Unless you’ve been living under some kind of literal rock, you have probably heard of fan fiction.
The cultural attitude toward fan fiction has shifted from a childish hobby of greasy nerds living in their mothers’ basements to a practice that has revolutionized the way people interact with their media. But even more than that, works such as E.L. James’ “50 Shades of Grey” has put a spotlight on the hobby like never before.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what constitutes a fan fiction. The Oxford Dictionary defines fan fiction as “fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, film, etc.” From this definition alone, both “Romeo and Juliet” and “Paradise Lost” should be considered fan fiction, since both feature characters not created by the writer themselves. The term itself didn’t really come into popular use until the 1960s, when a term was needed to differentiate unofficial Star Trek fanzines from official material.
There are those that argue fan fiction is inherently less legitimate than other works because the author did not create every component of the story themselves, but I find this to be untrue.
Since the dawn of literature, writers have borrowed characters and even whole worlds from one another to tell their stories. Imagine how different the face of literature would be had the classics not borrowed the plots and characters of the Bible.
The idea of copyright is a relatively new one and would undoubtedly make the great writers of old highly confused.
Many published authors have expressed their dislike of fan fiction, whether of their own work or as a hobby in general. George R. R. Martin, author of the series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which was adapted into the current hit television series “Game of Thrones,” is known for being very vocal against fan fiction of his work. On his blog, “Not a Blog,” he detailed the legal reasons for not supporting his fans in their fan fictions and stresses this is not a view that most writers want to take but must for the sake of protecting their livelihoods. Despite his views, this has not stopped the over 7,000 works on Archive of Our Own alone listed under Game of Thrones.
The other argument against fan fiction is that not as much effort is put into it compared to an official work, which has been looked over and published by an editor. I believe it important to consider this: “The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest” is a Super Smash Brothers fanfic located on fanficiton.net that is not only the world’s longest fanfic at 3,929,194 words, it is the longest piece of fiction in history. This one fanfic is six times longer than “War and Peace” and thirteen times longer than “Ulysses.” A work with 40,000+ words is considered a novel and even that kind of word count takes a considerable amount of time to achieve.
Even those who refuse to see the artistic merit in fan fiction cannot deny the amount of time and care that goes into them, sometimes even rivaling or surpassing the time it takes to create a published work.
The most fascinating part of fan fiction to me is the community.
These are groups of people who spend their free time writing about works and characters simply because they love them. Fanfic writers have to navigate around the same obstacles – jobs, academics, social lives, etc. – as published authors do without any monetary compensation as a motivator. The community keeps itself going without any source of outside intervention or regulation. If creation for the sake of creation itself is not the very definition of art then I don’t know what is.
Fan fiction is not going away anytime soon.
As long as creators make content and fans enjoy that content, it is going to exist. I believe it is time for the literary world to stop pushing back against this growing community of writers and start figuring out how to better embrace them.
After all, in what other form of media would we be able see Severus Snape hunting down zombies with Squidward Tentacles? I’d read that over “The Odyssey” any day.
Rosie Brown is a sophomore prospective journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.