By Arati Nair:
When Severus Snape keeled over at the end of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, I shed a tear or two for the untimely demise of yet another tragic hero, reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Honestly, would it have been too much trouble for a Potions Master to carry an antidote? As with most characters pining for lost love, Snape and Carton suffered even in penance, and ultimately succumbed to the whims of their respective creators.
The tragedy of Snape’s death, though along stereotypical lines and essential for the plot, drove me to look for avenues that explored the various nuances of his character. It was then that I stumbled into the universe of fan-fiction. And boy, what a universe indeed!
Fan-fiction, as the name suggests, is fiction written by fans in line with the original premise of the story. Copyright laws are blurry with regard to it, and most fan-fiction websites provide a disclaimer anyway. Its modern form became popular with the Star Trek fanworks in the 1960s. Literary license allows writers to venture into plotlines left unfinished or unexplored by the original author, attribute fresh traits to the protagonists and even fabricate romance where none exists in canon.
This usually ranges from the fairly palatable romantic tropes like Bella/Jacob from Twilight to the nausea-inducing McGonagall/Harry stories from Harry Potter. To further pan out their tales, many have dived headfirst into the realm of crossover fiction, involving characters from more than one fandom. For a reader of this genre, Dumbledore visiting The Shire, or Edward Cullen attending Hogwarts are all possible scenarios.
The wild imagination of the masses knows no bounds as evident by the zillion varied, often bizarre fan-fics (or simply fics) churned out on the internet daily. ‘Star Trek’, ‘The X-Files’, ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, ‘Batman’, ‘Lord Of The Rings’, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, One Direction and even Bollywood all have their unique niche in this alternate retelling of actual fiction.
The Mishmash Of Wheat And Chaff
The quality of works, however, takes a beating with many amateurs going overboard to vent their frustration with a franchise, rather than delivering good stories. As a result, fics have attained infamy as memoirs of wannabe teenage celebrities for their lousy literary quality, poor grammar, unhealthy porn fixation, and over-emphasis on emotional diatribes. Many cringe-worthy stories like My Immortal (arguably the worst fic ever written, it resembles a train wreck in slow motion, choke-full of nonsense, compelling the reader to plod along and earning a bad name for fan-fics in the process) depict how typing in a drunken stupor does not produce a good fic. Even more irritating is when the author self-inserts himself/herself as a character into the story universe with everyone else suddenly falling head over heels in love with him/her. A prime example of such travesty is the aforementioned fic.
With very few diamonds in the rough, fan-fiction as pop culture though, is not always bad. E.L. James’ New York Times bestseller trilogy, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey‘, started out as an online Twilight fic, featuring Edward and Bella in a BDSM relationship. In the published version, James changed the name of the protagonists to Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Anna Todd’s story series ‘After‘ was first posted on Wattpad as a One Direction fic with Harry Styles, the singer, as one of the central characters. The success of both their fics encouraged these authors to get them published as novels with few cosmetic alterations.
While the obsession with erotica and manipulative bad boys is a tad disheartening, a reader is likely to come across the occasional good fiction while sifting through the humongous archives of allegedly substandard literature.
Sample a dramatic, almost believable, romance of Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, ‘The Fallout‘; an angsty tale, inspired by the Batman comic series, ‘Firework‘ or the adventurous retelling of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ with Boromir alive in ‘The Long Road Home‘. Many amazing pieces of fan-art like this, and the one below are proof of the widespread talent on the worldwide web.
A Platform For Bonding And Self-Evaluation Of Talents
Fan-fiction becomes the thread uniting people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Members within a fandom develop a bonhomie of sorts that stems from the collective desire to write/draw and shape the canon universe in ways they please. Livejournal is a popular site for various online communities that host yearly fests, fic-exchanges, writing challenges etc. that transcend geographical barriers. While unlike a professional writing workshop, fan-fiction websites offer a free opportunity for aspiring writers and artists to showcase their skills, interact with those who share their interest and develop a fan-base of their own making through reviews and feedback from readers. Universities like Princeton even offer a course in fan-fiction.
Lest they be labelled copycats without an original thought, most fic writers shy away from the limelight. Operating under a pseudonym, they often wither away in the virtual abyss without a trace. However, for every perishing author or artist, a new one is born, taking forth the legacy of fan-fiction. As long as frenzied fan following persists, this breed of creators will continue to flourish. Because every story can be told in a million ways, why stick to one?