Friday, April 20, 2012

Opinions on Fan Fiction

            Like most denizens of the internet, I cringe whenever I come across the words “fan fiction.”  That phrase conjures up images of poorly written adventures and anatomically erroneous erotica.  And, quite frankly, a majority of fan fiction falls into one of those two categories.  But then again, so does a majority of fiction in general.  I was thinking about writing a post on fan fiction, prompted by the release of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  I ran into a problem from the outset: I couldn’t define fan-fiction.  I tried.  My first definition was “a work of fiction that is based on and uses the characters from one or more previously existing sources.” 
            This was a seemingly fit catch-all until I thought of Jason Bourne.  I haven’t read any of the novels written after Ludlum’s death, but there have been several.  Are they fan-fiction?  It certainly fits the definition.  As do the post-Flemming James Bond novels.  And the Star Wars novels.  So I changed my definition to require works to be non-canon.  Then I thought of Tom Stoppard.
            Tom Stoppard wrote a play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which was adapted into a great film starring Timothy Roth and Gary Oldman), which uses only characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Clearly this fell into my new definition for fan fiction.  I also recently read a very funny book by Christopher Moore called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, which uses biblical characters in the setting of ancient Jerusalem.  If that’s fan-fiction, so is Milton’s Paradise Lost.  How can I justify being against something when I can’t even define what it is I’m supposed to be against? 
            As I tried to reconcile my gut feelings with my rationality, I started considering another aspect: story.  James Joyce’s Ulysses adapts the Odyssey to be about an average person, all the obstacles are changed from fantastic to mundane.  If using a pre-existing character in a new storyline is fan fiction, is using a pre-existing storyline with a new character also fan fiction?  I don’t know. 
            Is there a lot of shitty fan-fiction out there?  Sure.  But I think it’s worth wading through the oceans of crap to find the half-digested piece of corn that is a good story (and that’s officially the grossest metaphor I’ve ever written).

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