In this month’s edition of BULL magazine (the University of Sydney Union Publication), the cover feature is on Slash Fan-Fiction.
I eagerly grabbed a copy, and looked forward to reading it. After all, fan-fiction and fan culture is my passion. I was left…disappointed by the article. They quoted random fics (including one based around mpreg – what a way to alienate people from the beginning), and skimmed over a range of points without actually ever making one solid point about fanfiction and fandom. I think part of the problem was that it was written by someone who was not interested in fandom herself. When you have an ambivalent observer, the end result is only ever going to be sub-par.
In my 2012 Extension 2 Piece, titled “A Story We Enjoy To Tell”, I wrote about fan-fiction from a purely literary perspective. From my background in fandom, I wanted to write a piece that focused on the idea that not everyone writes or reads slash because they belong to the LBQTI community, or because they fetishise homosexuality (two reasons often thrown around), but sometimes because they see a slash pairing as a legitimate literary criticism to the canonical work.
On Draco and Harry’s relationship, I wrote:
He had always hated Draco Malfoy – or hated the Draco Malfoy that the other boy had pretended to be. Maybe what he had really hated was the feeling of falseness he had always sensed in Draco, that sneering, arrogant, insufferable attitude that had constantly frustrated him because he also felt that there was something underneath it all that he wanted to know, but was never allowed to see.
Reader Response criticism argues that a text has no meaning until interpreted, and so to writers such as Naadi, an interpretation like the one presented here through Fan-fiction has given the text meaning. They are defining the relationship between Draco and Harry by presenting their own views of the tensions between the characters. The popularity of the fic then validates this interpretation as it shows it is a conclusion that was reached by many other responders.”
This is just one excerpt from my 5,000 word essay on the topic, which examined the relationship shared by Draco and Harry through three different fan-fics (Beautiful World, Checkmate, and Underwater Light, in case you’re interested) and the idea that (at least one of) the pair suffer from depression.
My essay was simply an eighteen year old’s (very) average attempt at trying to delve into the deeper side of fan-fiction. But while I love reading mindless fan-fiction as much as the next fangirl, I can’t help but find the whole phenomenon fascinating. I explored it for my project because I was not content with the idea that people wrote fanfic just because. Just like I went searching for fics that would fit the holes I found in the text, I realised that others wrote for the exact same reason.
And I believe that’s the main point the BULL article completely missed. Fan-fiction is not something written just because “some simply wish to play”, or for “the appeal or a welcoming community”, or even “about challenging patriarchal authority in popular texts”, which are the final three reasons the article gives (although, to be fair, they state that “there is no comprehensive explanation for why people write slash”). As Sheenah Pugh, a wonderful academic I studied for my project, states, fan-fiction authors “all started as readers who were not content simply to consume the fiction put before them…rather they wanted to…fix what they felt to be wrong with it”
Fan-fiction is a brilliant literary technique, and deserves to be treated as such.
While there are some shockingly bad fics out there, there are also novel length works of amazingness that tear open the characterisation and ideas of the original text and leave us with wonderful new revelations and results. And yes, some fan-fiction is written just for the sake of having fun, but I am increasingly seeing stories written to fix the original text. As John Green states, Books Belong To Their Readers. I am a huge believer in the death of the author, and the fact that once a literary work is given to the world the original author no longer owns the story or characters. What they wrote stands as canon, but nothing angers me more than when an author speaks out against fan-fiction written with “their” characters. The characters belong to the world, and the world is free to do with them as they see fit.
And if that includes putting Harry and Draco in a relationship, then so be it (and let’s face it, all the canonical literary evidence points towards that end anyway – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, anyone?!).
While I am glad the BULL saw fit to give slash a cover, I wish they had explored it in a better way. Fan-Fiction, and especially slash-fic, is a brilliant device to explore characterisation and truly explore a fictional world. Not all fic is mindless porn; my favourite ever fic, If You’ve A Ready Mind is so brilliant that it had me laughing, crying, and squealing with joy. Fic has the power to reach people in a way that traditional literature sometimes fails to do.
As I explored in my project, writers often use Reception Theory (which falls under the umbrella of Reader-Response criticism) to project their own real life experiences onto the characters. As hard as a grown adult tries, they don’t always get the reactions of their teenage characters exactly right, and so it is up to us, as the teenage/young adult audience, to fix what we see fit. We can fix behaviours, relationships, personalities…all based on what we’ve experienced in the actual world. One of my personal readings of Harry Potter is that Harry was obviously deeply depressed. As someone who has suffered from depression myself, I see depression as the obvious response to his struggles throughout the series. And this reading is one that is seen strongly throughout fan-fiction. In Beautiful World, it is written:
“He didn’t know if he could particularly handle being the hero everyone assumed him to be. Honestly, he wasn’t all that brave; he was scared out of his mind. What sort of hero was terrified of waking up in the morning? What sort of hero secretly wished never to wake up because at least sleeping was real?”
Harry was only ever the hero in the story, but fan-fiction puts the power in our hands. The power to play with the emotions of characters as we see fit, sometimes for fun, and sometimes to make them more realistic and relatable.
Fan-fiction is one of the wonders of the literary world, and I suppose that’s why it’s endured so many decades, and only continues to grow.
The literary power of Fan-Fiction is immense, and it’s time we turned away from popular writing about (especially slash) fic as a novelty, and start to explore the true potential it puts into our hands.
You can read the article on page 17 of the issue of BULL pictured above, which is available for free on campus at Sydney Uni, or online here.
frangipani princess xoxo
ps. My friend Dominique, who I met through my adventures with Jedward, is doing her final year University art project on fan-culture. She’s blogging about the journey, and makes some brilliant observations (again, in a way I wish BULL had) about the phenomenon. Check it out!