Fandom and fan fiction

We did it! This week, Chris and I finally finished all seven books of the Harry Potter series. For the last six months or so we’ve been immersed, listening to the audiobooks during car rides and at the breakfast table, and watching the films. Now that it’s over, I feel the same confluence of emotions that I felt after closing the cover of last book for the first time. On the one hand, deflation. What in the world do I read after Harry Potter? On the other hand, reverberation. A good story sticks with you, but a great story is a world you want to continue exploring—in all directions, at all depths—long after the last word was read. In other words, a great story inspires fandom, and in that regard, Harry Potter is one of the greatest.

There’s been some wonder about what it is that makes Harry Potter so popular. What’s not up for debate is that the Harry Potter franchise is worth at least $25 billion. While this doesn’t touch the $41 billion of Star Wars, the popular consumption of both series are remarkable similar. Each are embodied in books, films, toys, theme parks, fan clubs and fan fiction. Each are conduits for a great expanse of emotional resonance—love, joy, fear, hope, hurt, compassion, grief, thrill.

As Chris and I excitedly make plans to visit Universal Studios’ The Wizarding World of Harry Potter the next time we’re in L.A., I’m reminded of the days (during high school) when my Harry Potter fandom found satisfaction through much more unofficial means: fan fiction.

I didn’t know it back in high school, but recently I was intrigued to discover that the production and consumption of fan fiction has always been dominated by women. It turns out, back in the late 60s and early 70s, when fan fiction was first widely popularized surrounding the Star Trek series, women represented as many as 90% of fan fiction authors. Today, FanFiction.net estimates that 78% of its users are female. Pamela Kalinowski examines why this is true in her article, The Fairest of Them All: The Creative Interests of Female Fan Fiction Writers and the Fair Use Doctrine. She posits that women in particular are motivated to broaden the scope of the original material we admire with examinations of more closely personal issues, all the while maintaining the framework that gives us a sense of belonging to a community. In other words, when a great story comes our way, a story that we relate to, that moves us, and for which our enthusiasm finds solidarity in others, we want to keep using the original source material to practice the kind of empathy it originally inspired in us, and we want to share that empathic and imaginative exercise with others.

What are other motivations? One, I think, is a combination of curiosity and nostalgia. Fan fiction, like spin-offs, explore histories, subplots, and tangents—just last year the play The Cursed Child and the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were added to the Harry Potter saga. Another motivation is to take advantage of an established framework within which to explore new ideas—my personal favorite of this kind of fan fiction is by far Elizer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

And finally, sex. There’s little research quantifying the kinds of fan fiction that are out there, but a simple Google search will reveal a culture and quantity of erotic fan fiction that is well-established and not hard to find. (Intrigued? Check out: adult-fanfiction.net.) E.L. James’ erotic fan fiction of the Twilight series was so popular that it was sold to a major publisher (characters’ names were changed) and published as its own series: Fifty Shades of Grey, which carried its weight as a franchise—movies, merchandise, and all.

I’m just as entrenched as anyone, unwilling to let go of stories and worlds that have helped me discover who I am. I realize that I’m lucky to have had to opportunity to relive Harry Potter over again as an adult, and though I’m sad this second time around is over, I feel closer to Chris because of it, and I’m already thinking about how excited I am to share it with my children. All I can think to say are the words of a fan: thank you, J.K.R., for your mentorship and imagination.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 03/13/2017.

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8 Responses to Fandom and fan fiction

  1. Liz says:

    Wait? 50 Shades of Grey morphed from Twilight? Huh. This I did not know. You’re a good writer 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Amanda, I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter too, currently on my third run-through of the audiobooks (Narrated by Stephen Fry).
    I’ve been listening at work, keeping my mind active during a monotonous job… I think I need a new job lol. I also listened to a couple of Stephen Hawking books and Papillon in the last couple of weeks and would recommend them all.

    Whilst browsing for an interesting audiobook, or 10, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful face I kind of recognised…

    Oh yeah, I remember, its that’s girl that was stitched-up in Italy (at this point I remembered back, thinking it was obvious you were both in severe shock in the tabloid photos and how awful the British tabloid headlines were; I remembered feeling so angry about the press coverage at the time but didn’t recall much after 2007). So I bought the audiobook.

    I’ve been in a very emotional state since listening to it, I cried through most of it to be honest, and now, well I’m in a strange place. I feel a sense of loss, anger and shock; but above all, I feel real love for you.

    It is beyond words what they did to you both, I can only image how awful it must have been for you. I hope with all my heart that you can be strong and ignore the hateful comments and threats that you still have to endure. (Some people are just ignorant, horrible and twisted).

    You are an amazingly articulate, beautiful woman with an equally beautiful mind.
    I love your writing style, content and prose. And of course, your wonderful accent!

    I hope the future brings good things…

    All my love, from the UK.

    Nick.

    Still I Rise – Poem by Maya Angelou

    You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may tread me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

    Does my sassiness upset you?
    Why are you beset with gloom?
    ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
    Pumping in my living room.

    Just like moons and like suns,
    With the certainty of tides,
    Just like hopes springing high,
    Still I’ll rise.

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
    Weakened by my soulful cries.

    Does my haughtiness offend you?
    Don’t you take it awful hard
    ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
    Diggin’ in my own back yard.

    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    You may kill me with your hatefulness,
    But still, like air, I’ll rise.

    Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?

    Out of the huts of history’s shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.

    • Tom Zupancic says:

      Anonymous says…

      Setting the passions of Harry Potter fans aside, as well as the painful history of injustice here, that poem, Still I Rise by Maya Angelou… was perfect. So perfect it deserves to be repeated:

      You may write me down in history
      With your bitter, twisted lies,
      You may tread me in the very dirt
      But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

      Does my sassiness upset you?
      Why are you beset with gloom?
      ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
      Pumping in my living room.

      Just like moons and like suns,
      With the certainty of tides,
      Just like hopes springing high,
      Still I’ll rise.

      Did you want to see me broken?
      Bowed head and lowered eyes?
      Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
      Weakened by my soulful cries.

      Does my haughtiness offend you?
      Don’t you take it awful hard
      ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
      Diggin’ in my own back yard.

      You may shoot me with your words,
      You may cut me with your eyes,
      You may kill me with your hatefulness,
      But still, like air, I’ll rise.

      Does my sexiness upset you?
      Does it come as a surprise
      That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
      At the meeting of my thighs?

      Out of the huts of history’s shame
      I rise

      Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
      I rise

      I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
      Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
      Leaving behind nights of terror and fea
      I rise

      Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
      I rise

      Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
      I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
      I rise
      I rise
      I rise.

  3. Tom Mininger says:

    The original “Star Trek” series struggled to survive throughout its 3 season life (66-69), requiring letter writing campaigns from the original fans. It’s popularity exploded in syndication. I fell in love with it at 14 in 72. And ever since elementary school it’s been fun sharing favorite “Twilight Zone” episode scrutiny with others.

    When it comes to fan fiction, genetically engineered humans resonate in my imagination. Rachel in “Blade Runner” and the kids in the 1st season of “Dark Angel” inspire me to imagine stories of manufactured souls trapped in an assortment of compounds with creators and handlers of various temperaments, escape triggered for different reasons. Strangers in our strange land acting more human than humans. Maybe because I’m fascinated with all the vast potential, dangers, and dilemmas of real world genetic engineering.

    I’m scanning Eliezer Yudkowsky’s chapters. Clearly a labor of love.

    • Stephane G says:

      Fan fiction is common in cinema but most often ends up with questionable sequels that fail to capture the spirit, the originality or the beauty (the uniqueness, in fact) of the original work. I can’t think of a prequel / sequel that did not disappoint me, for that matter. And since you mentioned Blade runner, which is definitely one of my favorite films, and in spite of the few promising images I could see from B.R. 2049, I can’t help but doubt that it will do justice to P.K. Dick and R. Scott’s original work. I’ll see for myself but I do not have great expectations, here…

      In fact, and though his work was widely considered controversial (since he introduced some kind of Christian background and “good vs evil” duality in the “Cthulhu Mythos”), I think the most satisfying fan fiction work I could read, IMHO, was the development of Lovecraft’s world by August Derleth and by the Lovecraft Circle in general.

  4. Tom Zupancic says:

    Just a brief comment regarding Harry Potter, Amanda, you are not unique. Back about 10 years ago I was looking for somebody who could do DNA in my lab, and I met this University of Chicago grad who talked their way in to my lab. Forget that I ended up teaching her DNA. Point is, she actually, previously, went to Scotland to ‘experience’ Harry Potter. She explained a bunch of this to me, and I kind of got bits of it. (It was all good because she learned my DNA stuff and was actually quite amazing in the lab).

    Nevertheless, I kind of get it.

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