

#71 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 06:31 PM:

Sumana, #66: Well, aside from the fact that what I know about making fanvids could be inscribed on the head of a pin and have enough room left for the OED. :-)

Seriously, I deeply admire those who can do it; I can recognize good editing when I see it. I cannot imagine myself ever being able to do it. My skills lie elsewhere.

#72 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2015, 09:58 PM:

#16 ::: Dave* Twiddy, I feel like Melissa Scott has written this.

#73 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2015, 11:56 AM:

And then there was the recent episode of "Sesame Street" with an opening skit about NumeriCon, featuring characters (and cosplay thereof) such as The Dark Nine, Doctor Two ("Ennumerate!!!"), Fiverine, and Cap-Ten Kirk.

And Cookie Monster's movie spoofs "Lord of the Crumbs" and "Star S'Mores". Can't wait for Grover's "Game of Chairs" in April.

#74 ::: Dave* Twiddy ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2015, 09:17 AM:

"The Lockhorns" made a reference to fanfiction today: http://joshreads.com/?p=24101 (last strip mentioned)

So the idea has definitely leaked out to Middle America.

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